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Pope Francis: Washington’s Latest Trend

Peter Souza

Alberto González - published on 01/05/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Federal lawmakers take the Pontiff’s words to heart in the development of legislative strategy.

The New York Times reports that Pope Francis is the latest talk of the town in Washington – and in the very halls of Congress, no less. It seems that the Holy Father’s critiques of unbridled capitalism deprived of a moral core has resonated with many politicians on Capitol Hill – a good number of them Democrats, who in spite of their positions in favor of abortion and gay marriage, have now found an ally in the Pope.

Prior to the holiday recess, Senate Democrats sat behind closed doors to discuss their strategy going into the following year. When the talk turned to the matter of income inequality, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont said, “We have a strong ally on our side in this issue – and that is the Pope.” Other legislators in the room, many of them Catholic, voiced their agreement.

And while Republicans have generally been more reluctant to embrace the Pope’s words on economic principles, some have found Francis’s statements on the issue to be a timely reminder for the GOP.

John Feehery, a Republican strategist, said, “What Francis is saying goes to the soul of the party. What does the party actually believe in? What is its purpose? Is it just to have unbridled capitalism without any moral core?”

Meanwhile, former Speaker of the House and current co-host of CNN’s Crossfire, Newt Gingrich, stated, “I think every Republican should embrace the Pope’s core critique that you do not want to live on a planet with billionaires and people who do not have any food. I think the Pope may, in fact, be starting a conversation at the exact moment the Republican party itself needs to have that conversation.”

But, for both sides alike, the challenge will be learning to read Pope Francis outside the standard “left-right” spectrum of American politics. It is far too often the case that people will be expected to categorize neatly into one end of this spectrum or another, with some degrees of variation in between. Consequently, there often is no true home for someone who is both pro-life and pro-poverty reduction, or for those who are pro-immigration and healthcare reform, but who uphold a family structure based on the union of one man and one woman.

And while Pope Francis may be more vocal on economic issues than his immediate predecessors, Benedict XVI and Bl. John Paul II – and though he might place greater emphasis on different elements of these issues – neither he nor his precursors, going back to Leo XIII’s seminal Rerum Novarum, can be accused of having said anything that is not in accordance with Catholic social teaching. This is what lawmakers will have to understand if they are going to reference Francis. And furthermore, it would be a matter of justice (in a general sense, but also specifically toward Francis’s very person) to look at these statements and understand their meaning in a comprehensive sense that considers the good of the human person within the context of his inherent dignity. Anything less amounts to a selective reading of Pope Francis, one that all-too-conveniently serves to promote a pre-fabricated partisan agenda.

Alberto González is the Associate Editor of Aleteia’s English edition. His prior endeavors have included working in political campaigns and in the United States Senate. He also maintains an active schedule as a liturgical vocalist and organist.

A native of California, Alberto graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2010 with a B.A. in Music and Political Science. He currently lives in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

PoliticsPope Francis
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