Paul Baumann ’69 Joins Obama’s Religion Roundtable

The email came Tuesday, June 30.

“Apologies for the late notice,” the  National Security Council press aide wrote.  But could Paul Baumann ’69 meet with President Obama a few days later, prior to his meeting with the pope in Rome?

Baumann said he’d rearrange his schedule.  No apology necessary.

Paul Baumann

Paul Baumann

The former Staples and Wesleyan University soccer star — now editor of Commonweal, the nation’s leading lay Catholic opinion journal — had no idea what to expect.  Arriving at the West Wing of the White House last Thursday, he found 7 other religion journalists.  Each would ask 1 question.  They divided topics, to cover as much ground as possible.

After they were ushered into the Roosevelt Room, next to the Oval Office, the president entered. He greeted each person with a handshake, then sat at the middle of the conference table directly across from Baumann.

The intimate meeting lasted 45 minutes.  During his turn Baumann asked how he could get an invitation to play basketball with the president.  Obama laughed, and said Reggie Love — his assistant who won a national championship at Duke — would have to check out Baumann’s game.

Turning serious, Baumann asked about a group of pro-life and abortion rights activists that the administration has brought together to find common ground.  Obama reiterated the key points of his Notre Dame commencement speech, saying that despite one level of “irreducible difference,” both sides can work together to reduce the number of abortions.

Baumann found the president to be “friendly, responsive, articulate, thoughtful, and eager to put people at ease.  He was very comfortable talking about Catholic stuff, and very sincere when talking about religion generally. Aside from abortion and a few other issues, he ‘speaks Catholic’ well, especially when discussing social justice teachings.”

Baumann — who has a master of the arts of religion degree from Yale — adds:  “He is quite aware that he has become something of a proxy figure, as either a villain or a hero, in the long-running battle between so-called liberal and so-called conservative Catholics.”

And, says Baumann, “I’d be happy to return to the Roosevelt Room any time.  On even shorter notice.”

One response to “Paul Baumann ’69 Joins Obama’s Religion Roundtable

  1. Dolores Bacharach

    WOW! Paul Baumann as editor of Commonweal is traveling in very heady circles of independent altho’ prayerful Catholic thinking. I’m going to up-date my subscription and keep track.

    So what he learned about team efforts at Staples & Wesleyan may have been one of those life experiences which influence his thinking and actions..just as Sotomayor indicates they influence her.
    To see what we have in common and not where we’re different makes for more effective relationships, I do think.
    The best to you, Paul from a contemporary of your mom, Carole. So I know a man (Jim) who played soccer with Paul who shook the hand of Obama…close enough !
    I look forward to my first copy.
    Dolores Bacharach

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