Don’t Boycott the Pope

Priest says lawmakers should hear Francis out, even if they don't like message

Boycott the pope? That is what a Catholic congressman, U.S. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., has announced he might do when Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress on Thursday.

“If the pope plans to spend the majority of his time advocating for flawed climate change policies, then I will not attend,” Gosar said.

No one knows what Francis will spend the “majority of his time” speaking about until he actually speaks.

Gosar claims that is what Pope Francis plans to do.

“Pope Francis is intending to spend the majority of his time on one of the world’s greatest stages focusing on climate change,” he said.

But no one knows what Francis will spend the “majority of his time” speaking about until he actually speaks. Still, Gosar thinks he knows.

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“I have both a moral obligation and leadership responsibility to call out leaders, regardless of their titles, who ignore Christian persecution and fail to embrace opportunities to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human life,” Gosar said.

Related: Barred at the Door

The congressman is way out of line here. Is he rebuking the pope ahead of time for ignoring things he will undoubtedly speak about during his time in Cuba and the United States?

No one knows exactly what he will say to the House and Senate members, but Francis has addressed these issues already in various speeches during his pontificate, and he is no passive bystander in defending those who are persecuted, or put to death unjustly. His message is clear.

But what about the issue of global warming or climate change? Will Francis repeat what he said in his encyclical letter Laudato Si that man-made climate change is real and requires urgent solutions? Certainly he will, but that does not mean anyone should walk out on him. If you disagree with that message from the pope, you can, as a good Catholic, argue against it and state your reasons with clarity — and charity.

Related: Understanding a Jesuit Pope

The climate change debate is a scientific debate, not a religious debate. The moral and religious debate touches upon what we should do if, in fact, man is the cause of climate change, and if, in fact, man has the true capability to reverse course and undo global warming without causing even greater problems.

Francis’ judgment on scientific questions is as good as the science he marshals in support of his conclusions. The same standard applies to his critics.

So Gosar, and the rest of us, should sit back, listen to what the pope says, and then engage in the kind of rational discussion that furthers our common efforts to promote the welfare of our society and our world.

Boycotting the pope is a bad idea, especially when the man threatening to do this is, as he states, “a proud Catholic” who attended a Jesuit college where he “was taught to think critically, to welcome debate and discussion and to be held accountable for my actions.” Well, let’s start the debate and discussion by being present when Francis talks about whatever he wants to talk about.

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D., is pastor of Holy Family Church in New York.

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