12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, June 7, 2008
Francis X. Rocca, Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY – When President Bush pays a visit to Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Friday, it will be his sixth meeting with a pope, and his third meeting with Benedict in just over a year.
Never in U.S. history has a president consulted so often with the leader of the Catholic Church. Carl Anderson, a former Reagan aide who now heads the Knights of Columbus, calls it "remarkable."
"Less than 50 years ago," he said, "it was a question as to whether a Catholic should even be able to run for president."
Mr. Bush has emphasized his admiration for the papacy, and in particular for Benedict, whom he has called a "very smart, loving man." When Benedict arrived in Washington in April, Mr. Bush personally met the pope on the tarmac, the only time that the president has so honored any dignitary.
Less obvious is how the pope views the president. It is not only Benedict's relatively shy personality that prevents him from being so demonstrative, but also the customary reserve that his office imposes on its occupants.
"These are the kinds of cards that popes don't show," said the Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center.
Yet according to informed observers, there is reason to believe that Benedict, despite some important policy differences with the president, feels a genuine affinity with Mr. Bush.
"I'd imagine that he has respect for the president as a man who turned his life around," said Dr. Reese.
Francis X. Rocca,
Religion News Service