What Will Pope Francis Tell Congress?


Pope Francis has accepted an invitation to speak before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24. While another recent invitation from Speaker John Boehner was controversial before the speaker ever got to the podium, Pope Francis’ address may generate lots of controversies AFTER he has spoken.

I have no special Vatican sources to tap into, but Francis’ writings and past life style offer many interesting clues as to what to expect. His desire is that the Church be poorer, and be for the poor and their needs. That will mean no alliances with institutions who try to domesticate the Church and keep her in the private realm. He even sacked a German bishop for spending too much money on his “home.”

First of all, one must remember that he is Latin American, from way south of the border, which has a whole culture and mindset so different from our Anglo Saxon one. Son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, he knows the tales and woes of poor migrants who have to struggle to adapt to new circumstances. Maybe before he understood how big the USA is, he wanted to include a visit to the southern borders as part of his trip.

Theologically he is not so much a follower of the more famous Liberation Theology, sometimes with a Marxist flavor, but he helped develop a Theology of the People (Teologia del Pueblo) which puts the people’s interest and well-being at front and center on all issues. Are people’s lives and their welfare the principal point of any reflection or action? Far too often we find rescuers who are ready to help the poor as long as they are in charge. God forbid that simple and ordinary people have a voice in the solution of their problems. Neocolonialism continues alive and well in all sectors of human life.

His rebukes towards fellow churchmen are well summed up in the his famous remark, the Shepherd has to have the smell of the flock, that living aloof and far away from daily concerns puts religious people far from the Gospel message and the incarnated FLESHLY contact of Jesus. In another passage, Francis as Archbishop condemned those who “hearts are open only to the limited horizon of their own immanence and interests, and as a consequence they neither learn from their sins nor are they genuinely open to forgiveness.” The Church must lead society to get out and go forth from its inner life to seek out the poor. He would probably say in another context that there are no gated communities in heaven, only the separation between heaven and hell.

His battles with religious intellectuals who talked about helping the poor while living a nice life style are well known. And all Neocons who want to go to war, but never let their sons join the military, beware.

There are 4 principles which guide his thinking. Time is greater than space, unity prevails over conflict, realities are more important than ideas, and the whole is greater than the part.

Having lived through the battles of Peronism (e.g. socialistic) and Neoliberal policies in his native country, he is not about to either baptize or condone either. Would Catholic Paul Ryan, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and his followers feel earmarked because of a budget which seems to withdraw benefits for the poor while increasing doles to the rich? He may ask how long the poor will have to wait for the “trickle down” theories of the market to make fundamental democratic changes of sharing riches for all. He will not be condemning free enterprise, but an idolatrous mind-set that makes us bow to profit, to adhere to “ideologies than defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace” and not respect humans as the whole philosophical purpose of an economy. And what about a just living salary for all.

He may ask again why it is not news when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but we report that the stock market lost two points.

With an already bloated military budget which serves more to defend the wealth of the military industrial complex than any other thing, why feed that sacred cow even more? Will there be time to rattle the cage of the NRA about the high murder rate in the USA because there is no real gun?

On the left, Nancy Pelosi and others may not like to hear remarks that hedonism and unbridled search for pleasure in the name of liberty enslaves people in their passions, taking away that much sought after freedom we all praise. Every abortion is a tragedy. Does the Pope need to remind Americans that 50 million workers have been removed over the past 40 years, making for a much smaller work force to pay for and support all those baby boomers who are retiring? And how many hours of work and family life are destroyed by pornography on the internet?

While many will not adopt or agree with his brand of Catholic Christianity, with its Latin flavor, a sizable majority can work with him on ethical issues which promote peace and the pursuit of happiness for all. Can we avoid war with Iran or Russia? Do we need to fund Planned Parenthood as a woman’s health issue?

While there will be a mad scramble to get tickets to the congress that day, what will his listeners be saying as they live? Will the Wolf Blitzers and New York Times and Fox News only comment and find criticism for their special projects and ideologies which were poked?

I do not think that Francis will come across as a stern professor criticizing children who have misbehaved. He will appeal to the moral and ethical side of each one, inspiring us to be better, to see farther, and to love more dearly. He will remind Americans of our more noble principles and values and challenge us to live up to that which we profess as our shinning goals.

Whatever, it should be a very interesting encounter of two important bodies which have a lot to say on how people can enjoy “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Father Donnell Kirchner, CSsR, of Whittier, Calif., received a degree in moral theology in Rome and taught for 39 years as a Redemptorist priest in Brazil. He currently travels around the USA preaching. Email Donkirchner70@yahoo.com.

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2015


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