Vatican officials announced Wednesday that President Obama will have his first audience with Pope Benedict XVI in July.
Although the White House has not confirmed the meeting, deputy Vatican spokesman Ciro Benedettini told Reuters, "the Pope is ready to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in the afternoon of July 10." Mr Obama will be in Italy for the annual G8 summit which will take place in L'Aquila July 8-10.
Whenever the two leaders do meet, there will be points of contention. Obama's support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research puts him at odds with the Catholic Church's teachings. Within days of taking office, the president signed an executive order that reversed the Reagan-Bush policy banning federal funding for groups that discuss or provide abortions outside the United States. Several weeks later he signed another executive order lifting restrictions on stem cell research. No doubt both actions will be topics of discussion for Obama and the 265th leader of the Catholic Church.
Of course, this president isn't the only US leader to differ with the Vatican. While seeing eye to eye on abortion, stem cell research and gay marriage, former President George W Bush's position on the war in Iraq was contrary to that of Pope Benedict and his predecessor Pope John Paul II, both of whom shared their opinions with Bush who visited 5 times with the respective Popes.
Woodrow Wilson was the first US president to meet with the Holy See. The next papal audience for a sitting president was 40 years later, when President Eisenhower met in Rome with Pope John XXIII. Since then, every U.S. president has met with the pope. President Reagan met with Pope John Paul II 7 times, President Clinton 4 times.
During his election, President Obama received 54% of the Catholic vote.