He draws crowds like a rock star, was named Å“Person of the Year” by Time and drew the ire of Rush Limbaugh for his criticism of Å“trickle-down” economics. Pope Francis has dramatically shifted the message and tone of the Vatican in the last nine months, and heâ„¢s forcing Republicans in Washington to reassess their relationship with the Catholic church.
For years, Catholic leadersâ„¢ staunch and very public opposition to abortion, gay marriage and the contraception-related provisions of Obamacare made them natural allies for the GOP. But Francis has scrambled the equation by de-emphasizing hot-button social issues, warning against unchecked capitalism and pushing a populist message at odds with the core of the anti-spending, anti-big government Republican Party.
Itâ„¢s unclear whether Francisâ„¢s proclamations will fray the ties between the right and the Vatican, but already some conservatives have sharply criticized his economic ideas. At the same time, some on the right have expressed admiration for the 77-year-old popeâ„¢s more inclusive approach. Their praise comes as the GOP itself grapples with growing disenchantment among young people and other demographics for its strident tone on social issues.
Å“His economic perspective Iâ„¢m not particularly enamored with, but his advocacy for the poor, his lifestyle example, his more modern outlook on social issues ” Iâ„¢ve been very impressed,” said Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican.
Last month, Francis blasted Å“trickle-down” economics as an Å“opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, [that] expresses a crude and naÃ¯ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” He also criticized the Å“idolatry of money” and unbridled capitalism as Å“a new tyranny.”
Conservative radio host Limbaugh slammed the comments as Å“pure Marxism” and other commentators on the right also vehemently disagreed with the popeâ„¢s message. One derided Francis as the Å“Catholic Churchâ„¢s Obama.” Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a tea party darling, said Francis had made Å“some statements that to me sound kind of liberal,” though she later walked back that assessment.
In an interview with an Italian outlet, Francis replied to his critics: Å“The Marxist ideology is wrong,” he said. Å“But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I donâ„¢t feel offended.”
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who grew up attending Catholic school and graduated from the University of Notre Dameâ„¢s law school, told POLITICO that he disagreed with the popeâ„¢s economic message. He considers the phrase Å“trickle-down” to be a Å“pejorative” term, Å“like some liberal speechwriter stuck it in.” But he also argued that the popeâ„¢s message should be considered in a broader context.
Å“I genuinely believe…supply-side economics does more to help people come out of poverty, move up in the world … but on the other hand, we shouldnâ„¢t be dwelling on wealth,” King said. Å“The guidance Iâ„¢d take from this is, when I support conservative economics, I should do it in a way that helps the most people.”
Observers said Francisâ„¢s understated approach to polarizing social issues represents a sharp break with his predecessors, including Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, though the newest pontiff hasnâ„¢t altered church doctrine on those issues.
His inclusive outlook may have played a role in his decision to remove Cardinal Raymond Burke from the Congregation for Bishops, an influential Vatican organization. Burke, an outspoken conservative, in 2004 signaled he would deny communion to John Kerry, a Catholic running for president at the time, because of his support for abortion rights.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who is Catholic, downplayed the furor in some conservative circles over Francis, who was elected pope in March.
Å“Heâ„¢s entitled to his opinion, but I think we should look carefully at what heâ„¢s saying,” Toomey said. Å“Itâ„¢s easy to draw I think what could be mistaken, superficial conclusions from some of the things that he said. I think heâ„¢s a wonderful leader for the church.”
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a Catholic who is considered a possible presidential contender in 2016, noted that the popeâ„¢s background isnâ„¢t in American capitalism. Å“The guy is from Argentina, they havenâ„¢t had real capitalism in Argentina,” Ryan said. Å“They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They donâ„¢t have a true free enterprise system.”
Ryan added: Å“What I love about the pope is he is triggering the exact kind of dialogue we ought to be having.”
For Democrats, Francis has been a gift. Just as the liberal base and President Barack Obama have begun talking more about income inequality, along comes the pope to boost their cause.
Å“I love this pope,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). Å“Jesus focused so much on helping the poor and the downtrodden and the least among us. And I think his refocusing on that, to me, has been a breath of fresh air.”
Former Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania said Francis is a Å“game-changer” for Å“social justice Democrats.” He sees opportunities for the popeâ„¢s message to play out during budget battles and fights over unemployment benefits and other social programs.
Å“A lot of Catholic Democrats like myself have made it our lifeâ„¢s mission to give voice to those who go without, and those who are the least among us ” the folks who rely on food stamps and public education,” Murphy said. Å“Knowing heâ„¢s in our corner gives us a lot of confidence that weâ„¢re doing the right thing.”
Obama even gave a nod to the pontiff during a recent high-profile speech on economic mobility.
Å“[This] trend toward growing inequality is not unique to Americaâ„¢s market economy,” Obama said earlier this month. Å“Across the developed world, inequality has increased. Some of you may have seen just last week, the pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length. ËœHow can it be,â„¢ he wrote, Ëœthat it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?â„¢”
Chester Gillis, a theology professor and a dean at Georgetown University, said that while the pope may be deeply inspiring to millions, he is also likely to weigh in on a slew of issues over the long haul, and not all of his opinions will unite American Catholics, much less lawmakers.
Å“I love this pope, but I would not exaggerate the influence heâ„¢s going to have on American political discourse,” Gillis said. Å“I donâ„¢t think itâ„¢ll be heavily influential.”
The US church has come a long way since John F. Kennedy, who would become Americaâ„¢s first Catholic president, had to make assurances that he wouldnâ„¢t take orders from the Vatican.
More than 50 years later, American Catholic bishops are influential voices in the political debate. They were especially visible in clashes over elements of the Affordable Care Act. Some expressed concern ” and have pursued lawsuits ” over the mandates for coverage of contraception, which they argued would force their institutions to violate their religious beliefs. At the same time, Obama won the Catholic vote twice, fueled in part last year by strong support among Hispanic Catholics.
Gillis said he doesnâ„¢t expect Francis to encourage bishops to weigh in as vocally as they have in the past on sensitive social issues, though he noted they will still likely speak out.
For some lawmakers, the popeâ„¢s influence has gone beyond policy and politics and into the personal. McCaskill, for instance, said some of her children are now considering going back to the church.
Å“They were raised in the Catholic Church. They had basically kind of walked away, because a lot of the really very conservative hierarchy in this country ” they didnâ„¢t feel as welcome,” she said. Å“Now, I think they feel more welcome. At this time of year, I donâ„¢t know if you get any better than that: Your kids feel better about the church.”
Source: Press TV