Pontiff not attending dinner in his honor, White House says
The White House has scheduled a dinner next week in honor of Pope Benedict XVI's first visit to the United States, but one guest will be conspicuously absent from the proceedings: the pope himself.
There are no competing events listed on the pope's schedule, and the White House was unable to explain Benedict's absence from the dinner.
The pontiff will be greeted by the president and first lady upon his arrival to the US Tuesday and participate in a Rose Garden appearance and Oval Office meeting with President Bush the next day. A dinner scheduled for later Wednesday night didn't make it onto the Benedict's schedule, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Friday.
From Friday's press briefing:
Q Just to clarify, for the pope's visit to the White House, you said that now there's a dinner in the East Room in honor of the pope?
MR. STANZEL: Yes.
Q Will the pope actually be attending that dinner?
MR. STANZEL: I don't believe so, no.
Q Okay. Thank you.
Q I'm sorry. The pope doesn't attend a dinner in his honor?
MR. STANZEL: No.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. STANZEL: He doesn't come into the building.
Q Well, then it's not a dinner for the pope, is it?
MR. STANZEL: It's in honor of his visit. There will be leaders from the Catholic community from all over the country who are in town for that visit.
Q Is there a reason the pope doesn't attend the dinner?
MR. STANZEL: I don't know. I don't have the full extent of his schedule.
Benedict's schedule does not indicate any events that would conflict with his ability to attend the 7:30 p.m. dinner that Wednesday. He is just scheduled to return to the Vatican embassy in Washington at the same time after a meeting with US bishops at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.
It's unclear why the Pope won't be attending the dinner in his honor, but he is expected to touch on issues upon which he and President Bush disagree during the visit, especially the Iraq war.
During his visit to the United Nations a few days later, the Pope will address "the false notion that might makes right," according to a Vatican representative.
Some experts also predict the Pope would criticize the "culture of fear" in the United States. The Rev. David Hollenbach, director of Boston College's Center for Human Rights, said recently that this culture is seen as integral to the US involvement in Iraq.
"Fear can lead to angry responses," Hollenbach said, according to the Connecticut Post. "I think the pope's message is going to be 'Don't be afraid.' I think the overcoming of fear can take away the impulse for war."