On Friday, President George W. Bush publicly addressed Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States in an interview with EWTN. In addition, Bush also addressed concerns of interest to Catholics such as the position of Christians in Iraq, relations with China, and the creation of a “culture of life.”
The president explained the reasons he would meet Pope Benedict’s airplane upon its arrival at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, saying this unprecedented greeting was due to the particular significance of the Pope.
"One, he speaks for millions. Two, he doesn't come as a politician; he comes as a man of faith; and Three, I so subscribe to his notion that there’s right and wrong in life, that moral relativism undermines the capacity to have hopeful and free societies. I want to honor his convictions, as well,” the president said.
President Bush thought his administration’s foreign policy was connected to these convictions.
“One of the tenets of my foreign policy is that there is an Almighty, and a gift of that Almighty to every man, woman, and child, is freedom.”
The president, who described himself as a “believer in the value of human life,” said he thought the Pope spoke with clarity on such moral principles.
President Bush described his foreign aid policy as a “combination of faith and practicality.” Hopelessness, he said, encourages terrorist recruitment, and it “invigorates our soul” to know Americans have saved lives through foreign aid. Bush said “to whom much is given much is required” is one of his motivating beliefs.
The president was asked about his response to the anti-Christian violence in Iraq, which has resulted in 40 bombed churches, murders, and Christians becoming 40 percent of the refugee population.
The president said he had urged the Iraqi government to understand the “vital importance” of minority rights in democracies, saying these rights were important in Iraq, the Holy Land, and throughout the Middle East.
The murderers of Christians like Archbishop of Mosul Paulos Rahho, the president believed, used their crimes to send a message that it was not worthwhile to “help a free society deliver.”
Bush said the violence was not government sponsored, but committed by “a bunch of thugs and killers who have this kind of dark dim view of the world and are willing to kill anybody who is willing to stand up to it.
“The same type of mentality that caused people to fly airplanes into our buildings to kill 3,000 of our citizens,” he said.
The president said that the Iraqi violence would be ended by stationing American troops there long enough “to have a civil society emerge.”
He said he was committed to providing troops to ensure safety for all Iraqis. According to the president, the violence targeted not only Christian believers, but also other innocents. He claimed insurgents and terrorists wanted to drive the United States out of the Middle East “because they hate free societies.”
When asked about the influence of his personal faith, President Bush said one cannot disassociate faith from how one lives life.
“I am optimistic because I happen to believe in certain universal principles, and I do believe that freedom is universal and that, if given a chance, people will self-govern and live in a peaceful, free society. And history is my witness,” President Bush said.
When asked about what role his faith plays in sustaining him, the president said, “My faith has been so sustaining in the midst of what is a pretty hectic life, full of flattery and criticism. Faith keeps a person grounded. Faith reminds people that there is something a lot more important than you in life.”
He said he’d been “inspired” by prayers, and has come to understand more clearly “the story of the calm and the rough seas.”
President Bush also defended his decision to attend the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing despite China’s poor human rights record. He said, “I can talk to them about religious freedom prior to the Olympics, during the Olympics, and after the Olympics. I don’t need the Olympics to express my opposition to the Chinese leadership on freedom. Because that’s all I have been doing as your president.”
The president insisted he had talked about human rights abuses in many foreign conflicts, citing Darfur, Burma, and the position of the Dalai Lama. “They know my position,” he said of the Chinese government. “If I politicize the Olympic Games, would it make less effective for me to deal with them, or more effective?”
The interview then turned to bioethical questions.
President Bush said that his decision to fund embryonic stem cell research that involved only cells from embryos that were already destroyed was the “right decision to begin with.” He said the embryonic stem cell dispute marked the beginning of a “very interesting debate that future presidents will have to deal with: science versus ethics, the value of life versus saving life, supposedly.”
“I have obviously drawn the line in the sand. Honoring life in all forms, is the touchstone for good science,” he said.
When EWTN host Raymond Arroyo asked President Bush whether there would be a pro-choice GOP nominee in the foreseeable future, Bush avoided a definite answer and instead talked about his own pro-life stand.
“A culture of life is in our national interests,” he said. “The politics of abortion isn’t going to change until people’s hearts change, and fully understand the meaning of life, what it means for a society to value life in all forms, whether it be the life of the unborn, or the life of the elderly, the life of the less fortunate among us or the life of the rich guy.”
President Bush said that Pope Benedict’s words provided support for politicians in difficult situations. The president said, “I want to remind his Holy Father how important his voice is in making easier for politicians like me to be able to stand and defend our positions, that are I think, very important positions to take.”
Raymond Arroyo closed the interview by referring to President Bush’s words about looking into the eyes of Russian President Vladimir Putin and “seeing his soul.”
Arroyo asked President Bush what he saw when he looked into the eyes of Pope Benedict XVI.
“God,” the president answered.