The White House is "sensitive" to Pope Francis' stature and won't press him to deliver any specific remarks on hot domestic issues in his first United States tour next week, President Barack Obama's advisers said Thursday.
The president is grateful that the pope, expected to fly to Washington, D.C., from Cuba on Tuesday, supported his efforts to end the decades-long, diplomatic deepfreeze between the United States and the island, White House officials said.
"We would not in any way want to create any expectation that the pope is going to be a voice in U.S. domestic political issues," Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters in a phone conference about the pope's White House visit Wednesday.
"The pope in many ways operates at a different plane, of being a spiritual and moral leader," Rhodes said. "So we'd be very sensitive to not suggest that the pope's visit and his words are inserted into our own domestic politics. . . . He will calibrate exactly what he wants to say. I think we see his message as providing a moral and spiritual backdrop to the decisions we make in government and in our own lives."
Pope Francis will deliver remarks to Congress and the United Nations during his three-city visit, first to the capital, then New York City and on to Philadelphia.
When he lands, Obama, his wife, Michele, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, will greet the pope at the Joint Base Andrews. The next day, up to 15,000 people will crowd onto the South Lawn and nearby areas for the official White House welcome.
The president and the pope met last year in March at the Vatican, and when they meet face-to-face again for the second time, the two will exchange gifts and hold a private "continuation" of their first conversation, advisers said.
Pope Francis' visit coincides with the latest Republican effort to defund Planned Parenthood, over White House objections.
While the two leaders don't see eye-to-eye across the board, White House officials said they agree on "big ticket" issues, such as climate change, reaching out to the less fortunate and closing inequality gaps.
The head of the Catholic Church will spend Sept. 24 and 25 in Manhattan, where he will preside over a multireligious service at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, evening prayer at St. Patrick's Cathedral and celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden. He'll also be the focus of a historic motorcade through a portion of Central Park in his Popemobile.
White House officials said Pope Francis has struck a chord in the American people, regardless of their faith, because he has "embodied" his message, from installing showers for the homeless in Vatican City to washing prisoners' feet.
"People have found that to be profoundly inspiring, across religions," said Melissa Rogers, executive director of the White House Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnership. "People . . . want to respond to the pope by coming together to do more of that kind of service and compassionate understanding of our fellow human beings."