Bush-hating commentators at Vox Nova believe it's a big deal that Pope Benedict XVI will not be attending President Bush's dinner in his honor, portraying it as a deliberate snub:
National Catholic Register's Pope2008 believes it's a "non-story", and explains why with the help of Hugh McNichols ( Popes, By Tradition, Dine Alone PewSitter.com April 15, 2008):
"Benedict Ratzinger is no fool, and I’m betting that, at some point, Bush and his fellow nationalists are going to get an ugly surprise."
"I agree. What else really explains Benedict’s ‘inability’ to break bread with Mr. Bush, even at such a big ‘party’ in the former’s honor. A ’scheduling confict’?"
"The fact that the Holy Father does not dine in public is often an issue that is more deeply rooted in traditions associated with a monarchial papacy," writes McNichol. "John-Paul II during his papacy often dined with people outside of the well-insulated Papal Household, but he chooses always to be the polite host and not the guest at the table. Such is the same with the present Holy Father. One needs to understand that for Catholics, Benedict XVI is the embodiment of temporal and spiritual authority in the Church, and as a result, wherever he goes, he brings the presence of the Church with him. Popes until John-Paul II usually dined alone. Blessed John XXIII compared this unique aspect of papal behavior as something compared to being punished."John Allen, Jr. rebuts the allegation as well:
In fact, the pope virtually never attends gala events organized in his honor by other parties, especially while he’s on the road. Basically speaking, when the pope travels he commits to following his official agenda, no more and no less. ...
Rumors, therefore, that Benedict XVI has “spurned” an invitation from Bush on the basis of some specific policy difference – out of protest over the Iraq war, for example, or debates over the use of “torture” – seriously over-interpret this standard bit of papal operating procedure.
Of course, Benedict XVI is committed to staying above the American political fray, and that might provide an additional incentive to steer clear of events that could be interpreted as having a political overtone.
Nonetheless, the bottom line on the White House bash is that if you’re going to a party with the pope, it’s almost always going to be on his turf and at his invitation.