Obama hears Vatican's concerns over health care, invites Pope to US
By Philip Pullella and Jeff Mason
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama heard the Catholic Church's concerns over his health care plan while on a visit to the Vatican on Thursday, but drew a cheerful response from Pope Francis when inviting him to visit Washington.
The president appeared at ease and joked during the parts of his meeting with the pope that were open to a few reporters, but a brief Vatican statement issued later indicated that Obama's private talks there had a more serious side.
The statement said Obama, who was accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry, was told of the Vatican's concern about "the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection" in the United States.
This was a reference to the mandate in Obama's controversial health care plan which requires employers to cover the cost of contraception in insurance plans.
Catholics and members of other religions say the mandate, which is the subject of more than 100 law suits across the United States, is a violation of their beliefs because it forces them to support contraception and sterilization.
Obama later told a news conference in answer to a question that the pope "did not touch in detail" on the health care act but that it was discussed more in a separate meeting with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
"I pledged to continue to dialogue with the U.S. Conference of (Catholic) Bishops to make sure that we can strike the right balance," Obama said.
He acknowledged that there were differences of opinion between himself and the pope on a number of issues but said the pontiff could be an inspiration to politicians. Continued...