Friday, April 08, 2005

On Which of these Things Does not Belong Here and on What Does

On his way back to the United States after attending the Pope's funeral, President Bush offered a few remarks about his trip to the Vatican. In an apparent defense of his decision to attend the ceremony, Bush declares that there was never a question that he would attend and that many leaders of the US Catholic Church were glad he did.
Last night we hosted a reception at the embassy for many of the leaders of the Catholic Church at home, and they were very grateful that I came, and Laura came, and Dad came, and President Clinton came, and Condi came, as well as others. And I told them, to a person, that it's such an honor to represent our country at a ceremony honoring a truly great man who is and will always be a great historical figure.
I guess it wouldn't be hard to pick out the person who stands out in this crowd. Granted, it would have been ridiculous for President Bush to call him Bill, but I wonder if it might have sounded smoother if Bush had started or finished his list with President Clinton.

Plus, recognizing that these are comments likely to be more off-the-cuff than usual, I would still point out that the Pope will be a religious figure as much or more than an "historical" one. What a silly phrase, "historical figure," and what an even sillier way to sanitize the Pope's Catholic identity. Bush sounds down right Kennedy-like here, dodging the whole "religious issue." Is there that big a concern that the Church/State division will be breached if the president admits, out loud, that the Pope was a religious leader? Of course he was historic. But, his position in history stems largely from his role as a religious leader, a position the Pope was willing and able to use, along with his Church's moral standards and traditions, to work within and without the constraints and contexts of his time.

No need to clean that up for us, Mr. President. We won't ever really think that the Vatican is reaching across the Atlantic into your office and into our homes. Plus, it's not 1932 and you're not even Catholic. So, give this guy his full due.


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