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Obama, Francis have cordial meeting despite sharp divisions

Obama and a Swiss Guard
Obama and a Swiss Guard
Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

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. While this was going on, the Supreme Court was debating about how the President’s signature law imposed on Hobby Lobby's religious freedom by mandating that the company pay for their employees’ contraception methods. And the Pope reportedly didn't let the President forget it.

Though there were some more lighthearted moments in their meeting – when the two exchanged gifts and when Obama invited the Pope to the White House, for instance – a statement released by the Vatican expressed concern over “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection” in the United States.

Pope Francis' attitude is not much of a surprise. President Obama famously told the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that they would not be a factor in his law, and then he went back on his word.

Obama's view of the meeting differed slightly, as he told a news conference that the pope "did not touch in detail" on the health care act. "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 then proceeded to imply that the Pope was too idealistic, saying that the Pope's job was "more elevated."

"We're down on the ground dealing with the often profane, and he's dealing with higher powers," he said.

The Vatican statement also mentioned "current areas of conflict," such as Ukraine and Syria.

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