Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bringing together church and state

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HISTORY IN THE MAKING: Pope Francis conducts Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception yesterday.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Kimberly Atkins

WASHINGTON — The pope’s first-ever address under the U.S. Capitol dome this morning is not billed as a political speech, but that won’t stop him from taking on highly charged issues from the Iran nuclear deal to income inequality and prison reform.

The speech comes a day after Pope Francis took many hot topics head-on — praising President Obama’s climate change initiatives, speaking about immigration and religious freedom in a speech on the White House south lawn, and directing a group of American bishops to ensure the church’s sexual crimes will “never be repeated.”

While no details have been released, the pope hinted that today’s historic address before Congress — set for 9:20 a.m. — will include a message about America’s bilateral and multilateral relationships.

That opens the possibility he could hit on any of a number of controversial issues he’s spoken openly about in the past and which have divided lawmakers, from the Iranian nuclear deal and aid to Syrian refugees, to U.S.-Cuban relations and immigration policy.

Stephen J. Pope, a professor of theology at Boston College, said that while the pope does not seek to be political, he also doesn’t shy away from hot-button issues in the political discourse if they overlap with what he believes are the moral objectives of the church.

“He doesn’t consider (climate change) primarily a political issue, although it is that, or economic, but first and foremost a human issue,” said Pope, the professor, in an interview on Boston Herald Radio’s “NewsFeed” show.

“And he’s calling us to the very traditional virtue of stewardship — that we have to recognize first that there is a major problem and then secondly take responsibility for it.”

But lawmakers, like the president, have already seized on the politics of the pontiff’s visit. U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) predicted that other lawmakers would join his boycott of today’s address in protest of Pope Francis’ embrace of the “socialist talking point” of climate change.

The president used yesterday’s meeting with the pope to highlight areas where he and Pope Francis share common ground.

Immediately after the pope’s visit, the White House announced a number of initiatives Obama is pursuing “to mark this historic meeting and advance these shared values and objectives.”

The initiatives include providing more humanitarian relief to Syrian refugees as well as those affected by war, religious persecution and disease in the Middle East, Central Asia and West Africa; teaching U.S. diplomats to better guard against threats to religious freedom; aiding at-risk Central American youth; and addressing climate change.

But lawmakers have been warned not to display their pleasure or disdain during the pope’s address today.

A letter from congressional leaders directed members of Congress not to try to touch the pope, take selfies with him or hold conversations as he makes his way to the House chamber dais.
And, only one sanctioned standing ovation will be allowed during the pope’s arrival.



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