THE VATICAN has raised objections to a few of the guests invited to the White House arrival ceremony next week for Pope Francis. The Wall Street Journal reported that the guests include transgender activists, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop and a nun who criticizes church policies on abortion and euthanasia. The Vatican worries that photos taken with the pope might be used to suggest his endorsement of activities he in fact disapproves of.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, in his briefing Thursday, wouldn’t comment on individual invitees but noted that a very large crowd will assemble for the Wednesday event. “[T]hat’s why I would warn you against drawing a lot of conclusions about one or two or maybe even three people who may be on the guest list, because there will be 15,000 other people there too,” Mr. Earnest said.
That’s a fair point. The White House also might argue that it can’t be expected to turn its back on people, or values, that are important to President Obama, especially in a house he’s occupying on behalf of the American people. No doubt there’s often a fine balance between hospitality and principle when foreign visitors come to town. The administration doesn’t want to give offense, but it also doesn’t want to give in to what it may see as prejudices that it doesn’t share.
What struck us as we read about this small controversy is the contrast between the administration’s apparent decision to risk a bit of rudeness in the case of the pope and its overwhelming deference to foreign dictators when similar issues arise. When Secretary of State John F. Kerry traveled to Havana to reopen the U.S. Embassy recently, he painstakingly excluded from the guest list any democrat, dissident or member of civil society who might offend the Castro brothers.
And when Chinese President Xi Jinping comes to the White House next week, shortly after the pope leaves town, it’s a safe bet that he won’t have to risk being photographed with anyone of whom he disapproves. Chen Guangcheng, the courageous blind lawyer, for example, lives nearby in exile, but he probably won’t be at the state dinner. Neither will Falun Gong activists, democracy advocates or anyone else who might, well, give offense.
A cynic might say it’s easy to explain the difference. The pope, famously, has no army — or, to update the cliche, no carrier-busting missiles, and relatively few U.S. Treasury bonds in his portfolio. On the other hand, Pope Francis, whatever you think of the Catholic Church’s policies on abortion and gay marriage, has been during his short tenure a powerful voice for more tolerance and inclusion, while Mr. Xi is responsible for ever-growing repression. Maybe that should count for something, too, as the guest lists are drawn up.
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