Ahead of his July 10 meeting with Pope Benedict in Rome, President Obama has said he “wrestles” to reconcile his religious faith and gay rights.

In a July 2 meeting with Roman Catholic reporters, Obama answered questions likely to be raised at the Vatican, and called the Pope an important figure on the world stage.

“The Catholic Church has such a profound influence worldwide and in our country, and the Holy Father is a thought leader and opinion leader on so many wide-ranging issues,” Obama said. “His religious influence is one that extends beyond the Catholic Church.”

Social issues such as abortion and gay rights dominated much of the conversation. On gay rights, the president said he struggles with his benevolence towards gay men and lesbians.

“For the gay and lesbian community in this county, I think it's clear that they feel victimized in fairly powerful ways and they're often hurt by not just certain teachings of the Catholic Church, but the Christian faith generally.”

“And as a Christian, I'm constantly wrestling with my faith and my solicitude and regard and concern for gays and lesbians,” he added.

“This is trademark Obama,” Dan Gilgoff, US News & World Report religion reporter, said in a blog post, “seeming to effortlessly appeal to cultural conservatives and social liberals in the same breath.”

“Religious folks, cultural conservatives included, will appreciate that Obama takes his faith seriously enough that he's struggling with how to reconcile it with his commitment to gays and lesbians. Social liberals and the LGBT community will appreciate that he's unequivocal about that commitment.”

The 45-minute roundtable meeting was attended by representatives of the Catholic press, including the Catholic News Service, the National Catholic Reporter, the National Catholic Register, America magazine, Commonweal magazine, Catholic Digest, Vatican Radio, and a Washington Post religion reporter.

Pope Benedict remains doggedly opposed to gay rights, especially the right of gay men and lesbians to marry.