Just two weeks after the victory of President-elect Barack Obama, "the ground is already shifting underneath U.S.-Vatican relations," as officials in Rome voice concerns that Obama will implement policies supporting abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, Time Magazine reports. According to Time, "After the Bush administration, the election of a pro-choice, pro-diplomacy Democratic president is changing the Vatican's game plan vis-a-vis Washington on several levels. Bush was viewed in Rome as a rare ally in the West for his opposition to such issues as abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research. And the first issue to watch is abortion."
Time reports that top aides to Pope Benedict XVI already have informed him about Obama's plans to sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act, which would codify abortion rights. A senior Vatican official said, "There's more fear here than wrath," adding that if Obama signs the measure in his first months in office, "it would be the equivalent of a war. It would be like saying: 'We've heard the Catholic Church and we have no interest in their concerns.'" U.S. Catholic bishops -- who are skeptical of Obama's goal of reducing the need for abortion while maintaining abortion rights -- during last week's U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops General Assembly said they would challenge Obama on his support for abortion rights. Prior to the election, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke -- who in 2004 pledged to deny communion to Catholic Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) because of his support for abortion rights -- said that Democrats "were warned not to risk becoming the 'party of death,'" according to Time. Meanwhile, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, who heads the Vatican office for health, has stressed that the church also will involve itself in the debate on embryonic stem cell research.
Despite the church's positions, 54% of Catholics voted for Obama, a Protestant, which "may give the new president the cover to move ahead with his pledge," Time reports. The fact that Vice President-elect Sen. Joe Biden (Del.) is Catholic and supports abortion rights will give an "added twist to the Obama administration," according to Time. The magazine also reports that Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic Democrat who backs abortion rights, could be under consideration for HHS secretary. According to Time, "Though there are plenty of pro-choice Catholic politicians in Western Europe, these issues tend to get played out more openly in the United States, both because of its superpower status and a more vocal traditionalist wing of the American Church." Although Vatican officials have been critical of the Bush administration's economic and foreign polices and likely will consider the Obama administration a "marked improvement" on those issues, Time reports that the "possibility of an open clash over abortion could squander the potential for the Vatican to work side-by-side with Washington on issues such as Middle East peace, human rights and environmental protection" (Israely, Time Magazine, 11/18).