As expected, in his address to a joint session of Congress Pope Francis spoke to a number of issues that are sure to earn the ire of Republicans. The Pope repeatedly quoted his environmental encyclical, something that the GOP had warned him not to do. In addition to the environment the Pontiff also spoke about politics and business.
Although the Pope ignored the warnings from Republicans, his tone was dignified not didactic, conciliatory not condemning. Nonetheless the message he is sending amounts to a request for the GOP to rethink many of their core policy positions.
The Pontiff seemed to be addressing Republican partisanship and obstructionism when he provided a primer on responsible governance. He defined politics as, “an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.”
As he continued you could almost hear conservatives recoiling in horror and screaming “socialist” under their breath.
“It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth,” the Pontiff said, “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.”
As if to counter claims that he is stridently anti-capitalist, the Pope said that “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.”
Although he continued, and this is where many Republicans felt compelled by party dogma to object, “This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.” (ibid., 3).
In an attempt to be truly inclusive the Pope said, “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.” (ibid., 14).
“In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”
The Pope showed his eternal optimism when he said, “I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care (ibid., 231) and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature”(ibid., 139).
“We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology (ibid., 112); to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power (ibid., 78); and to put technology at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.”
While conservatives will no doubt focus on the Pope’s comments about abortion, marriage and other views they share in common, his speech clearly articulated a vision that in many major respects is at odds with the political leadership of the GOP.
John Boehner, speaker for the House of Representatives, repeatedly wiped tears from his eyes throughout the Pope’s speech. Either he was moved by the Pontiff or as a Republican he was suffering from a long overdue crisis of conscience.