President Obama is to meet Pope Francis for the first time next week as Obama wraps up a European tour, a high-profile encounter between two major world leaders that appears to carry especially high stakes from the U.S. perspective.
The White House and the American bishops have been at loggerheads for years on a range of culture war issues, and on Tuesday, just two days before the Vatican meeting, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the contraception mandate that has sparked fierce opposition from the U.S. hierarchy.
But American and Vatican officials say the talks may disappoint those hoping for fireworks, and that the summit is going to focus on collaboration much more than conflict.
The U.S. Senate has confirmed former Catholic Relief Services head Ken Hackett to be the next ambassador to the Vatican.
Hackett replaces Miguel Diaz, a theologian, and he gives President Obama an experienced voice on social justice in Rome where a new pope, Francis, has made caring for the poor a priority.
Hackett’s confirmation came Thursday night by unanimous consent as senators wrapped up loose ends before the summer recess.
No opposition was expected since Hackett has strong ties to both parties; for five years he served on the board of former President George W. Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation and he is reported to be close to Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, whose brother is a priest.
President Obama on Friday nominated Ken Hackett, former head of Catholic Relief Services, to be the next U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.
It’s a savvy move, picking a Catholic whose career in the church has been dedicated to alleviating suffering as America’s representative to a pope who has made helping the poor a priority for his pontificate.
Hackett replaces Miguel Diaz, who left the post last November to teach at the University of Dayton. Diaz is a theologian, which was a first for the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and that also seemed to make sense in that Pope Benedict XVI, whose retirement led to the election of Pope Francis last March, is a renowned theologian.