Pope Francis vs. the Republicans

Pope Francis t-shirt vendors

Pope Francis t-shirt vendors

“The Catholic Church is now more progressive on both science and social issues than the GOP.” That’s the message coming from the humorous meme site lolworthy.com, accompanied by a photo of an astronaut on a spacewalk. Once again, the humorists have it right. The visit of Pope Francis to the United States is most noteworthy in the contrast between the Pope’s hopeful, humanistic message and the negative reaction from many in the Republican party.

Speaking before a joint session of Congress on Thursday, Pope Francis said some things that appeared to go against current Republican dogma:

A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.

We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind.

On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities…. We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.

Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps”, and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play.

Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

At least one Republican Congressman said beforehand that he would boycott the Pope’s address to Congress, citing his disdain for being “lectured by the Pope about climate change.” Likewise, Republican Senator James Inhofe, perhaps the Senate’s primary climate denier, said before the Pope’s speech that “I think it’s totally inappropriate that the Pope is weighing in on all the real sensitive, far-left issues.” And back in June, Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum suggested that Pope Francis should “leave science to the scientists” regarding climate change, perhaps not realizing that the Pope has a technician’s degree in chemistry.

However, the Pope, acting like a diplomat and even a politician, ultimately used cautious language in his speech before Congress. He did not directly mention the term “climate change” in his address, as he did in his May 24, 2015 encyclical linked above. As a result, CNN said that, by the time Pope Francis left Washington for New York, he had “won over Hill Republicans.” Even Sen. Inhofe seemed happily surprised by Pope Francis’ tone, noting, “In a way, I think it was less forceful on those subjects than I thought it would be.”

Nevertheless, prior Republican threats and admonishments against the Pope’s free speech rights remind us of current Republican threats to shut down the federal government yet again unless federal funding for Planned Parenthood is zeroed out. In both cases, it’s “my way or the highway” Republican bullying. However, while Pope Francis bent over backwards not to offend GOP sensibilities, don’t expect President Obama, the Democrats or the American people to be so submissive when it comes to our problems, and our elected officials’ responsibility to help solve them.

Photo by Mike Maguire, used under Creative Commons license. http://is.gd/sPLQDl

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