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Pope gives a nod to Obama

Benedict XVI leans to his left to greet the visiting president

Pope Benedict XVI, flanked by Bishop James Harvey (L) and his personal secretary Bishop Georg Gaenswein (R), delivers his blessing during his Wednesday general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican July 8, 2009. (Giampiero Sposito/Reuters)

ROME  — With leaders of the G8 countries here to discuss a reeling global economy, the Holy See released Pope Benedict XVI’s new encyclical, “Love in Truth.”

Calling “food and access to water” basic human rights, the 144-page document entreats developed countries to end hunger “for safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet.”

In a step beyond Pope John Paul II’s famous criticisms of unbridled capitalism, Benedict  advocates “a worldwide redistribution of energy resources” to assist the poorest countries. Although the letter provides no specifics on how “the assistance of advanced technology” should work, the pope — in language likely to rankle conservative Catholics — echoes President Obama’s insistence on environmental safeguards and a smaller carbon footprint as an ethical responsibility.

“The entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature,” the papal letter asserts. “We must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition so that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it.”

The letter strongly reiterates church opposition to abortion and birth control devices. But the progressive tone in long passages concerned with human rights and poverty offers a nod toward the new U.S. administration, days after President Barack Obama in a meeting with Catholic journalists at the White House stressed the need to find common ground where possible.

Benedict and Obama are scheduled to meet July 10 at the Vatican.

Each stands to gain with a constituency not traditionally his own: the president with Catholics, and the pope with Western policymakers grappling with the economic downturn. With them, Benedict has upped the ante by calling on redistribution of oil-and-gas resources to Third World countries.  

The president’s high approval ratings and adroit presence on the world stage stand in contrast to Benedict’s papacy, which has made mistakes of a kind rarely seen in the media age.

The Pope recently issued a rare apology for having reinstated an excommunicated bishop from the break-away Society of Pius X sect who scoffed at the existence of the Holocaust. He was subsequently removed again.

Although Benedict has gone farther than John Paul in dismissing dozens of pedophiles from the priesthood, he took a soft-glove approach to Father Marciel Maciel Degollado in 2006, ending the public ministry of a priest long shadowed by pedophilia charges, only to see Maciel’s religious order, the Legionaries of Christ, portray the founder on their website as falsely-accused, a future saint. The Vatican failed to specify what Maciel had done to warrant his punishment. He died in 2008. In February, the Legion revealed that he had a grown daughter. The Vatican ordered an investigation of the order itself which is now underway.