President Obama said Pope Francis did not raise Obamacare “in detail” when they met on Thursday, but that in a separate meeting with the Vatican’s secretary of state “we discussed briefly the issue of making sure that conscience and religious freedom was observed in the context of applying the law.”
At a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Obama also acknowledged that he differs with the Vatican’s stance on some issues, but added that he “heartily” agrees with most of its positions.
During his nearly hour-long papal audience, Obama said Pope Francis “actually did not touch in detail on the Affordable Care Act.”
When he met with Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the president said, “I explained to him that most religious organizations are entirely exempt [from the contraceptive mandate]. Religiously-affiliated hospitals or universities or NGOs simply have to attest that they have a religious objection, in which case they are not required to provide contraception, although that employees of theirs who choose are able to obtain it through the insurance company.”
“And I pledged to continue to dialogue with the U.S. Conference of Bishops to make sure that we can strike the right balance, making sure that not only everybody has health care but families, and women in particular, are able to enjoy the kind of health care coverage that the ACA offers, but that religious freedom is still observed,” he said.
A few minutes later, a questioner raised the issue of “schisms” on social issues, and asked Obama whether they “would stand in the way of you and Pope Francis collaborating or forming a strategic alliance to tackle income inequality.”
“First of all, I just want to make clear … that we actually didn’t talk a whole lot about social schisms in my conversations with His Holiness,” Obama replied. “In fact, that really was not a topic of conversation. I think His Holiness and the Vatican have been clear about their position on a range of issues, some of them I differ with, most I heartily agree with.”
“And I don’t think that His Holiness envisions entering into a partnership or a coalition with any political figure on any issue,” he said. “His job is a little more elevated. We’re down on the ground dealing with the often profane, and he’s dealing with higher powers.”