Get Ready for Pope Drama on Gays, Abortions, and More

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Pope Francis doesn’t get to the United States until Tuesday, but the Pope Drama has already begun. Exhibit A: On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that “a senior Vatican official” said the Church is “disputing” a few of the guests who were invited to the pope’s White House visit. Specifically, the WSJ called out Sister Simone Campbell, an American nun who leads a Catholic social-justice organization that’s been vocal about health-care issues; Gene Robinson, the gay former Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire; and Mateo Williamson, who has represented transgender Catholics for the LGBT organization Dignity USA. This official cited worries about the pope being caught in a photo op with any of these folks, which “could be interpreted as an endorsement of their activities.”

In an email, the English language representative of the Vatican, Father Thomas Rosica, flatly denied this report:

There is absolutely no statement or comment from the Vatican on the President's guest list. The Vatican never comments on those invited by a head of state to be present for a welcoming ceremony of the Pope.

The stories you have read are inaccurate.

As we prepare for Pope for Days (aka Popepacalypse or Popeaggedon—or maybe that’s just how tired religion reporters refer to it), this is a good sign of things to come. Media will be looking for conflict in all the obvious places: homosexuality, divorce, birth control, abortion, and the role of women in the Church. It’s not that these issues aren’t important—they are! And it’s not that they don’t represent a genuine tension between Church teachings and the beliefs and practices of a certain subset of Americans, Catholic or otherwise. But it’s important to peer closely into the supposed conflicts to look for what’s deep and meaningful, and what’s not. Chances are, alleged guest-list kerfuffles don’t make the cut.

As Popeapalooza unfolds (had to fit in one more!), my colleagues and I will be tracking it; check back for updates. And in the meantime, as the pope makes his way to Cuba, check out this great piece by Jason Berry on how the Church survived in that country through the Castro years.