Pope and president should unite on common cause

Anytime a U.S. president is greeted at the Vatican by the pope, it is always one of the most widely attended media events in the world. This happens routinely, even when world events like world wars, genocides or moral conflicts are not occurring. Yes, the interrelationship between politics and religion is a fascinating topic that always attracts a lot of media and public attention. Many outstanding national political reporters always travel with the president and thousands of reporters from throughout the world report on religion and cover the pope. When they come together, it generates a lot of news, too often controversial.

But as I learned through my unique, extensive political, as well as Vatican, experiences, the public doesn't always receive the insight and behind the scenes meaning of these complex and important meetings. I worked the White House political side and know the Vatican's religious side as well as any political person. Yes, I understood them both. I'd advise them to emerge from the meeting with one clear realistic objective. Like what? How about a universal declaration to help special needs and disabled children throughout the world? But there are many other critical concerns that the pope and president could unite on.

So in anticipation of the president and pope's high profile meeting on May 24 at the Vatican, I believe the meeting could be very productive and meaningful. Let me take it a step further. With much of the world in division and crisis, we need an honest and straightforward dialogue. Not one based on political ideology or religion alone, but one based on openness, truth, and respect for peace and justice, which both the pope and president, more than anybody, could make happen.

You probably have never heard this approach before, so let me explain further why I feel this way. Both men will be advised beforehand by their top advisors about the substance of their meeting, no doubt. As I mentioned, this should not be a meeting about religion or to stress their political differences, but to come together to send an important message about the need for trust in the world, not trying to achieve political and religious unity. That simple, but profound, message about trust could be profound.

Let me also say something that I also believe strongly. Those who advise and speak for the president and pope after their historic meeting, have a critical role to play. I know and have worked with the pope's communications secretary, Greg Burke, and know a little about the reputation of integrity of Sean Spicer from Rhode Island and now of the White House. They both are people of professional judgment and integrity, and I believe they could have a big impact on a new and positive relationship between the pope and president. Certainly, one which our country and world needs and deserves.

- Raymond L. Flynn is the former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and Mayor of Boston.