.- Vatican expert John Allen has written an open letter to President-elect Barack Obama discussing how the U.S. government and the Vatican may best interact under an Obama administration. Warning him not to repeat the Vatican-snubbing mistakes of the Clinton administration, Allen advised the future president that enormous good may result from U.S.-Vatican cooperation.
Writing in his column for the National Catholic Reporter, Allen said it is clear the Vatican and the Obama White House will have âdeep differencesâ over issues such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research, Allen said these points must not obscure âbasic political realities.â
While the United States is strong in terms of âhard powerâ like military and economic might, Allen noted the Vatican is a global actor in terms of âsoft power,â being able to motivate people on the basis of ideas and religion.
Citing Obamaâs narrow loss among white Catholics, Allen indicated that good relations with the Vatican could be âsmart politicsâ for his party. Further, the Vatican has a âcenturies-oldâ diplomatic tradition of dealing with governments which disagree with the Church on certain matters.
âVatican diplomacy typically strives to keep lines of communication open and to seek common ground. In other words, theyâll want to do business with you where they can,â Allen wrote.
Further, the Vatican is eager for good relations with the U.S. regardless of its government, admiring its ârobust religiosityâ and believing the nation is positioned to be the Vaticanâs âmost natural allyâ in promoting religious freedom and human dignity worldwide.
Allen claimed that Obamaâs policy positions on many points dovetail both with the diplomatic interests of the Vatican and with Catholic social teaching. He cited immigration, economic justice, peace, and environmental protection as obvious examples of convergence.
Vatican journalist John Allen also offered a cautionary tale concerning the treatment of Vatican ambassador Ray Flynn and Pope John Paul II under the Clinton administration.
âDuring the lead-up to the U.N. conference on population in Cairo in 1994, Pope John Paul II called Flynn to the Vatican on a Saturday morning to personally request a telephone conversation with President Clinton. Flynn relayed the request urgently to the White House that afternoon, and got no response,â he wrote.
After placing more failed calls, Flynn then flew to Washington where he was forced to wait outside Clintonâs office over a two day period.
âFinally,â Allen continued, âhe was admitted to the White Houseâs pre-Cairo war room, where he was told by Assistant Secretary of State Timothy Wirth that ânobody is getting a chance to lobby the president on this one.â Dumbfounded, Flynn explained that the Bishop of Rome is not a lobbyist, and that it would be seen as a profound act of disrespect if the president wouldnât even get on the phone. After almost a week, Clinton finally agreed to take the popeâs call.â
These events showed the Clinton administrationâs âbasic disinterestâ about the Vatican, which sometimes bordered on hostility.
âThe result was that the U.S.-Vatican relationship during the Clinton years was more often defined by predictable differences than by imaginative areas of common purpose,â Allenâs open letter concluded, advising Obama even to initiate a conversation with the papacy himself.
âMy advice is to get on the phone if the Pope calls,â Allen advised. âBetter yet, initiate the conversation yourself. You might be surprised about where it goes.â