Pope Francis survived his visit to the White House this morning without anyone flashing boobs at him. That news might come as a surprise to conservatives, who for the past week have been attacking President Barack Obama for indecorously inviting LGBT activists and a liberal nun to attend the pope’s speech at the White House. They warned that the potential of these guests to embarrass the pontiff was scandalously high.
Among those on the guest list were the first gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, and Nuns on the Bus organizer Sister Simone Campbell, who defied American bishops to organize American nuns to publicly support Obamacare, which the bishops have said is akin to endorsing abortion because it mandates insurance coverage for contraceptives. Others included a gay Catholic blogger and a couple of transgender activists.
When the news broke of their inclusion in the papal event, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee went on a tear, telling Fox’s Megyn Kelly that inviting them to the White House was like setting up an open bar at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He has claimed the guest list was evidence that Obama was more interested in respecting the religious views of Osama bin Laden than those of the pope. He wrote in the Daily Caller:
Obama shows total disrespect to millions of Americans by transforming Pope Francis’ White House visit into a politicized cattle call for gay and pro-abortion activists. Why does Obama support other cultures and countries, yet scorns millions of believers in Christ at home? Why does Obama go to extremes to accommodate Muslim terrorists but shows nothing but disdain for Christians?
Over at Hot Air, Ed Morrissey fumed, “The White House wants to deliberately embarrass the Pope by sticking a thumb in his eye, and by sticking their noses into Catholic doctrine and teachings.”
Many conservatives coming to Pope Francis’ defense haven’t generally been avid fans of his, thanks to his new emphasis on combating climate change and economic inequality. And the pope himself doesn’t seem too ruffled by transgender people or even activist nuns. He ended the US bishops’ politically motivated investigation of nuns, and in January he reportedly met with a transgender man in Spain and gave him a hug.
Regardless, the pope—and conservatives—never had anything to worry about. The White House crowd of about 11,000 ticket holders couldn’t have been more polite (at least to the pope and the president; they were less thrilled with the media entourage blocking their view). On a perfect fall day, the military bands were in Fourth of July form, the St. Augustine church choir sang beautifully, and there wasn’t a rainbow flag to be seen. A few guests did wear discrete rainbow flag pins on their lapels, but they were too far away to be spotted by Francis. The only real outburst from a guest came as the pope was leaving, when a man yelled, “We love you, Pope Francis!” (A Twitter jokester attributed this to Vice President Joe Biden.)
Sister Simone was decked out in Nuns on the Bus swag, but was otherwise as well behaved as, well, a nun. In an interview with Mother Jones on the South Lawn, she said she found the whole brouhaha about her invitation rather ridiculous. The pope, she said, “didn’t seem too upset” that she was in the audience. And the idea that the presence of Bishop Robinson would be disrespectful to the pope seemed shocking to her. “Talk about a pastoral man!” she exclaimed. The conservative uproar, Campbell said, reflects “people’s fear of the other.” She said the criticism of the White House invite list was simply divisive.
“Why are we so afraid of each other?” she asked. “‘Fear not!’ Jesus said. That’s my motto.” Besides, she observed, “This pope is all about bridging.”