It may be Easter week but it appears there will be no resurrection of the relationship between Pope Francis and President Donald Trump.
Unlike American presidents for generations past – including President’s Obama, Clinton, George Bush, George W. Bush and even Ronald Reagan – when Trump travels to Italy next month for NATO meetings and the group of seven summit in Sicily, he will not make a side trip to visit the Vatican.
George W. Bush, by comparison, made six Papal visits with two different Popes while President.
A spokesman for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics – 70 million of whom are in the U.S. – said the Pope’s policy is to meet with any head of state who wants to see him – but so far there has been no approach by Trump or his representatives. And it doesn’t look like there will be one.
Trump, who was raised a Presbyterian, and Pope Francis, who has emerged as a strong voice against anti-immigrant populists, are on the opposite sides of numerous political, social and economic issues.,
They also disagree on immigration, the refugee crisis, climate change and the excesses of capitalism – where making money is the most important goal.
That is probably the reason the President will pass up the visit.
There has also been a political conflict between them in the past. In February 2016, when it was already clear Trump was the GOP front-runner, Pope Francis said he “is not Christian” if Trump wants to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and build a wall on the border with Mexico. He also called on Trump to address the “humanitarian crisis” along the southern border.
Trump reacted by calling the Pope’s criticism of his plans to build a wall “disgraceful.”
In March, Cardinal Peter Turkson, a close aide of the pope, urged Trump to listen to “dissenting voices” and reconsider his position on climate change, after Trump signed an executive order dismantling Obama-era environmental legislation. Turkson said that the U.S. is risking losing its position of leadership in the world to China. The Pope strongly favors the Paris Agreement.
In the past, American presidents, even Republicans, designed their foreign policy to reflect moral and ethical positions based on science and what is good for the world. Under Trump, the U.S. policies are based on his vision of “America First,” rampant capitalism and short-term thinking about political concerns.
So, a huge gulf exists with the Pope, who is all about people, morality, ethics and taking care of those who are poor, dispossessed, sick or unable to care for themselves.
There could be a last-minute decision by the Trump team to meet with Pope Francis but it is highly unlikely. Even if the logistical problems for a last minute audience could be worked out, Trump is not someone who is willing to sit with an authority figure who he knows disagrees with his policies and worldview, and have to be uncomfortable even for a short time.