by Elinor Mitchell
Early this month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Vatican counterpart, Pietro Parolin, to discuss conflict in Middle East and the implications of the new nationalized healthcare, among other things. Father Federico Lomardi, a Vatican spokesman, said the meeting was broad and confirmed that Kerry and Parolin, along with aides, spoke specifically about the suffering in Syria and Sudan. Pope Francis and the Vatican have been outspoken proponents of peace in Syria in an effort to protect human rights. The talk came only weeks before the U.N. sponsored peace talks scheduled for January 22nd in Geneva. The conference will hopefully help resolve the rights issues in Syria. Kerry and Parolin also addressed a similar situation in South Sudan. According to the U.N., conflict in South Sudan has left 10,000 dead and another 355,000 displaced.
The two also talked about the United States’ transition to Obamacare, and more specifically, about the implications its mandates may have on religious freedoms. Father Lomardi said that Obamacare has been an, “object of concern and discussion by the U.S. Bishops.” Obamacare mandates that, as of January 1st of this year, employers supply their employees with policies that provide certain types of birth control. The Catholic Church and the government have come to controversy over birth control and the mandate’s requirements have continued to exacerbate that tension, especially among Catholic business owners. Businesses who do not comply with the mandate will face a fine, and although the mandate will not require religious organizations pay for policies that cover birth control, it still applies in every other case. Apart from Obamacare, Kerry and Parolin spoke briefly about Israel and Palestine and the need for new negotiations to broker a peace deal.
The meeting is seen as a success, and as a clear sign that the United States is interested in openly communicating with the Catholic Church. According to Catholic News Service, Kerry said that, “It was a privilege for me as the first Catholic Secretary of State in about 32 or 33 years…as an altar boy as a young kid, I would have never imagined that I would have been crossing the threshold of the Vatican to meet, as secretary of state, with the secretary of state of the Holy See.” The talk was a step toward strengthening the United States’ ties to the Catholic Church. Kerry’s next stop was Kuwait, where he attended the Syria donors’ conference.