Although it would have been practically impossible for all the political leaders to meet personally with the Pope, correspondents in the Vatican considered it a significant gesture that the U.S. president was the only one to request and obtain such a meeting.
ZENIT interviewed Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine, on the president´s relations with the Catholic world and on some of the issues he discussed in the audience with the Pope.
Q: President Bush has made many efforts to reach out to Catholics since he took office just over a year ago. What have been some of the gains for Catholics, and Christians in general, of the Bush presidency?
Hudson: The benefits to all Christians of the Bush administration have been tremendous. Most people tend to focus only on the specific pieces of legislation or high-profile decisions, such as the stem cell case, but they miss the influence of all the Bush appointees throughout the different branches of the administration.
For example, those who attend United Nations conferences reported an immediate change in U.S. policy after Jan. 1, 2002: Suddenly the United States was no longer cooperating with the population-control crowd of the European Union. I could relate story after story of left-wing, anti-life initiatives supported by the Clinton administration being reversed by Bush´s appointees.
Q: Some organizations have been critical of President Bush because he has not taken a position that is 100% pro-life, for example over the cloning issue. Others defend the president, pointing to what John Paul II said in "Evangelium Vitae," No. 73, namely, that it is possible to vote in favor of a law that limits evil, while not completely abolishing it. How can Catholics approach the political process, which often requires making compromises, without losing sight of important principles?
Hudson: Many Catholic and Christian pro-life groups do not understand, and therefore do not engage, in the political process. The teaching on incrementalism in "Evangelium Vitae" was extremely important because of its political realism, namely, that political compromise is not a moral compromise seen in the democratic context.
In other words, Catholics can support in-between steps toward the total protection of life from the womb to natural death without being guilty of moral cowardice or complicity with evil. Some pro-life leaders think that the affirmation of a moral principle can and must lead only to an identical political conclusion without any incremental steps.
Leaders of Catholic apostolates will become more effective politically when they accept Church teaching on participation in the democratic process instead of standing on the sidelines lobbing bombs at those who are getting their hands dirty.
Q: What perspectives do you see for Catholics in public and political life in coming years? How can we best prepare lay leaders to act in a Christian way when they exercise leadership roles?
Hudson: Catholics are beginning to become more involved in politics "as Catholics." The era of assimilation is, thankfully, coming to an end. Catholics have for many years let evangelicals do all the political work in keeping at least one political party faithful to a pro-life platform.
When George W. Bush ran for president, he created a historic Catholic outreach program that resulted in 10% more Catholic votes for him than Robert Dole received in 1996. Bush´s political outreach to Catholics has continued to grow throughout his administration, both from the White House directly and from the Republican National Committee.
Training for Catholic lay leadership is difficult to find: It requires solid grounding in Catholic doctrine, Catholic social teaching, practical politics and media training. This vacuum should be filled.
Q: The mainstream media are well known for their biases against religion and the Church. As an editor of a successful Catholic magazine, what suggestions do you have on how the average reader should use the media so as to avoid being led astray?
Hudson: Readers of secular newspapers and viewers of TV news, with the possible exception of Fox News, should have a skeptical attitude toward coverage of Catholic news. Producers and reporters constantly use dissident and left-wing Catholics to comment on Church issues; they also slant the news coverage to put the Church in an unfavorable light.
Catholics who do not read independent Catholic newspapers, journals, magazines and Web sites are at a huge disadvantage in understanding the state of the Catholic Church. Anyone who trusts the mainstream media for Catholic news will be -- without doubt -- led astray.
Q: The Church has taken a lot of flak over the ongoing sexual abuse scandals. What suggestions do you have on how to avoid this and similar problems in the future?
Hudson: The bishops need to face the fact that the scandal is about active homosexual clergy and not about pedophiles. The April 24 Vatican communiqué made this point but it hasn´t been reflected in many of the bishops´ public comments.
The bishops should begin by acknowledging that this is the problem and take actions to make sure it does not continue, such as adopting guidelines about whether homosexuals can be admitted into Catholic seminaries. They should also articulate a policy for dealing with priests who have even one sexual encounter with a minor.
Finally, they should reaffirm the necessity of a celibate priesthood and ask all priests to address the meaning of celibacy from the pulpit.