According to a White House statement released Thursday, the two leaders will discuss “their shared values” on issues such as “caring for the marginalized and poor,” the economy, the environment, religious freedom, and immigration. The two are scheduled to meet Sept. 23, the day before the pope’s unprecedented address to a joint session of Congress.
Although the Obama Administration has clashed with US Church leaders over certain provisions in the Affordable Care Act, the president has repeatedly expressed his admiration for Pope Francis.
Last month, the president said he was touched by the pope’s “call to relieve suffering, and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable” during a talk at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
When the United States announced that it would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba late last year, both sides acknowledged that Pope Francis and the Holy See had played a central role in brokering the deal.
In his announcement of the new diplomatic relations, Obama thanked the pope, “whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is.”
A month later, during his State of the Union address, Obama mentioned the pope once again.
“And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo. As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of ‘small steps.’ These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba,” he said, making Francis only the third pontiff to receive a presidential shout-out during the annual update to Congress.
The two have met once before, during a March 2014 visit at the Vatican, after which Obama said he is “a great admirer” of the pope. The pair met for nearly an hour, and touched on religious liberty, healthcare ethics, and immigration.
Several dozen Catholic institutions sued the Obama Administration in 2012, claiming that its landmark healthcare law compelled them to provide coverage “for services that violate the teachings of the Catholic Church,” according to a statement from the University of Notre Dame, one of the plaintiffs.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voted last year to renew its fight against what it describes as attacks on religious liberty, most notably around abortion and same-sex marriage laws.
The last pope to visit the United States was Pope Benedict XVI, who met with President George W. Bush at the White House in 2008.
Last month, Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both Catholics, released separate statements confirming the papal address to Congress. Boehner described the address as “historic” and called it a “privilege” to welcome the pope. Pelosi, meanwhile, said she looked forward to hearing his “universal message of love and compassion.”
This will be the first visit to the United States for Pope Francis, and in addition to his stop in Washington, he will address the United Nations in New York and celebrate a public Mass in Philadelphia as part of the World Meeting of Families.
The full White House statement is below.
— Josh Earnest (@PressSec) March 26, 2015