President Barack Obama and Pope Francis met today for the first time, speaking in private for nearly an hour on inequality, immigration, and not-abortion, presumably.
The Catholic Church has been at odds with the White House over Obama's insistence on including birth control coverage in the Affordable Care Act, among other things, but analysts said they expected the meeting to strengthen the relationship between Washington and the Church by focusing on common interests.
CNN reports the meeting was "a reset of sorts" between Obama and leaders of the church. "The goal: focus on areas where two of the world's most influential men agree and gently tread ground where they differ," CNN writes. Areas of agreement include, according to a White House statement, a "shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality." The touchier topics would be gay marriage and birth control.
Still, Vatican officials said that the pope almost certainly shared his view on the Affordable Care Act with the president during the visit.
By all accounts, the meeting set off to a friendly start. Obama told Pope Francis he is a great admirer, adding "it is a great honor... thank you so much for receiving me." The Church, for its part, brought the president into the Vatican in a traditionally elaborate manner, according to the Associated Press:
[Obama made] his way to greet the pope after a long, slow procession through the hallways of the Apostolic Palace led by colorful Swiss Guards and accompanied by ceremonial attendants. The president bowed as he shook hands with the pontiff in the Small Throne Room, before the two sat down at a wooden table in the Papal Library.
After the meeting, which was scheduled to last 30 minutes but ran for 52 minutes, Obama presented Francis with a pretty great gift:
Obama gift to Francis: Custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden— Michelle Boorstein (@mboorstein) March 27, 2014
The seeds are for use in the Vatican's public garden.
Though the White House and the church take opposite views on women's right to access to contraceptives and abortion, it's evident that the church has started to make concessions to the mainstream. Most Catholic women say they use birth control, and the group Catholics for Choice took out an ad in the New York Times ahead of the meeting requesting Obama keep in mind that "Francis' interpretation of church teachings does not represent that of the majority of Catholics, especially on issues related to sexuality, reproductive health and family life." And Pope Francis has made tiny overtures towards accepting homosexual relationships — a far cry from approving of gay marriage, but still a much more open stance towards the idea than his predecessors.
Regardless of the outcome of the meeting, we're sure Obama welcomed the break from his Ukraine-focused Eurotrip.