President Barack Obama received Pope Francis on the South Lawn of the White House and greeted his Holiness with praise for Catholic social justice in action. Unfortunately, the President did not display gracious hospitality when choreographing the 15,000 person guest list.
Among the guests for this visit by the Holy See to the Peoples' House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the Obama Administration seemed to take delight in inviting an A list of American Catholic dissidents, including the first openly homosexual Episcopal Bishop Vichy "Gene" Robinson (who is now a fellow with the Democrat oriented Center for American Progress), Sister Simone Campbell who was a leader in the "Nuns on the Bus" political advocacy, and Mateo Williamson (the ex co-head of the Dignity USA transgender caucus) made famous by the "Owning Our Faith" documentary
Pope Francis believes in the Ignatian notion of encounter and dialogue but prominently announcing these guests seemed to just stick a finger in the guests' eye. Vatican officials pushed back against these provocative invitations. The concern was having the Holy Father pushed into pictures with such Catholic teaching dissenters to cause controversy or imply acceptance.
When Pope Francis landed at Joint Base Andrews and was greeted by President Obama and family, there was an unscheduled twenty meeting between the Holy Father and the President. It is unknown what was discussed. However, the pontiff did not greet any civilians gathered on the White House South Lawn.
Republican Presidential hopeful former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) used folky analogies to convey the classlessness of the Obama Administration's invitations. Reverend Franklin Graham also questioned "sinful" the Obama White House's tactics for the Papal visit.
There is a cognitive dissonance between the kind words which America's Chief Executive spoke and his uncultured special guest list. During his White House speech, Pope Francis spoke warmly about combating climate change and helping the maginalized in American society, including immigrants. But Mr. Obama's passive aggressive attitude towards Pope Francis diminishes any alliance on social justice issues to try to score cheap political points with the LGBTQQ? activists.
At least the protocol person at the White House did better with State gifts than in the past. When President Obama visited the United Kingdom at the start of the Obama Administration, the White House gave Queen Elizabeth a MP3 player full of Obama speeches and the sight impaired Prime Minister a collection of Region 1 DVDs of American films. When Mr. Obama visited the Vatican last year, he gave the Vicar of Christ a box of seeds.
For Pope Francis' visit to the White House, the Vatican was given a one of a kind statue of an ascending dove which incorporates the armature from the Statue of Liberty and is on a pedestal carved from reclaimed wood from the White House. That gift was thoughtful, symbolic and precious. The White House also presented a 206 year of key from St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton. That might get filed along with 1920s American Catholic bingo records in the Vatican archives. In exchange, the Holy Father gave Mr. Obama a bronze bas relief plaque for the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which was the main reason that Pope Francis traveled to America for the first time.
Post Scriptus-- The Pope arrived late for his appointment at the White House. It is easy to assume this was just do to the Holy Father giving quality time to the students standing near the Nunciature. However, a more cynical take may be that such a delay conveniently caused a South Lawn receiving line photo-op to be cut from the itinerary. One wonders why the White House made such a big deal about the special guests, yet there was no receiving line nor photo ops with the crowd.