Pope Francis, marking yet another first for the papal authority, addressed a joint meeting of the United States Congress last week as part of his visit stateside.
Pope Francis said he hoped that, by speaking to elected representatives, he could also begin a dialogue with common citizens, those “who strive each day to do an honest day’s work.”
He also extended this offer to begin a dialogue with the elderly, whom he considers “storehouses of wisdom forged by experience.”
Next Pope Francis appealed to American history, mentioning in particular four famous figures: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. The standout here is Dorothy Day, an activist with an infamous contempt for capitalism as well as a radical anti-abortion agenda, having occasionally compared abortion to genocide. Francis has, in his endorsement of these figures, promoted his own personal values without having to explicitly announce them.
Not that Pope Francis’s disdain for capitalism, whose vices he compared to the “dung of the devil,” isn’t fairly well-known. It is an understandable belief, if only for his upbringing. Pope Francis was born an Argentinian at a time when the country was inflicted by a scourge of corruption and social inequality.
Yet he recognizes his socialist opinions as being fairly unpopular, especially in a country whose understanding of liberty is so similar to individualism. Instead, he prioritized in his address the rather agreeable mission to end poverty, which he sees possible through the “correct use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise.”
Similarly, he touched only for a moment on the topic of abortion, reminding the faithful that the ‘Golden Rule’ commands us to “defend human life at every stage of development.”
From here he called for global abolition of the death penalty in exchange for rehabilitative practices, a view commonly shared by American bishops.
Frustrating to those of the radical right is the agenda with which Francis seems to bring unrivaled attention: environmental degradation. Here he does not demonstrate ambiguity or hide behind vague terminology. He maintains the cause of global climate change to be “human activity.”
Surprisingly enough, it was the Pope’s private visits, not his public ones, that stirred the most controversy. His meeting with Kim Davis, infamous for her refusal to officially recognize homosexual marriages, bewildered many. And yet in his address we find him a proponent of religious freedom, an umbrella that surely ecompasses Davis, as he encourages that “the voice of freedom continue to be heard.”
Francis’s visit and address, landmark moments for both Christianity and American politics, is viewed by many as a missed opportunity. It was disappointing for those on the right who were expecting a liberal-shaming address to rival that of Netanyahu, and instead witnessed Francis’s refusal to mention in more than passing the topics of abortion and religious freedom.
It was also disappointing for much of the left, who watched as the supposedly progressive religious leader endorsed the intolerant practices of a publicly ridiculed figure and censured his own economic beliefs.
What was disappointing for me, admittedly, was hearing Francis skimp on the topic of ISIS, only to revert to the argument that fundamentalism is present in many ideologies, not just major religions. It’s not an untrue statement, just a redundant one.
Still, if Francis’s call for greater environmental awareness stirs in the Catholic community a greater support for natural conservation, then the Pope’s visit will have had at least one positive impact on the domestic community.