Top Washington Catholic Blasts Pope for Cozy Photo with Iranian Strongman

Vatican-Pope-Iran Rouhani Andrew Medichini AP
Andrew Medichini/AP

In an email to top Vatican personnel and shared with his network of influential friends in Washington DC and around the world, Leonard Leo has blasted Pope Francis and the Vatican for the cozy photo that was allowed to be taken of Francis with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that ran in newspapers around the world.

Leo, Executive Vice President of the Federalist Society, one of the most respected groups in Washington DC, wrote a scathing letter to Vatican Secretary of State Christophe El-Kassis, Monsignor Peter Wells, the highest ranking American in the Vatican Secretariat of State, American Greg Burke, the Vatican spokesman rumored to soon be appointed as chief Vatican spokesman.

Leo wrote, “This morning I was welcomed at the breakfast table with a front-page Wall Street Journal photo of Pope Francis and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani posing together with what only can be characterized as joyful, gleeful, and beaming smiles. I was deeply embarrassed for my Church, and each of you and every other official in the Holy See should be as well.”

Leo said “A fair debate could be had over whether, at the present time, it is advisable for the Holy Father to meet with President Rouhani, I will assume, for purposes of this correspondence, that there are reasonable grounds for doing so, and will not quarrel with that decision.”

“But the gracious and cordial atmosphere depicted in this and every other photo…demonstrate an utter lack of sensitivity to the disgusting and deplorable behavior being undertaken by Iran at this very moment, and, further demonstrate very poor judgment in how to handle a duplicitous and callous human rights abuser like President Rouhani,” said Leo.

Leo said he thought it is fine “to meet professionally and quietly with a country and leader” such as the Iranian president but that the way the meeting was carried out and publicized “was a far different thing to undertake such a meeting in ways that outwardly provide a horrible totalitarian regime with legitimacy or moral equivalence and that offer those who are a part of the many religions they oppress and disdain with a sense of hopelessness.”

Besides being Executive Vice President of the Federal Society, which has boasted Supreme Court Justices in its ranks, Leo also served as a commission and chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Leo specifically pointed out Iran’s treatment not only of Christians but Bahai’s, Suffis, and Sunnis as well. He pointed out to the Vatican officials that Rouhani has also called for “death to America” and then defended that to the international media.

Leo wrote that he hoped the Pope engaged Rouhani on such abuses but that to treat Rouhani and Iran “with such graciousness and cheerfulness is deplorable. Imagine how those Christians in prison would feel if they saw copies of the photos that were splashed about the world in leading newspapers. Perceptions and process matter a great deal in the world of public diplomacy, because that is often what drives leverage and influence. Today was a big mistake.”

The Italian government angered everyday Italians and the Italians press by covering up the statues in perhaps the most famous Roman museum so that the naked figures would not offend Rouhani’s Muslim sensibilities.

The Vatican has yet to respond to Leo’s strong missive.

 Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse


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