Hearing out the Pope

about 4 years ago

Evidence of Pope Francis' impending visit to Washington, DC can be found in transportation announcements, widespread school closures, and the fact that a great percentage of the workforce intends to telecommute on at least one of his two scheduled days in our nation's capital. The monumental impact of his visit is not just evident in ramped up security and a mass influx of tourists hoping to see the pontiff, but can be heard in the uptick of political rhetoric.

On NBC's Meet the Press this past Sunday, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, without intoning praise or criticism, noted Pope Francis is "a little bit of a different kind of a pope. There's no question about it. He's taken on some pretty big political subjects like climate change. And it's very interesting. But he's got a certain way about him that's very unique and very nice."

His message was slightly different Monday night when he appeared on the Fox News program On the Record with Greta Van Sustren. Trump said of the Pope: "He seems to feel strongly about the whole global warming situation, which I disagree with him on. I would actually talk to him about it to see if he's serious."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of six Catholic Republican presidential candidates, plans to attend the Pope's Mass being held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. But earlier this summer, when Pope Francis issued his encyclical calling the world to action on climate change, Bush initially responded negatively, stating, "I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope. I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm."

Likewise, Sen. Marco Rubio made a distinction between his support for the Pope's theology and his views of his politics. "I follow him 100 percent on those issues; otherwise, I wouldn't be a Roman Catholic… The pope as an individual, an important figure in the world, also has political opinions. And those, of course, we are free to disagree with."

"We are better off leaving the science to the scientists," former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic, has said repeatedly. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was more deferential. "The last person on Earth I want to try to argue with will be the Pope," the Southern Baptist told CNN.

"The fact is that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also Catholic, recently said.

On Thursday, Pope Francis will make a historic address to a joint session of Congress. In the U.S. Capitol, theology and politics undoubtedly will collide. No one but the Pope knows what he intends to say, but statements of rebuttal will be prepared in advance. It would be nice if instead of jumping to disagree, all leaders but particularly those seeking higher office would put expectations and criticism aside to listen to the words of a man who once studied a discipline of science. A man who has since become studied on the very science others still doubt. Whether he delivers speech or sermon, the Pope's words and their underlying message on caring for our common home deserve an open-minded audience.