President George W. Bush will meet Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican on Saturday, June 9, while in Europe for a meeting of G-8 nations, the United States Embassy to the Holy See announced today.
It will be the first official meeting between Benedict XVI and Bush. The president met Pope John Paul II three times during his first term, including a 2004 event in the Apostolic Palace in which Bush awarded the pope the Medal of Freedom, one of the country’s highest civilian honors.
Three presidential visits to a pope in one term set a new record. Beyond questions of protocol and personal respect, Bush also had a strong political motive for wrapping himself in the papal flag.
Bush made outreach to Catholics an important component of his 2004 re-election strategy, capturing 52 percent of the Catholic vote to 47 percent for John Kerry – despite the fact that Kerry is Roman Catholic and Bush is not. In key states such as Ohio and Florida, Bush’s share of the Catholic vote was even higher.
Yet the relationship between pope and president was not always stress-free. John Paul II was among the strongest moral critics of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Benedict XVI recently said in his Easter message that “nothing positive has come from Iraq,” suggesting that tensions regarding the Middle East, and broader questions about the use of force, could figure in his upcoming exchange with Bush.
U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Francis Rooney said the June 9 visit “will be an important opportunity for the President to meet the Holy Father and to discuss with him the deep and shared commitment of the United States and the Holy See to promoting human dignity around the world.”