Diplomatic sources have said the United States president will see the Pope when he comes to Italy for the G7 gathering of world leaders in Sicily, while the White House yesterday confirmed Trump would attend the summit.
Both of Trump’s immediate predecessors met Popes for the first time when travelling to Italy for G8 summits with President Barack Obama meeting Benedict XVI in 2009 and George W. Bush meeting John Paul II in 2001.
The Holy See has not yet said when the meeting will take place but Vatican sources say that the 26-27 May gathering in Taormina opens the way for Francis to see Trump.
“This visit gives the president an opportunity to meet the Pope,” one diplomatic source explained. “And if he came to Italy without seeing Francis it would be seen as a snub, particularly given their earlier clashes over migration. Trump also sees that wherever you sit on the political spectrum attacking the papacy isn’t wise.”
Nevertheless, the meeting is anticipated to be politically tense due to the radically different agendas of Francis and Trump.
But parallels have also been drawn between the Pope and Trump as two populist leaders shaking up their respective institutions by taking a message directly to the people.
US Vatican writer John Allen has made the comparison while adding: “it’s the nature of populists to be divisive, because they upset systems and challenge business as usual.”
He points out, however, that while Trump is “a politician and a celebrity” Francis is at heart a pastor who, unlike the president, “rarely personalizes his rhetoric.”
The big differences in the two leaders’ global agendas will need to be bridged by the president’s ambassador to the Vatican, who is expected to be announced soon.
Previous Republican administrations appointed some heavy hitters as Vatican ambassadors such as Congressman Francis Rooney, Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor and Jim Nicholson, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs.