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Pope's Commitment To Religious Freedom Highlighted On U.S. Trip


Emma Green covers religion and culture for The Atlantic, and she joins me now. Welcome to the program.

EMMA GREEN: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: Were you surprised to learn about this meeting between the pope and Kim Davis?

GREEN: Surprised and not surprised. I think, on the one hand, no one who was pope watching over the past week expected there to be an in-person meeting between Kim Davis and the pope. But on the other hand, there were a few hints that this issue of religious liberty and freedom of conscience was on his mind during the trip. He spoke about this at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. He met with the Little Sisters of The Poor, an order of nuns who have been pushing back on the Obamacare birth control mandate. And when he spoke before Congress, he did mention the issue of freedom of conscience, so there've been a couple of hints.

SIEGEL: You mentioned his meeting with the nuns. The Vatican explicitly stated that he'd met with them as a sign of support in their legal battle. Why do you think the meeting with Kim Davis was handled so discreetly and there wasn't a public statement about it?

GREEN: So meetings between officials in the church often happen this way. Meetings between the pope and public figures - they won't necessarily be announced beforehand, and they won't even necessarily be commented on by the Vatican spokespeople. I think there was an understanding by the Vatican that if this were to come out, it would be the story that dominated media, as we're seeing today, and they didn't necessarily want to get questions from reporters about Kim Davis. Mat Staver told me that when he was arranging this visit with Vatican officials, they were concerned that Kim Davis would dominate coverage of the papal visit. And so they didn't want this to be the question that reporters were asking.

SIEGEL: We associate the resistance to the Obamacare contraceptive mandate or, for that matter, same-sex marriage with an array of conservative Christian groups in the United States. Do those groups typically think of Pope Francis as being in their corner on these matters?

GREEN: That's a great question. So I think, on the one hand, the pope has certainly been characterized as being a progressive or someone who holds up American liberal values. And to a certain extent, the issues that he's elevated are those that tend to intersect with the American left - so poverty and immigration and climate change.

But one thing to remember is that Pope Francis is a pastor, and he has been very much solid on the question of traditional family structure - so the nature of marriage such that it involves a man and a woman. And he speaks constantly about the importance of the unborn, the importance of caring for life, and this includes issues like abortion. He has changed the tone a little bit of the church. So for example, he extended the possibility of forgiveness for women who've had abortions but are regretful of it. But in terms of church doctrine and how Pope Francis is preaching it, absolutely, he lines up with how some of these conservative Christians interpret issues like homosexuality and abortion.

SIEGEL: That's Emma Green who covers religion and culture for The Atlantic. Thanks for talking with us.

GREEN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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