President Bush is in the spotlight of the Catholic media this week, as he will shortly be welcoming the Holy Father as he travels to Washington DC. Raymond Arroyo of EWTN ("The World Over") obtained an exclusive interview with the President on Friday, April 11. [click link for transcript].
The discussion ranged from the positive (but often unnoticed) aspects of the Bush presidency -- such as his quadrupling U.S. aid to Africa (The President's Emergency Plan for HIV/AIDS Relief; his efforts to combat malaria in Africa) -- to the troubling persecution of Christian minorities in Iraq by radical Muslims -- to his decision to prohibit federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
The Washington Post also ran an article -- A Catholic Wind in the White House -- on President Bush's considerable openness (being a Methodist) to having Catholics play a role in his administration and to listen to what they have to offer on Catholic social teaching:
Bush attends an Episcopal church in Washington and belongs to a Methodist church in Texas, and his political base is solidly evangelical. Yet this Protestant president has surrounded himself with Roman Catholic intellectuals, speechwriters, professors, priests, bishops and politicians. These Catholics -- and thus Catholic social teaching -- have for the past eight years been shaping Bush's speeches, policies and legacy to a degree perhaps unprecedented in U.S. history.Of course the Bush presidency is not without its Catholic critics:
"I used to say that there are more Catholics on President Bush's speechwriting team than on any Notre Dame starting lineup in the past half-century," said former Bush scribe -- and Catholic -- William McGurn.
Bush has also placed Catholics in prominent roles in the federal government and relied on Catholic tradition to make a public case for everything from his faith-based initiative to antiabortion legislation. He has wedded Catholic intellectualism with evangelical political savvy to forge a powerful electoral coalition.
"There is an awareness in the White House that the rich Catholic intellectual tradition is a resource for making the links between Christian faith, religiously grounded moral judgments and public policy," says Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and editor of the journal First Things who has tutored Bush in the church's social doctrines for nearly a decade.
John Carr, a top public policy director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, calls the Bush administration's legacy a "tale of two policies."However, on issues like same-sex marriage, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research, and working to limit abortion in the United States and abroad, President Bush and the Catholic Church are in mutual agreement. (Positions which may not be as well received, I might note, under a Democratic administration).
"The best of the Bush administration can be seen in their work in development assistance on HIV/AIDS in Africa," says Carr. "In domestic policy, the conservatism trumps the compassion."