Politics

Pope on The Hill: 6 Takeaways

Presses left-leaning agenda that animates papacy

Pope Francis on Thursday used a joint meeting of Congress to press the left-leaning agenda that has animated his papacy.

Here are the six things you need to know:

A call for open immigration
The pope has spoken forcefully about the plight of refugees fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East. On Thursday, he tied that to immigration more broadly, and said the United States should not fear the “numbers” of immigrants entering the country.

“We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants,” he said. “Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected … Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us.”

Francis noted that the world is facing the worst migrant crisis since World War II. And he made clear that he was not just talking about those fleeing violence, but economic collapse, as well. He referenced the Golden Rule as a guide to how wealthy nations should respond to people wanting to enter their countries.

“On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children?” he said. “We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal.”

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Only a Passing Nod to Abortion
Recent popes have made ending abortion a central issue. But Francis only alluded to the killing of the unborn, saying we must “defend human life at every stage of its development.” And he used this to expound on his opposition to the death penalty instead of abortion.

“Recently, my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty,” he said. “Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.”

Global Warming and Poverty
The pope, as expected, called for America’s help to combat global warming, linking care for earth’s peoples to care for the earth.

“It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. 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,” he said.

“I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps,’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference, I am sure, 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.’”

Praise for American Leftists
The pope held up as examples of American excellence two committed Catholic leftists — Dorothy Day, who had a long association with Socialist causes, relationships with American communists, and the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton, who was a pacifist and social reformer.

Moral relativism 
Audiences are not used to hearing religious leaders, and particularly not the leader of the Catholic Church, talk about context when discussing absolutes like good and evil. In his remarks, the pope de-emphasized absolutes and counseled against “polarization.” He called for a “delicate balance” to combat violence in the name of a religion or ideology.

“But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners,” he said. “The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.”

At another point, he said: “For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”

Praise for Congress?
Among Americans, few institutions are less popular than Congress. Addressing the senators and representatives in the chamber, Francis invoked one of the most revered figures from the Bible.

“Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation,” he said. “On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.”

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