Anything behind the Benedict/ White House dinner story?
Just before leaving for Washington to cover Pope Benedict’s U.S. visit, I got an interesting comment from a FaithWorld reader on another post about the trip:
Pope Benedict will skip White House dinner (in his honor!) with Bush. This is the incredibly significant detail of Pope’s visit. Why Mr. Henegan (sic) is so shy on this significance? Finally, the highest clerical authorities started behave like adults and demonstrate true feeling to the monster in the White House. The Christian communities around the world condemn the anti-Christian American president, though the American evangelicals are still behind and still cannot see the anti-Christ monstrosities emanating from the current administration.
I thought this was quite imaginative and said so. Pope Benedict does not like big fancy dinners and usually spends quiet evenings on his trips dining and conversing with the local cardinal, archbishop or nuncio. There was never any question of him changing this routine. There’s not much use scrutinising his agenda to see if he has time after all to pop over to the White House.
On arriving here, I’ve now heard or seen the”pope-no-show” story on the radio, on television and in today’s Washington Post (“Guess who’s not coming to dinner?“). These reports simply noted the facts, without the imaginative slant of the above comment or the explanation in response.
Is there another story behind this that political reporters are overlooking? What is the purpose of throwing a big party at the White House if the guest of honour can’t make it? It must be to please the people who attend. And who’s attending? White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said they would be “leaders from the Catholic community from all over the country who are in town for that visit.”
Is there some election year/Catholic vote angle in this?
UPDATE: John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter has a post entitled RUMOR CONTROL and the first one he bats down is “The Pope is “snubbing” President Bush by not attending a White House dinner in his honor.”
P.S. I don’t know how long it’s been since the Vatican has held a big state dinner worthy of the many opulent rooms it has where it could hold one. They must have done it a lot centuries ago, but recently? I searched through our photo database looking for a shot of a pope proposing a toast for a visiting king or showing a president his seat at a long table groaning with golden cutlery and fine china. All I found, though, was a black-and-white shot from 1987 when the late Pope John Paul invited homeless people in for a meal and served some himself.