President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

November 19, 2012

The day after Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, hailed his election as a “choice that unites,” exemplifying America’s ability to “overcome fractures and divisions that until only recently could seem incurable.”

Pope Benedict sent the president-elect a congratulatory telegram the same day, noting the “historic occasion” of his election.

Four years later, the Vatican’s reaction to Obama’s re-election had a markedly different tone.

“If Obama truly wants to be the president of all Americans,” said L’Osservatore Nov. 7, “he should finally acknowledge the demands forcefully arising from religious communities – above all the Catholic Church – in favour of the natural family, life and finally religious liberty itself.”

This time, Pope Benedict congratulated Obama on his re-election, adding that he prayed the ideals of freedom and justice that guided America’s founders might continue to flourish.

Speaking to reporters the same day, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, voiced hope that Obama would use his second term for the “promotion of the culture of life and of religious liberty.”

The statements alluded to Obama policies favouring legalized abortion, same-sex marriage and a plan to require nearly all health insurance plans, including those offered by most Catholic universities and agencies, to cover sterilizations and contraceptives, which are forbidden by the Church’s moral teaching.

The insurance mandate in particular, which U.S. bishops have strenuously protested for the past year, has proven an even greater source of division between the Church and the Obama administration than their previous disagreements.

From the beginning of Obama’s presidency, his support for legalized abortion and embryonic stemcell research inspired protests by the Church as well as controversy within the Church.