NEW YORK — Contrasts between President Donald Trump and Pope Francis on issues like immigration and climate change are well documented, but with the start of a new administration in sight, members of a Georgetown panel said they expect a more productive relationship between the U.S. government and Vatican over the next four years.
“When you look at the foreign policy priority of the Biden administration and that of the Papacy of Pope Francis there’s just tremendous overlap between priorities,” said Shaun Casey, Director of the Georgetown University Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.
Casey was speaking during an online discussion Friday organized by the Berkley Center that focused on the next four years between President-elect Joe Biden and Pope Francis.
The overlapping priorities he spoke of include climate change, rebuilding the global refugee resettlement network, seeking peace in the middle east and combatting anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. He acknowledged, however, that Biden’s pro-choice beliefs “will never transcend the relationship,” and he expects implications of that stance throughout the term.
Casey also said it would be wise for Biden to select a career diplomat as the ambassador to the Vatican rather than a political figure. He noted the appointment of a career diplomat shows the Vatican the U.S. takes the relationship seriously, and it would insulate the relationship from the culture wars in the American Catholic Church.
“A political pick will be assessed in the United States as either rewarding this particular group or that particular group in the American Catholic Church,” he said.
Cathleen Kaveny, Darald and Juliet Libby professor at Boston College, emphasized the point that the ambassador – and administration in general – shouldn’t look at the relationship with the Vatican through the lens of red and blue.
“Our ambassador to the Holy See should not be viewed merely as political rewards for red Catholics or blue Catholics in turn depending on who is the president at the time, Kaveny said. “Bottom line, the relationship between the United States and the Holy See isn’t simply a matter of American Catholic controversies and fights. We have a world of opportunity.”
Joshua McElwee, Vatican correspondent and international news editor for National Catholic Reporter also touched on the U.S. Bishops’ involvement in the relationship. He wouldn’t be surprised if the Vatican makes its own determinations in “what best reflects the Pope’s ministry, the Pope’s interests in terms of international dialogue.”
The conversation around the Biden administration and the Vatican was used as the impetus for a conversation around the broader foreign affairs priorities of the administration.
Father Drew Christiansen, Georgetown professor of ethics and human development, suggested the new administration take a cautious approach in jumping back into international affairs.
“I think people will welcome us but we need to go as collaborators and participants. Sometimes having a leading role and other times not doing that,” he said. “Doing more internal change that tries to move us in the right direction will do more than trying to assert our power.”
According to the discussions moderator Emma Green, a staff writer at The Atlantic, the biggest foreign policy question for the Biden administration is China. She wonders if it will continue the aggressive-type relationship of the Trump administration, or will look to have more channels of communication.
Kaveny said it’s clear that China will be an adversary, trade partner and global force for the foreseeable future. She said it would behoove the Biden Administration to try and create conversations with China through sources of the Vatican.
Christiansen also looks at the approach respect Pope Francis has for Chinese culture.
“One thing that makes (China) open to Pope Francis is that the Catholic Church understands that they are a distinctive culture and has honored that. I think a great respect for the culture is a way to build up the relationship,” Christiansen said.