America’s political paradigm limits perspective on Pope Francis’ message


Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families. Photo courtesy of alumni parent.

Sarah Scherer, Managing Editor, Opinions Editor

United States citizens witnessed a historic moment in the last week, a visit from the Bishop of Rome. Unfamiliar with such an occurrence, Americans took a non-American and placed him in our left-right political paradigm, evaluating him the only way we know how – with our extremely limited political perspective.

It would have been nice to see Americans take Pope Francis’ message for what it was worth – moral guidance on a global, economic level.

Major media outlets analyzed Francis’ address as something that would advance the Democratic agenda, and as something that would take the GOP back a step. The problem with Americans and with the mainstream media is that they have the tendency to see political issues in black and white, or in this case, red and blue.

A New York Post headline states, “Pope Francis is just another liberal political pundit.” Similarly, a Fox News editorial carries the headline, “Pope Francis is the Catholic Church’s Obama – God help us.”

Francis’ defenders argue that, as a spiritual leader, Francis is in someway detached from politics. This notion is not the case. Cathedral Catholic High School religion teacher Mr. Douglas McLean gives a clear example.

If the Pope encourages people to serve the homeless, donate blankets and give canned food, his comments are taken as apolitical. However, if the Pope questions current conditions, his comments are of a political nature.

“It’s when you start saying, ‘why are there so many homeless?’ that it becomes a matter of economic policy, which is inherently political,” Mr. McLean said.

As such, Francis’ suggestions to members of the U.S. Congress were political, especially his remarks regarding the protection of the environment and the acceptance of Syrian refugees.

In his speech to the U.S. Congress  and in reference to the Syrian refugee crisis, Pope Francis 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.”

While many political pundits hammered the Pope’s views as liberal and beneficial to the Democrats, in actuality, his statements were entirely based off of moral righteousness and empathy.

“Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity,” Pope Francis said in his address. Common good? Solidarity? Evidently, this sounds like socialism to many Americans, as “being a socialist” was one of many accusations targeted toward the Pope.

The environment rates as perhaps the most angering topic the Pope addressed. His focus on the environment was the reason congressman Paul Gosar  boycotted the Francis’ address to Congress.

“As the leader of the Catholic Church, and as a powerful voice for peace throughout the world, His Holiness has a real opportunity to change the climate of slaughter in the Middle East… not the fool’s errand of climate change,” Mr. Gosar said in his article on

Did Mr. Gosar find the environment so trivial a topic (in comparison, of course) that he couldn’t possibly let a suggestion about it grace his ears? Clearly.

The Pope referenced his encyclical on the environment in his address to Congress.

“In ‘Laudato Si’, 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,” Francis 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’ and ‘an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”

You might wonder what is bothersome to so many people about this statement, or why it sounds just a little too political. Pope Francis suggested environmental deterioration is due to human activity, which no one can deny. The Pope placed the blame on humankind, and called the United States, a world leader, to action.

“Whenever one challenges the system or status quo, they’re talking about changing the way we do things, which has political dimension,” Mr. McLean said.

Yes, Pope Francis made some entirely political statements. They are “political” in the sense that they prompt change in our system, a break in our status quo. However, each of the Pope’s requests is rooted in Catholic doctrine.

Speaking on behalf of the Catholic Church, he took the humane, moral approach to the Syrian refugee crisis, reminding us that those people are mothers, fathers and children. They are people who are suffering.

The Pope suggested the basis of freedom is a love for the common good and cooperation, which is the same as the Christ-like practice of selflessness and love for others as oneself.

Francis referred to the environment in a way that highlighted the fact that it is our home. The world and its natural resources are God’s gifts to mankind, blessings to be treasured and preserved for future generations.