Inside the Vatican provides some rather interesting insight into what transpired before and after the meeting:
Obama met with Pope Benedict for 35 minutes. There is no record of what was said during that time — just a few hints.
Here is the Vatican statement issued after the meeting:
"This afternoon, Friday 10 July 2009, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI received in Audience the President of the United States of America, His Excellency Mr. Barack H. Obama. Prior to the Audience, the President met His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, and also His Excellency Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States.
"In the course of their cordial exchanges the conversation turned first of all to questions which are in the interests of all and which constitute a great challenge for the future of every nation and for the true progress of peoples, such as the defence and promotion of life and the right to abide by one’s conscience.
"Reference was also made to immigration with particular attention to the matter of reuniting families.
"The meeting focused as well upon matters of international politics, especially in light of the outcome of the G8 Summit. The conversation also dealt with the peace process in the Middle East, on which there was general agreement, and with other regional situations. Certain current issues were then considered, such as dialogue between cultures and religions, the global economic crisis and its ethical implications, food security, development aid especially for Africa and Latin America, and the problem of drug trafficking. Finally, the importance of educating young people everywhere in the value of tolerance was highlighted."
Father Lombardi was at pains to say that this communique did not reflect the chronologial order of the conversation. So, even though the communique uses such words as "then" and "finally," we are not to understand that this was the order of topics discussed; they could have been in a different order.
But the strange things about this Vatican communique is that it leaves out the most important thing that happened at the meeting.
And, in leaving it out, the communique misses the sense of the meaning entirely.
The Pope gave Obama a book.
A little green book.
No, it wasn't the social encyclical he just published on July 7, Veritas in Caritate, which was the planned gift, announced in another press office bulletin. (The Pope did give him the encyclical, as planned, in a special white leather cover edition.)
Rather, it was an Instruction published on December 12, 2008, by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled Dignitas Personae — "The Dignity of the Person."
This gift was evidently added at the last minute, because it was not mentioned in the pre-visit press communique.
However, it is not clear whether it was added to the "gift list" during the last hours or days prior to the visit, or at the very last moment — during the visit itself...
Its Latin title, Dignitas Personae, comes from the first line and summarizes its focus, “the dignity of a person,” that is, of each and every person.
The instruction builds upon a prior instruction, Donum Vitae (February 22, 1987) which it notes was “particularly significant" (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was the major author of the text).
Dignitas Personae makes four main points:
Point #1: the dignity of each human being. Simply because they are very young, embryos, for example, may not be sacrificed or manipulated to help other, older human beings (i.e., those who are already born). Human dignity forbids not only the killing but also the “manipulation” of the human being. "Hybrids” of human and animal genetic material should not be created (though this is already legal in some countries).
Closely allied to this first principle is the fact that human life should always and solely be conceived within the married love of husband and wife, "the fruit of marriage."
Point #2: the Church is on the side of true science. Science is knowledge that serves humanity. But science must be subject to ethical principles designed to protect the dignity and equality of all human beings.
Point #3: the Church is on the side of wisdom. The document argues that we must be sure we are not overstepping ethical boundaries before we go forward with new approaches and techniques.
Point #4: the duties of politicians. Elected representatives are obliged to take ethical principles into account in making policy.
The document stresses the need to protect innocent human life from the moment of conception. "The human being," it says, citing Donum Vitae, "is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.'" (Paragraph 4)
Father Lombardi, speaking in the press office at about 6 p.m., said the meeting and the atmosphere were “very cordial and serene.”
He said “the president clearly has charisma and this was noted by the people around the Pope, from the prefecture (of the papal household) as well as the Gentlemen of His Holiness. He has a great capacity for treating people well.”
Fr. Lombardi said the Pope told him afterwards he was “extremely satisfied, content and serene” with how the talks went between the two.
Father Lombardi stressed the importance of the meeting between two leaders, one – the Pope – a moral leader, saying that when two people meet personally and get to know each other, this is always a great step forward.
He said Pope Benedict and President Obama spoke English to each other, although two other people were present – Msgr. Peter Wells of the Secretariat of State and an interpreter from the Obama delegation.
When asked about the Pope’s gift to Obama of Dignitas Personae, Fr. Lombardi said “this was not foreseen, but its meaning is clear.”
Repeating himself, Lombardi said the Pope did not wish to stress differences, but rather to place topics and viewpoints on the table with “clarity and objectivity.”
He again defined the meeting as cordial, serene and very productive.
Hints of what happened
The reporters on the scene today said this is what they saw:
When the president and Pope met, Benedict said, “Mr. President, welcome,” and Obama responded: “Thank you so much. It is a great honor for me. Thank you.”
As they were both seated at the Pope’s desk, surrounded for a few minutes by TV, photographers and journalists Obama said to the Pope: “You must be very used to having your photo taken... I am still getting used to it.”
While the pictures were still being taken, Benedict XVI asked the president about the just-concluded G8 summit in L’Aquila. "You must be tired after all these discussions," Benedict said.
The president responded that the meetings marked "great progress" and "something concrete," although the precise topic they were discussing at that point was unclear.
Then, the President and Obama went into a separate room, and the reporters could not hear or see any more of the conversation.
The pool of three reporters waited in a small adjoining closet while the Pope and president spoke privately.
At a certain moment, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, the Pope’s private secretary, opened the door and handed them three copies of a little green book.
He said to them, they reported: “Together with the autographed copy of the encyclical, there will be another gift for the president, a copy of Dignitas personae. Reading it might help the president understand the position and teaching of the Church on these issues.”
The reporters were then allowed to see the very end of the Pope's meeting with the president.
They said that when Pope Benedict gave Obama the encyclical, and then the little green booklet Dignitas personae, he said, “This is a document about bioethics,” and the president replied, “Oh, what we discussed earlier. I’ll have some reading to do on the plane.”
President Obama's entourage also included Gen. James Jones, national security adviser; Mona Sutphen, White House deputy chief of staff; Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications; Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary; and David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president.
Pope Benedict gave Obama a mosaic showing St. Peter's Basilica and Square, an autographed copy of the encyclical Caritas in Veritate ("Charity in Truth") and a medal marking the fifth year of his pontificate.
The president told the Pope the mosaic, which was made in the Vatican's mosaic studio, "was very beautiful" and would have "a place of honor" in the White House.
The president gave the Pope a liturgical stole that had been on the remains of St. John Neumann, the first U.S. male citizen to be proclaimed a saint.
Then Pope Benedict told the president: "A blessing on all your work and also for you."
The president responded, "Thank you very much. We look forward to a very strong relationship... It was very productive, especially today." (Read entire article)