Given Washington DC’s nature, Pope Francis’s address to Congress was always going to be dissected along predictable Republican-Democrat lines. Within minutes of the pope’s text being released, headlines like “Pope Delivers Big for Dems on War, Climate, Immigration” began crisscrossing the Internet.
Such captions made me wonder if I was reading the same speech. Careful readers would recognize that while the pope did indeed address immigration, climate change, war and poverty, it’s not as if conservative Americans are against immigration, want to destroy the environment, desire endless war, or are oblivious to people living in poverty. Nor did Francis endorse any one policy-option for addressing these questions. Significantly, Francis also underscored, in gentle non-partisan terms, the non-negotiable Catholic commitment to protecting human life from conception to natural death, and expressed, in pastoral terms, his concern that “Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.”
For me, however, as a migrant to the United States, it was especially gratifying to watch Francis say very positive things to say about America. The word “liberty” was used no less than five times, “freedom” seven times, and “subsidiarity” (a Catholic expression for protecting liberty) twice. He also invoked America’s “spirit of enterprise,” and repeated what he’s said elsewhere: that “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world.” And while insisting that more needs to be done to address poverty, the pope also exclaimed, “How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty!”
All this suggests that Francis has listened — as he said he would — to those American Catholics who’ve suggested that some of his previous statements about economic life weren’t attentive to the facts about poverty and the most effective ways of diminishing it.
That’s what’s real dialogue is about: the search for truth. Pope Francis, it seems, has affirmed some key economic truths — and not just for America, but the entire world.
Samuel Gregg is Research Director at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, based in Washington.
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