On Thursday, Pope Francis, the sovereign of the Vatican City and current pope of the Catholic church, continued his six-day, three-city tour by addressing a joint session of Congress. The Senate and the House welcomed him as he gave a speech that was one of four planned events held in English.
Not only are Democrats and Republicans split in regard to the appropriateness of this address, Catholic adherents are as well.
Speaker of the House John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, both of whom are devotees of the Catholic faith, are among those who are in support of the address. According to an article in the International Business Times, however, Catholic GOPs say the pope is “a fine leader on spiritual issues, but they don’t look to him for leadership in the political sphere.”
In an appearance on CNN, New Jersey governor and 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie opined, “The fact is that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones.”
Sen. Dan Coats, a Republican from Indiana and a Presbyterian, said, “I’m always concerned about those who are bringing spiritual messages that step too far over the line in terms of political issues.
“I think it can be dangerous territory because then it gives people reason to make a judgment on say, Billy Graham or the pope or whoever, on the basis of their political leanings — not on the basis of their spirituality.”
Pope Francis is recognized as the leader of a religious group with more than one billion adherents, and his role as head of a country that holds the power to bestow and rescind citizenship and is less than a quarter square mile in size, is seemingly insignificant when compared to the influence he has with his role as the former.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary and a revered scholar and theologian, articulates “This [the pope] is virtually the focus of wall-to-wall coverage in the media and constant cultural conversation …”
Mohler further contributes that the pope’s address sets a “very, very, dangerous precedent” posing the question, “Why would the Congress of the United States join in a joint session to hear one head of one religious group?
“No pope of the Roman Catholic Church has ever addressed a joint session of the Congress before and for good reason.”
Even Pelosi commented on the pope’s speech, speaking to his successes as a “Holy Father” and commending the leadership he provides to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, rather than revering him as an official state head.
While this is not an attack on the pope or the papacy, although the office itself is seen as controversial, the nature of his visit is divisive when held in the balance of how the he addresses his progressive views of issues such as gun control, poverty, climate change and immigration.
“I think it’s totally inappropriate that the pope is weighing in on all the real sensitive, far-left issues,” said one of the most conservative senators, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe. “I’m not a Catholic, but my Catholic friends in Oklahoma are not real pleased with it.”
The aspects of the pope’s visit that are apt and even admirable include his address to the United Nations General Assembly, his visit to a prison in Philadelphia and to a Catholic charity in Washington D.C. that serves the underprivileged population, as well as his hosting of Catholic mass services.
Pope Francis, though, as arguably the world’s most esteemed religious leader, holds more political influence than is appropriate.
The pope appears overly comfortable with weighing in on some of the most controversial, political “hot topics” of today where, instead, his leadership and influence should be curbed to the Roman Catholic Church.
Lauren Konkol is a contributing writer for the Central Florida Future.