Dissident Catholics Lobby President Obama in Rome

If President Obama opened the International New York Times when he woke up at the US Ambassador residence Thursday morning in Rome, he would have been greeted by a full-page ad from the dissident "Catholics for Choice" telling him to ignore the Pope on questions of sexual morality.

In what must have been a remarkably expensive full-page ad, "Catholics for Choice" asserts that Pope Francis, whom the President was scheduled to meet Thursday at the Vatican, "seems like a very nice man..." The group says he is "our spiritual leader but not our political leader."

The ad charges that the Catholic Church "often seeks to impose its views on entire populations, Catholic or not" and that the Bishops in the US have "ignored [religious freedom] on many occasions, most recently in their assault on the contraceptive requirement in the Affordable Care Act..."

The ad asserts that "Francis' interpretation of Church teaching does not represent that of the majority of Catholics, especially on issues related to sexuality, reproductive health and family life. The Catholic hierarchy may be a powerful political lobby the world over, but when religious arguments are granted sway over policy, the results can be catastrophic."

Catholics for Choice invokes President Kennedy's speech to the Baptist ministers: "I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the Pope."

Vatican officials have been largely mum on the conversation between Obama and the Pope except to say that the two leaders will speak about common concerns, and no one predicts that Pope Francis will do what Pope Benedict did when he met Obama – which was to hand him a brochure about embryo-destructive research and abortion. Still, Francis has surprised the world on many occasions.

"Catholics for Choice", an abortion advocacy group that has launched campaigns to throw the Holy See out of the UN General Assembly and praises Catholics who use contraception, has been condemned twice by Bishops representing the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and other national bishop's conferences. For years Catholics for Choice was run by ex-nun Frances Kissling who famously said she searched the world for a government to overthrow and finally found it in the Catholic Church.


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