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An Analysis of the Recent Meeting between President Donald Trump and Pope Francis

June 14, 2017
His Holiness with Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, President Trump, and First Lady Melania Trump. Photo: Getty.

The Holy Father met with the US President, following ideological, sometimes public disagreements between the two in past years.

Putting aside their reputed ideological differences and infamous media clashes, Pope Francis and U.S. President Donald Trump met for the first time at the Vatican in what the Holy See Press Office called a “cordial” private audience. Despite that Orwellian description, many journalists noticed a different tenor of the meeting. While Trump beamed for pictures and showered the Pope with compliments, one reporter commented that the somber, grim-faced Francis gave Trump “the cold shoulder,” while another unabashedly remarked that the pontiff looked “for all the world like he’d rather be literally anywhere else but in that room with that man.”

An Icy Papal Reception?

The pope’s seemingly icy reception stands in marked contrast to the warmth exhibited during his 2015 visit to President Barak Obama’s White House, his intimate tete-a-tete days earlier with Cuban Communist despot Fidel Castro, or his 2016 private meeting with Venezuelan Marxist dictator Nicolas Maduro. Indeed, the Holy Father blessed the Maduro in the Apostolic Palace. The Vicar of Christ shocked the world in Cuba by expressing “particular respect and consideration” for the brutal dictator Castro. And His Holiness praised Obama for his extreme leftist political policies, encouraging him in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of so-called gay marriage to be “committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive.”

Is it any surprise that major media has interpreted such behavior as Francis’s political endorsement of socialism, the godless political movement that Pius IX called a “most iniquitous plot,” Leo XIII dubbed a “hideous monster,” St. Pius X labeled “seductive confusion… a tumultuous agitation,” and that Pius XI warned is “fundamentally contrary to Christian truth”?

A President with a Mixed Reputation

However, Francis’s embrace of politically leftist radicals may explain the cold welcome - interrupted by few cordial moments - of the U.S. President. Not that Trump is a glittering herald of “Christian truth.” But many religious commentators—including those in the traditional Catholic camp—have likened him to Cyrus the Great, leader of Persia during the Babylonia Captivity. Holy Scripture records that Cyrus, though a pagan king with multiple wives and concubines, supported the Jews in their worship of the true God and asked for their prayers for his administration. The prophet Isaiah called this admittedly less-than-virtuous man the “shepherd” of the Lord, His “anointed,” whom God used to accomplish His divine plan.

Pundits draw an analogy between King Cyrus and President Trump who, though a populist with a string of three wives, cannot exactly be considered a friend of socialism. He selected as his vice president a staunchly pro-life, pro-family Catholic; he endorses pro-life justices for the Supreme Court; and he opposes government retaliation against those who act based on their Christian beliefs, such as Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue a “same-sex” marriage license. In May he signed an executive order reversing the decades-old regulation banning tax-exempt religious groups from engaging in politics and endorsing candidates. Moreover, contrary to the socialist doctrine, he has pledged to put national interests first and protect American borders.

Such actions have earned Trump an impressive array of enemies: the liberal media, Washington insiders, United Nations globalists, Hollywood activists, environmental extremists, and the Wall Street establishment, just to name a few. And, oh yes, Pope Francis.

First Lady Ivanka Trump, a Catholic, looks on a cordial moment between the President and Pope Francis.

Francis Contra Trump

Francis announced last year that Trump, a Presbyterian, is “not Christian” for wanting to combat illegal immigration with a wall along the Mexican border. After the election, the pontiff likened Trump’s victory to the rise of Nazism in Germany.

Did he say the same to Trump’s face on Wednesday? Neither the White House nor the Vatican has issued statements detailing their private discussion, but much can be assumed from the gifts Pope Francis presented during the President’s brief visit: copies of his papal documents Laudato Si, Evangelii Gaudium, and Amoris Laetitia.

Laudato Si, on the “Care of our Common Home,” The encyclical, which has drawn criticism on several fronts due its perceived alignment with environmentalist ideology, takes several positions which are contrary to Trump’s stated political platform. Trump, for example, has expressed skepticism toward man-made climate change and, like other political conservatives, is concerned that emissions reduction measures will hurt the U.S. economy. On the same topic, during Trump’s visit Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin urged the President, despite promises to the contrary, to maintain U.S. commitment to the Paris climate agreement. 

Another global threat, in Francis’s opinion, is free-market capitalism, which he denounced in Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). The Pope’s condemnation of “trickle-down economics” certainly gained more notoriety than any of the other subjects addressed in this apostolic exhortation. And while his defenders speculated that Francis’s comments supported the Catholic-rooted economic model of distributism in opposition to capitalism, that is not the way the world interpreted it. In fact, The Atlantic Magazine contains an excellent example of the kind of praise Francis garnered for “the Vatican’s journey from anti-communism to anti-capitalism.” No doubt Francis’s penchant for generalizations and imprecise, particularly as compared to the more precise social teachings of Leo XIII and Pius XI, contributed to the confusion over the Pontiff’s preferred economic system.

The other encyclical Francis presented to the President was Amoris Laetitia, a hotbed of consternation among Catholic Church officials and laity due to what critics call dangerous ambiguities about divorce and homosexuality. Late last year, four Catholic bishops issued a letter to Rome pleading for clarity regarding the resulting “grave disorientation and great confusion” over the indissolubility of marriage and the evil of sodomy. Francis has yet to answer. Meanwhile, the bishops of various dioceses around the world are citing Amoris Laetitia as justification to allow remarried divorcees to receive Holy Communion. Moreover, liberal media have gloated over the document that Slate Magazine calls “a closeted argument for gay marriage,” while Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City announced this week that the encyclical is responsible for his decision to allow homosexuals to attend schools in his diocese.

As he was leaving Trump thanked the pontiff, promising to read his works. But it is regrettably unlikely the President will be swayed toward the truths of the Catholic Faith.  An opportunity for Pope Francis to provide a charitable witness for Catholicism to one of the most powerful men in the world appears to have been missed