The political points made by Pope Francis to Congress

Yeah, it’s kinda uncool and even tacky to interpret the Holy Father’s words in political terms, but this is a political blog, so I thought I’d share this NPR piece, “The 10 Most Political Moments In Pope Francis’ Address To Congress.” Here are the 10 moments, with my comments appended.

  1. Embracing John Kerry — Significant because of Kerry’s position on abortion, which got him in trouble with the hierarchy several years back.
  2. A call to rise above polarization — See, I knew it! Both the Democrats and Republicans may want to claim him, but this Pope is UnParty all the way!
  3. A call for the country to open its arms to immigrants and refugees — Because you know, America, you are a nation of immigrants.
  4. A reminder on abortion — Hugs or not, don’t forget that you’re still wrong on this one, Secretary Kerry.
  5. Strongly advocating for abolishing the death penalty — Another aspect of the Consistent Ethic of Life.
  6. Poverty and the necessity of ‘distribution of wealth’ — Not a big applause line with the GOP members, I imagine (I didn’t actually see the speech).
  7. Business should be about ‘service to the common good’ — Which means, don’t be like VW.
  8. Calling on Congress to act on climate change — God, who made the Earth loves it, and we are its stewards.
  9. Anti-war message and a call to stop arms trade — OK, so he had some admonitions to throw my way, too. And I don’t disagree, much as that might surprise you.
  10. The importance of family and marriage — As y’all know, I’m definitely totally with him there. As my grandchildren grow, I’m more and more about it all the time.

NPR said:

There were political messages that challenged the orthodoxy of both American political parties, but, in this 51-minute address, there were a lot more points of emphasis Democrats are happy about — and that put some pressure on Republicans.

But here’s the thing: If you’re Catholic — meaning that the you believe the things that Catholics believe, rather than just being culturally a mackerel-snapper — you can’t be comfortable in either of the two major parties.

Occasionally over the years, when people have asked me where I am on the political spectrum, I have said I’m not on the spectrum; I’m Catholic.

Today, the Pope reminded me why…

31 thoughts on “The political points made by Pope Francis to Congress

  1. Mark Stewart

    Let’s not reframe this as the Pope being against abortion; he is against birth control. And since gays interfere with the development of life it isn’t unreasonable to conclude he is against anything or anyone that doesn’t maximize the abundance of babies (though perversely he would probably support gay marriage even as he rejects their personal identity). Those aren’t big leaps.

    Of course we could also twist his words to say life begins when it’s viable, and then we protect all stages from there. And that I would agree with.

  2. David Carlton

    Interestingly, I was at a church meeting this evening and one of my fellow elders (try guessing his politics) told us that he had “heard” that His Holiness had in the course of the address not once referred to God (The word “God” appears nine times; I just counted). I actually found the address fairly anodyne, in keeping with a man who wants to reconcile and build bridges. I was also especially struck by this passage:

    “It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129).”

    I may need to check the context, but this certainly problematizes the notion that Francis is “anti-business.” *Laudato Si’* may be a lot better balanced than it’s been depicted.

  3. Barry


    Would you be so kind to outline the political points the Pope made in his address to the Castro brothers or the National Assembly of People’s Power?

    a hearty Thanks!!

  4. Norm Ivey

    It appears this son of Southern Baptists has a fair amount of Catholic in his soul. Nothing there with which I disagree.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Or, as Douglas Adams summarized the message of Jesus:

      And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change…

  5. Doug Ross

    Pope Francis: “We need to do more to help the environment, help poor people, and redistribute wealth!”

    People: “Amen!!!”

    Pope Francis: “Now excuse me while I get back on my fossil fuel burning jumbo jet to ride in first class back to my mansion and servants. I have to go make sure the billions in gold in our vault is safe.”

    Sometimes actions speak louder than Pontiffications.

    1. David Carlton

      Indeed they do. Francis has famously given up the apostolic apartments to live in a hostel with other priests. Of course, actions can’t speak to those who deliberately stop their ears.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      He doesn’t live in a mansion.

      I don’t know what you expect, Doug, but it’s not a fair expectation. Not even close.

      Is there anyone in this world you admire, who you actually think is a good person doing his best?

      1. Doug Ross

        Plenty. Hundreds of them. Most of them don’t fly around in chartered jets, though. They just do stuff.

        My closest friends are people who are far better than I am and I admire them for what they do and how they think. Then there are acquaintances like a guy I know at First Baptist Church who is a bank executive during the week but has organized and worked on feeding the homeless once a month, every month, for at least ten years. He bakes cookies every time rather than buy them and gets to know the people who come to the meals on a first name basis. He’s a better Christian than I might ever be.

        But of the more famous people, off the top of my head I’d go with Bill Gates (who has put his wealth to great use globally), Jimmy Carter, Larry Bird, Tom Peters (management consultant), Ron Paul, Elon Musk, George Clooney, Howard Stern. They all speak their mind but also DO stuff. It’s not just words. The hypocrisy level is extremely low or zero.

        Pope Francis is the CEO of Catholic, Corp. There are things he could do (easily) to demonstrate his commitment to his pronouncements. If the Church wants to help the poor, it has AMPLE resources to do so immediately. None of that gold is going to heaven.

        1. Doug Ross

          Here’s a commercial that sums up my view on life. It resonates with me more than any pronouncement from the Pope.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            That’s a great video! And you know who would like it as much as you do? The pope.

            And if you were to ask me which public figure is most like that kid in the video, the pope would be near the top of the list, if not at the top.

            I’m so sorry you’re unable to see it.

            I’m a Jimmy Carter fan, too. But if you ask me who has been more effective at accomplishing good in the world, I’d have to go with Francis. Jimmy WANTED to do good, but had a lot of trouble getting anyone to go along with him. And that’s an important quality in someone who would do good…

            1. scout

              Are you just talking about when he was actually president? Because I would argue that he has done a lot of good since then through the Carter center. Ridding Africa of the guinea worm for all practical purposes, for example, is huge. And that’s just one thing.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Yeah, I’m talking about when he was president.

                Yes, he’s done cool stuff since then. It was because of him that I got involved with Habitat for Humanity, and was on the local board for years, serving as chairman for a couple of years. Working on the houses was a lot more fun than sitting through the board meetings, by the way…

            2. bud

              Disagree. Carter has done a world of good. The Pope, for all his pomp and ceremony, hasn’t accomplished nearly what the former president has. But that could change over time. If he can find a way to jettison the horrible birth control tenets of the Catholic Church then I may reconsider.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          You know, Doug, nothing about blogging discourages me more than your negativity. When I see a miracle such as a man like the pope reaching the hearts of people who would normally be unreachable by any Catholic leader, it lifts my hopes for the world.

          And you just have to dump on it.

          Which makes me think, what’s the point of all the energy spent here? There are SO many things we’re not going to agree on in this world, so many issues that horribly divide us, that it means a lot to me when I see SOME cause for optimism.

          You would say, I suppose, that there IS no hope. A blog is only words, after all, and you don’t believe in words. You scoff at them. You think they’re worthless.

          But I don’t.

          1. Doug Ross

            Sorry, I just don’t see a big difference between the Pope and the pastor of my little church in Blythewood. They are both men with the same objective. They each present the same basic message. There is nothing groundbreaking about what the Pope has said… You see things through the lens of your experience which is very different from mine. You like hierarchy, big organizations, rituals, formality… I don’t. Your life has been built around words so you value them more, mine hasn’t. That shouldn’t discourage you.

            I don’t have any problem with the Pope. Seems like a decent guy. But he represents a religion that has a lot of ideas that are unacceptable to me. So I can’t admire him for that.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              I doubt that there is, in essence, a huge difference between your pastor and the Pope. They’re both trying to accomplish the same things for the same reasons presumably as messengers for Christ.

              This one just has a bigger pulpit, and different pressures and expectations…

      2. Barry

        I would have been impressed if while in a severely repressive Cuba he had made Some of these same points just as direct as he did in front of the Congress who represents the nation where millions risk their lives to live in freedom.

        At least his lecture wouldn’t then seem quite as hypocritical to me.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          And the Pope has been taken to task by The Washington Post and a columnist in The Wall Street Journal (among others, I’m sure; those are just some that I’ve seen) for not getting in the Castros’ faces more.

          But he’s saying the things he’s saying in the best possible venues for propagating the ideas — before a joint session of Congress, and the United Nations, in front of the greatest massing of the world’s media you’ll find anywhere.

          I’m reminded of what Judas sang in “Jesus Christ Superstar:”

          If you’d come today you could have reached the whole nation.
          Israel in 4 B.C. had no mass communication…

          What would Jesus have done with modern media at his disposal? A lot of the same things the Pope is doing…

          I have one bit of criticism as a communications profession, however — he’s really, really underutilizing his Twitter account. ONE Tweet since this trip started? And a pretty generic one at that?

          1. Doug Ross

            “What would Jesus have done with modern media at his disposal? A lot of the same things the Pope is doing…”

            And many, many, many things differently. Jesus flies coach.

          2. Barry

            Maybe. Maybe not.

            Still seems hypocritical to almost totally avoid such issues as putting people in prison for speaking their political or religious mind – and then come to the United States – be invited to speak to our Congress and take them to task – even if in a gentle way.

            1. Phillip

              The Pope met privately at length with both Raul and Fidel Castro. We don’t know what he said to them in those meetings. Given the repressive history of the Cuban regime, Pope Francis may have felt that very explicit public criticism of the regime might have a more counterproductive effect on desired change. He might be right or wrong on that, but I’m guessing that was his calculation.

              Another factor is that Cuba’s actions, for good or for ill, are pretty much limited to the island of Cuba, whereas America’s actions, for good or for ill, often have a truly global impact.

          3. Harry Harris

            Twitter has become a way of making quite public statements that greatly deserve remaining private. I applaud the Pope’s reluctance to indulge in back-and-forth simplistic comments. He is thoughtful in his expressions even while being surprisingly bold. Twitter doesn’t often lend itself to thoughtfulness.

    1. Bart

      Is homosexuality a sin? Is it unnatural in God’s eyes? In a one word answer, “yes”. But, I believe further comment is necessary.

      God gave Moses the Law. “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” This is the literal translation of Leviticus 18:22. Many have tried to equate it with idol worship, saving the male seed, and other reasons to justify homosexuality.

      Point 1: Jesus said that if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.

      Point 2: If one believes in The Holy Trinity; God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit – one in three and three in one – then whatever Jesus established on earth was the same as God establishing the same thing on earth.

      Point 3: God gave the Law to Moses and the Law described what is a sin in the eyes or sight of God. Along with the description of what is sin, punishment and atonement for sin was also given.

      Point 4: When Jesus was born and died on the Cross, He came to fulfill prophecy and the New Covenant that changed the way we could atone for sins and the old punishment and requirement to have an earthly intercessor go before God with blood sacrifices was no longer a requirement of the old Mosaic Law because God’s law was to be written on our hearts. We could now approach God through Jesus without the need for a priest or earthly intercessor. No stoning or putting to death anyone caught breaking the law was required. Even the ceremonial aspect was no longer necessary.

      Point 5: If one believes that Jesus was God in human form, then when Jesus said that he would not change one jot or tittle of the Law, he was referring to the definition of sin which did not chage, not the old punishment and ceremonial requirements for committing a sin or breaking the Law.

      Point 6: By not changing anything in the Law that described sin, then the admonition against homosexuality was not changed by Jesus even though he never addressed it directly. If anything, by His comment that the Law would not change, it was a confirmation of what God described as sin.

      Point 7: One does not have to believe in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Heaven, Hell, or anything contained in the Bible. We have free will to decide for ourselves. It is my belief and conviction as a Christian and disciple that we are to follow the example Jesus gave us when we deal with one another.

      Point 8: I have no hatred in my heart toward homosexuals or anyone else. Over the past year, my life has changed and all who have done things against me over my life, I have forgiven and asked forgiveness for anything I have ever done against anyone. I have even forgiven the 15 year old boy who took advantage of me when I was 9 and sexually molested me several times. Something I carried with me for decades that created problems with trust and relationships.

      Point 9: When Christians, white, black, brown, or whatever race or gender segregate on earth and have hatred in their hearts against others who are not like themselves, what do they expect if they go to Heaven? A segregated Heaven where blacks and whites are kept separate? If one cannot sit in church along with others who are different and hold prejudices against them, how can they expect to get along in Heaven? They really need to stop and examine their own faith on the subject.

      Some may eschew my faith but that is their choice. I know that since I have accepted Christ and renewed my faith, I have found the grace to forgive through the forgiveness given to me by God through Christ and not hold hard feelings or anger toward others and my life has been filled with more contentment than discontentment. It is a growth process but when I am on my knees each night confessing and asking for forgiveness for my sins of the day, it is a totally different feeling than anything I have experienced in my entire life.

      I stop before posting anything now and really consider what my words actually mean and how they can be interpreted by others. I pray for President Obama and the leaders of our country, no matter what at what level they serve and lead. My attitude toward politics and leadership has changed quite a lot recently.

      I also believe we should obey the law whether we agree or not as long as it does not require us to engage in something where we strongly object to. If we are in a job that requires issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, as long as we are not required to perform the ceremony, then we should do our job since Christ has instructed us to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” If we are required to perform the ceremony, then if our objection is so strong, we have the option to quit or be reassigned. Christ never promised it would be easy.

      I do not pretend to be a biblical scholar but I am blessed with the ability to reason and look at the whole and not distort by omission. In this instance, parsing God’s law that described sin is in my belief, wrong. And trying to use Leviticus as an assault weapon against Christians is wrong just as it is wrong for Christians to turn anyone away who is seeking help. Lastly, being tempted is in itself not a sin but submitting and giving in to sin is when we need to seek forgiveness. We are not and never will be perfect, we are human and will continue to make mistakes and as we have been told, if we break one, we break them all. How we deal with them within ourselves and others is what is important. If we all took the lesson from the survivors of the killing of the church members in Charleston and forgive first and let justice take its course, our world would be a better place. It profoundly affected me and I am very humbled by the simple act of faith by the members of the church.

      Thank you for taking the time to read my comments and may God bless you whether you are a believer or not.


  6. susanincola

    I don’t think it’s really fair to compare a local pastor and the pope. Every word the pope says matters to a lot more people than a local pastor. So even if sometimes he says the same words, the pope saying them matters to a lot more people and can have more impact, for good or bad.

    I mean, I sometimes hear someone in authority say something (brilliant) I’ve already said, but policy doesn’t change, heads don’t roll, and pundits don’t pun when I say it….and if I say something really stupid, I get away with minimal damage.

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