U.S. President Barack Obama believes an American could make an effective pope, dismissing concerns that a pontiff from the United States would be influenced by his government.
"It seems to me that an American pope would preside just as effectively as a Polish pope or an Italian pope or a Guatemalan pope," Obama said in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, as cardinals gathered in Rome to elect the Catholic church's next leader.
Two US cardinals have been named by Vatican experts in Rome as potential papal contenders: Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean Patrick O'Malley of Boston.
Asked whether a pope from the United States would "take orders from you," Obama noted his past difficulties with the US Catholic bishops, who have blasted him for provisions of his health care reforms that would force most employers to offer coverage for birth control.
Churches would have been exempt from the rules, but religiously affiliated groups like hospitals and other charities would have to comply. Obama had offered a compromise earlier this year that failed to satisfy many faith groups, agreeing that employers would have to provide the coverage but would not have to pay for it directly.
"I don't know if you've checked lately, but the conference of Catholic bishops here in the United States don't seem to be taking orders from me," he said.
Obama, who was a member of a liberal protestant denomination before taking office but has not joined a congregation in Washington, said he hoped the next pope would focus on "what I consider the central message of the gospel. And that is that we treat everybody as children of God and that we love them the way Jesus Christ taught us to love them."
A pope who focusses on the Catholic Church's devotion to service would "have a tremendous and positive impact on the world," Obama said.
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