In a meeting at the Vatican last week, Pope John Paul II praised President Bush for his leadership against abortion rights in the United States. The Pope lauded “his commitment to the promotion of moral values in American Society, particularly with regard to respect for life and the family,” according to the New York Times. “Although White House officials denied any political motivation, the chance to associate Mr. Bush with this moral authority five months before Election Day has clear political implications,” the Times contends.
Some US bishops have threatened to deny communion to pro-choice politicians and Catholics who vote for pro-choice candidates, including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry. Francis Kissling, president of Catholics for Free Choice, accused the Vatican of not understanding the American principle of separation of church and state. “Through these threats, these bishops have turned the practice of religion and faith into a three-ring circus… If politicizing the sacrament for electoral gain serves as an indication of the campaign ahead, we are witnesses to bad faith and bad theology,” she wrote in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle. According to Catholics for Free Choice, 82% of Catholics believe abortion should be legal under some or all circumstances.
The Pope also commended Bush’s efforts to suppress HIV/AIDS in Africa. According to a recent Global Women’s Issues Scorecard, co-authored by the Feminist Majority, the Bush administration’s policy makes abstinence-only until marriage the centerpiece of its prevention strategy, despite evidence that the approach is ineffective. The Scorecard also reports that in several countries, the Global Gag Rule – which censors international family planning organizations from providing or even discussing abortion — is affecting HIV/AIDS prevention groups as well. Fifty-eight percent of HIV-positive adults in sub-Saharan Africa are female, and the number of girls and women infected continues to rise.
The Pope also expressed displeasure with the war in Iraq and urged the US to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. Thousands of protestors marched in Rome on the first day of Bush’s visit in opposition to the war and American foreign policy, reports the Times.