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Obama Reveals Little During Meeting with Catholic Journalists

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Writer   Nothing noteworthy came of the president’s “round table” discussion with Catholic journalists last week. He called differences on the abortion issue “healthy,” said his conscience clause protections would be “robust” and advised Christians to examine their beliefs about homosexuality to be sure they’re not hurting anyone. The 47 minute meeting took place at the White House on July 2 and included representatives from the National Catholic Register, America, the Catholic News Service, Catholic Digest, Commonweal, Avvenire/Vatican Radio, the National Catholic Reporter and The Washington Post. Each representative was allowed to ask the president one question. According to a report by the National Catholic Register, the president began the meeting with remarks about the “wonderful conversation” he had with Pope Benedict right after the 2008 election.  He admitted that “There are going to be areas where we've got deep agreements; there are going to be some areas where we've got some disagreements. So in that sense there's a government-to-government relationship that is already very strong and we want to build on.” He also commented on the importance of his upcoming meeting with Pope Benedict on July 10, saying “The Catholic Church has such a profound influence worldwide and in our country; the Holy Father is a thought leader and an opinion leader on so many wide-ranging issues. And his religious influence is one that extends beyond the Catholic Church. So from a personal perspective, having a meeting with the Holy Father is a great honor and something that I'm very much looking forward to.” When asked about the various U.S. bishops who have spoken out against his policies and the Notre Dame scandal, the president said, “I think there are going to continue to be areas where we have profound agreements and there are going to be some areas where we disagree. That's healthy." The president also attempted to dislodge fears of a withdrawel of conscience protections for health care workers, saying the confusion regarding the issue has more to do with the timing of the changes rather than what he intends to do. His administration was merely undoing an “eleventh hour” change by the Bush Administration, he said, but claimed that he has every intention of keeping protections in place. “ . . .(M)y underlying position has always been consistent, which is I'm a believer in conscience clauses. I was a supporter of a robust conscience clause in Illinois for Catholic hospitals and health care providers. I discussed this with Cardinal George when he was here in the Oval Office, and I reiterated my support for an effective conscience clause in my speech at Notre Dame." One of the more interesting exchanges came when Fr. Kearns of the National Catholic Register asked about controversial remarks made by Harry Knox, the religion and faith program director for the Human Rights Campaign, which is a gay rights organization. Knox, now a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has been attacked as anti-Catholic for allegedly referring to some American bishops as "discredited leaders" and calling the Knights of Columbus "foot soldiers of a discredited army of oppression.'' Obama chose to answer the question by reflecting on the relationship between rhetoric and dialogue, and between the gay community and Christianity: “For the gay and lesbian community in this country, I think it's clear that they feel victimized in fairly powerful ways and they're often hurt by not just certain teachings of the Catholic Church, but the Christian faith generally. And as a Christian, I'm constantly wrestling with my faith and my solicitude and regard and concern for gays and lesbians.” He went on to say “I think that those of us who are people of faith also have to examine our own beliefs and wrestle with them and assure ourselves that we're not causing pain to others.” The representatives present gave the president mixed reviews for the meeting, which many believe was part of a “charm offensive” designed to pave the way for good press after his meeting with the Pope in Rome on Friday of this week. © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®