Hillary, Benedict and the Rootedness of Christianity

Hillary Clinton’s statement welcoming Benedict XVI to the United States says, "His apostolic journey is built on the theme of Christian hope, and as he has said, the Gospel message is ‘deeply rooted’ in our country."

These are meaningful words – ones that seem to resonate with one of the most vigorously debated themes of the Benedict papacy: only by recognizing and embracing Europe’s Christian roots can the continent’s culture survive and develop. Without an explicit acknowledgment, the thinking goes, traditionally Christian cultures will lose their identity and their ability to stand up for themselves against competing forces.

In April 2005, soon after his election as pope, Benedict explained that the selection of his name was in honor of Italy’s St. Benedict of Norcia, author of the monastic "Rule" that led to the Benedictine order which helped spread Christianity throughout Europe. "He represents a fundamental point of reference for the unity of Europe and a strong reminder of the unrenounceable Christian roots of its culture and civilization," the pope said during an address at St. Peter’s.

This was not a new direction for the Vatican. Pope John Paul II and Vatican officials, first among them then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, argued that the preamble of the European Union constitution should include a recognition of the continent’s Christian roots. They eventually lost that appeal to secular opponents, leading Pope John Paul II to say after the 2004 signing, "The Holy See has always favored the promotion of a united Europe on the basis of those values that are part of its history," and, "Keeping into account the continent’s Christian roots means making use of a spiritual heritage that remains fundamental for the union’s future developments."

The specific reference in the Clinton statement is to the portion of the pope’s statement in which he says, "Yes, Christ is the face of God present among us. Through him, our lives reach fullness, and together, both as individuals and peoples, we can become a family united by fraternal love, according to the eternal plan of God the Father. I know how deeply rooted this Gospel message is in your country."

By citing that sentence, and seeming to approve of it, Clinton seems to echo the Vatican’s elemental message about Europe here in America. It’s worth asking then if she believes that American culture must recognize those roots to keep its fundamental identity and shared cultural and human heritage safe from what the pope would describe as a devouring consumer society, secularism and religious pluralism.

The Clinton campaign writes in: "the ‘deeply rooted’ phrase was a reference to the language the Vatican used regarding the Pope’s visit to the states."