The Corner


Obama’s Selective Praise of the Pope Took No Courage At All

Praising the Pope for his writings on climate change this morning, President Obama said the following:

Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example. And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency. All of us may, at times, experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true and right. But I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better. You shake our conscience from slumber; you call on us to rejoice in Good News, and give us confidence that we can come together, in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just, and more free. Here at home and around the world, may our generation heed your call to ‘never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!

Okay. But here’s the thing: Obama isn’t actually being “reminded” or “shaken out of” anything, and nor for that matter is his “conscience” being awoken. As he has made clear for seven years now, he already agrees with the Pope on climate change, and, as such, has to sacrifice precisely nothing in order to bring himself into line with his position. There was no struggle or “discomfort” on display at the presidential dais; there was only rhetorical ease and the pleasure of holiness by association. Indeed, what Obama really meant is that his opponents need to be reminded and shaken and awoken and made uncomfortable. If that’s what he believes, that’s fine. But let’s cut the “us” and the “we.” Obama already considers himself to be on the side of the angels here. What does he need Francis for?

Obama’s willingness to embrace the Pope’s “profound moral example” seems to be rather limited in scope. If the president were earnestly hoping to better himself by observing the “gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another”; if he were genuinely looking to be made uncomfortable in his complacency; if he were truly aiming to see his conscience shaken out of slumber, he would also thank Francis for his teaching on abortion or marriage or homosexuality or religious liberty. He didn’t. As a non-Catholic I obviously have no problem with Obama’s disagreeing with the Church. But it does ring a touch hollow to stand there and invoke all of the man’s moral authority on one supposedly pressing question, but to ignore it completely when it doesn’t suit. That’s not courage, it’s editing.

Most Popular


What Do Republican Voters Want?

The latest entry in the post-Trump conservatism sweepstakes was Marco Rubio’s speech at the Catholic University of America in early November. The Florida senator made the case for a “common-good capitalism” that looks on markets in the light of Catholic social thought. “We must remember that our nation ... Read More

The Houellebecqian Moment

We are living in the imagination of Michel Houellebecq. The bête noire of French literature has spent decades deploring the erosion of Western mores that he believes resulted from the sexual revolution of the 1960s. His last novel, Submission, revolved around the election of a theocratic Muslim to the French ... Read More

‘Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’

It was just one more segment to fill out the hour, and thereby fill the long 24 hours of Saturday’s cable news on November 2. Or so it seemed. Navy SEAL Mike Ritland was on the Fox News program Watters World to talk to Jesse Watters about trained German shepherds like the one used in the raid that found ... Read More

Israel’s New Way of War

Commuters on Route 4, driving toward the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod on November 12, were shocked by an explosion, a rocket impact next to a major intersection. Had it fallen on a car or one of the many trucks plying the route, there would have been deaths, and the road would have been closed. Instead, police ... Read More