Obama snubs former Vatican envoys Flynn, Glendon in party planned for Pope Francis
By Evan Lips | September 21, 2015, 21:16 EST
A pair of former U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican, both from greater Boston, will be conspicuously absent from the White House greeting party planned for Pope Francis after he arrives in Washington on Tuesday.
In an unusual break from protocol, the White House did not invite former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn or Harvard Law School Professor Mary Ann Glendon to participate in the formal welcoming party set for Wednesday. Flynn was ambassador to the Holy See during President Bill Clinton’s administration and Glendon served in the position under President George W. Bush. Flynn and Glendon both confirmed they were not invited. The White House press office did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Flynn is a frequent national media commentator on Catholicism in America. Glendon currently serves on the Board of Supervisors of the Institute of Religious Works (Vatican Bank). They are considered by many to be among America’s leading lay Catholics and are known for their strong pro-life views.
The decision to publicly snub Flynn and Glendon comes just as President Barack Obama and Republicans in Congress are squaring off in a fight over taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions. The nonprofit group came under fire recently when it was revealed that it had been skirting federal law designed to prevent abortion providers from profiting through sales of fetal body parts. The battle in Congress could lead to a government shutdown. Obama has so far refused to yield to demands to end the funding.
Among the 15,000 invited guests to the White House reception are Gene Robinson, the retired gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire, as well as a transgender rights activist. The Catholic church, which opposes abortion and teaches that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman, recently rejected a transgender man’s request to serve as godfather to a catholic child, saying that his gender confusion (he was born female, but identifies as male) made him unfit to serve the child in that capacity.
The guest list for the pope’s White House reception on his first trip to America has irked at least one senior Vatican official, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. According to the Journal, the Vatican is concerned that pictures of the pope side by side with guests who back agendas at odds with Catholic teaching could be construed as endorsements by the pontiff.
Although the pope, as the supreme pastor of the church, offers the gospel message to all people and is willing to greet any human being with love and mercy, Vatican officials seem concerned that the White House will use the pope’s Washington visit for political purposes.
Asked whether the administration is “trying to send a message or make a statement” with its invite list, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was unaware of the Journal report.
“I would warn you against drawing a lot of conclusions about one or two or maybe even three people who may be on the guest list, because there will be 15,000 people there,” Earnest said in a press briefing last week.
When asked an identical question the next day, Earnest tiptoed around the issue, saying that the “goal here is to invite up to 15,000 people to the south lawn of the White House to welcome the pope.”
On Monday Earnest doubled-down, saying “there is no plan or strategy in place to stage an event that will advance anyone’s political agenda.”
“Rather this is an opportunity for President Obama to welcome Pope Francis to the United States on behalf of 300 million Americans,” Earnest told reporters. “Including the millions of practicing Catholics and the millions of others who are not Catholic but have been inspired by the pope’s teachings and his values.”
Earnest was also asked directly about the Wall Street Journal report.
“I would point you to the wide variety of comments we’ve seen from senior Vatican officials, including from Father Rosica over the weekend,” Earnest said, referring to a spokesman for the Holy See. “He said they would expect there to be a very diverse audience of Americans in place to welcome the pope.
“There was no theological test administered to determine who can stand on the South Lawn Wednesday morning.”
During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Father Thomas Rosica, an English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, said the Vatican “never gets involved in the guest lists of heads of state.”
Rosica, a retired educator and columnist in Canada, did point out that there will be “many pro-life people in that audience” and added that they “don’t have press agents who are telling the world they are invited to the White House.”
At least one prominent news outlet in Washington called the administration out for tactlessness.
The Washington Post’s editorial board did not criticize the White House over its guest list but it did slam the administration for what it believes to be a double-standard: freely inviting guests who stand in opposition to core Catholic beliefs to greet the pope but not inviting dissidents to greet the leaders of authoritarian states who visit the White House.
“When Chinese President Xi Jinping comes to the White House next week, shortly after the pope leaves town, it’s a safe bet that he won’t have to risk being photographed with anyone of whom he disapproves,” the Post’s editorial notes.
Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, will be just the third pope to visit the White House when he arrives on the South Lawn on Wednesday morning.
The pope and Obama are slated to make formal remarks and greet invitees from the White House balcony ahead of a private meeting between the two leaders.