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Barack Obama's Friend in the Vatican?

He condemned "corruption and illegality" in "the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries." And opposing an idea popular among some conservative development economists, he warned that countries should not seek to become more competitive internationally by "lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers" or "abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution."

Yet Benedict is more a left-of-center Christian Democrat than a socialist. His radical critique of capitalism is also a conservative critique of permissive societies, and he emphasized that "rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere license." He made the case for a specifically "Christian humanism," arguing that only "a humanism open to the Absolute" could avoid "exposing us to the risk of becoming ensnared by the fashions of the moment."

No one will accuse Benedict of being fashionable, which is why his views run crosswise to important currents in both American conservatism and American liberalism.

This gives the pope a perspective on Obama that conventional American conservatives lack, and it's why he is far more inclined to work with the man in the White House than they are. But Benedict is also more disposed than American liberals to disagree with the president -- and, yes, on some issues, he may prod Obama from the left.

ejdionne@washpost.com


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