Since it was announced that President Barack Obama was going to be giving the commencement address for the 2009 graduating class of Notre Dame, the Vatican has been deafeningly silent. Close observers interpreted this silence as tacit approval of the Obama administration, and as a friendly opening for dialogue. This contrasted sharply with the outspokenness of a small group of Conservative Catholics (both among the laity and hierarchy) who have been against the President’s visit and the honorary degree the school was going to give him. Again, this was a small group, only 28% of Catholics, while half of Catholics approved of the President’s address and the remaining 22% not having an opinion either way. A recent poll also shows that 67% of Catholics approve of the way President Obama has run the country. Last November, 54% of Catholics voted for Barack Obama.

Ah, but the Vatican has ended its silence, which might prove problematic for Conservative Catholics.

Giuseppe Fiorentino, writing in the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, has concluded that President Barack Obama has been a somewhat cautious leader, not the radical socialist Conservatives had portrayed him as. Fiorentino also cites Obama’s approaches to the economy and banking regulations, which have not been exactly bold; in other words, he has not used this as an opportunity to lead the U.S. towards socialism.

Obama’s stance on so-called “life issues” has not been as “apocalyptic” as some U.S. Catholic leaders have suggested, according to the paper. “The new guidelines regarding research on embryonic stem cells do not in fact follow the change of course planned months ago. They do not allow the creation of new embryos for research purposes or therapeutic cloning for reproductive purposes, and federal funds may only be used for experimentation with redundant embryos,” Fiorentino writes. “The search for common ground seems to be the road chosen by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, to confront the sensitive abortion issue,” L’Osservatore says. Instead of confronting his opponents, Obama has shown that he wants to engage in a positive dialogue and find “common ground.” They are also heartened to hear that he does not intend to pursue ultra-liberal laws regarding abortion.

The paper also noted President Obama’s intention to include a “conscience clause” in the Freedom of Choice Act, which would allow doctors who are morally opposed to abortion to refuse participation in abortion procedures. In addition to seeking dialogue, the President, Fiorentino writes, also wants to reduce the number of abortions, which includes a plan to facilitate the adoption process, and providing health care for women who do decide to keep their unborn child.

This article has been yet another positive sign from the Vatican, following its early May issue entitled Obama in the White House: The Hundred Days the Didn’t Shake the World.

Here is the full article:

Obama in the White House
The hundred days that didn’t shake the world
One thousand three hundred sixty-one days separate Barack Obama from the end of his mandate. No one can know nor imagine what will happen in this time. In fact, many analysts describe the “occupation” of the president as a reactive one. Planned political strategy leaves the post — as the case of the Bush presidency after 11 September 2001 proves — to choices dictated by events.

In another perspective, this 29 April marks a hundred days of the first African-American president in the White House, traditionally a much-awaited point for an initial assessment, however inevitably partial. But rivers of ink have already flowed over these weeks that, according to many commentators, they’ve signified a decisive turn from the past, a redefinition of the very image of the United States in the world.

It might be that this capacity to communicate is one of the great traits of the president, recalling that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Like the architect of the New Deal, Obama utilizes the modern media — radio then, internet today — to spread the message of hope which the nation needs. The great crisis of 1929 can’t be compared to the current one. And still the imprint seems the same. So too the ability of shifting the attention of public opinion in a pragmatic and functional way.

In these months Obama has seen his popularity grow only by having opened the doors to changes: he proposed direct negotiations with Iran to resolve the question of Tehran’s nuclear program and invited Russia to new discussions for the reduction of its strategic arsenals. Above all, he’s proposed a different role for the United States on the American continent, beginning to imagine new relations with Cuba. But in other and more concrete international scenarios, continuity in respect to the past is anything but compromised. Like in Iraq, where the administration is applying the exit strategy begun by Bush, and in Afghanistan. Here — Obama declared — is found the new front of the fight against terrorism. New only to a point, as it was in Afghanistan where the first US military intervention after September 11 took place. And not everything as a wish for discontinuity can be seen by the retention of Robert Gates at the helm of the Pentagon.

Even when, opening to Cuba, he’s broken a taboo, Obama isn’t much moved from his predecessors in the request for tangible signs on the part of Havana.

Similar evaluations can be made for the economic stimulus undertaken by the president. It’s been accused of excessive statism by some, if not placing the country on the path to socialism. A calmer analysis, however, notes that Obama moves with caution: very reluctant in the face of the nationalization of financial institutions, he opened the private sector to his plan to save credit institutions. Revealing, according to the International Herald Tribune, an unexpected similarity with Ronald Reagan, the president who placed a flag for the state’s retreat from the private sector. And much more statism revealed itself in the final months of the Bush-Paulson team with the partial nationalization of the titans of property lending, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Even on ethical questions — which, from the electoral campaign, have been the forceful concern of the Catholic episcopate — Obama doesn’t seem to have confirmed the radical changes he had aired. The new guidelines regarding embryonic stem-cell research don’t, in fact, line up with the changes foreseen months ago. They don’t permit the creation of new embryos for purposes of research or therapy, for cloning or reproductive ends, and federal funds may be used solely for experimentation with surplus embryos. These don’t remove the motives for criticism in the face of unacceptable forms of bioengineering that contrast with the human identity of the embryo, but the new regulations are less permissive.

A certain surprise has otherwise come about in these days through a bill designed by the Democratic party: the Pregnant Women Support Act would move to limit the number of abortions in the United States through initiatives of aid for distressed women. It’s not a negation of the doctrine until now expressed by Obama on matters of the interruption of pregnancy, but the legislative project could represent a rebalancing in support of motherhood.

Signals of innovations in the Obama administration are undeniable. Above all on matters of the care of environment and in particular the partnership that seems born with Beijing. But maybe it’s early to talk of revolution or imbalance in judgment, whether positive or negative. These hundred days have not shaken the world. Better to await the next one thousand three hundred sixty-one.

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