Fri, Sep 25, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Pope addresses US Congress on politics

MIXED BLESSING:Members of the US Congress meeting the pontiff this week have some reservations as the pope talks about climate change, dissidents and peace


US President Barack Obama, right, talks with Pope Francis during an arrival ceremony on Wednesday at the White House in Washington.

Photo: EPA

After bonding with US President Barack Obama on progressive themes like climate change, Pope Francis yesterday addressed the US Congress, where conservatives embrace his moral authority, but are less comfortable with the pontiff’s more political preaching.

On his first full day in the US, the pope was greeted with pomp and ceremony at the White House on Wednesday, then crisscrossed Washington to huddle with bishops, greet ecstatic well-wishers, conduct mass and elevate a Franciscan friar to sainthood.

Yesterday the pope was to become the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to address a joint meeting of Congress, including more than 500 lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and top administration officials including US Vice President Joe Biden.

US Republican lawmakers anticipated the pope’s stance opposing gay marriage and abortion, while Democrats are elated at the prospect of his backing on progressive issues including immigration and the fight against economic inequality.

US House Speaker John Boehner expected the pontiff to rise above US political bickering and provide bipartisan inspiration.

“The pope transcends all of this. He appeals to our better angels and brings us back to our daily obligations,” Boehner said on Wednesday.

“The best thing we can all do is listen, open our hearts to his message and reflect on his example,” he said.

About 30 percent of US lawmakers are Catholic, while nine in 10 are Christian and the pope is widely admired by Republicans and Democrats alike.

However, buildup to the speech has not been without controversy. Several US Republicans have expressed wariness about Francis bringing a politicized message. One congressman said he would boycott the pope’s address.

“In theological matters, as a Catholic, I believe that... he’s infallible in those decisions,” said US Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate.

“On moral issues he speaks with incredible authority, and he has done so consistently, on the value of life, on the sanctity of life, on the importance of marriage, and on the family,” he added.

“On economic issues, the pope is a person just like any other,” he said.

US Senator John Thune said he hoped lawmakers could learn about mercy and compassion from the pope.

However, he added that “there are also some things we hope that he can take away from visiting our country for the first time,” he said.

Among them, Thune said, was “recognizing that free enterprise is the greatest anti-poverty force that the world has ever seen.”

Francis said on his flight from Cuba to Washington that he was unlikely to bring up the US embargo against the island nation, which Republicans in Congress oppose lifting.

The Vatican played a crucial role in brokering talks between Cold War foes Havana and Washington that led to the recent restoration of diplomatic ties.

The pope on Wednesday addressed climate change, calling it “a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation,” he said.

There is an expectation that Francis might urge lawmakers to give careful consideration to protecting the planet, even as several US Republicans in Congress doubt the existence of human-made climate change.

“The pope should maybe stick to religion,” Republican congressman Steve King said.

“There is nothing in the New Testament about global warming,” he added.

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