By Rosie Alger
Elm Staff Writer
Pope Francis has come to visit the United States for the first time. In fact, the last time a pope visited the US was Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. The new pope is known for his progressive beliefs, and his presence is shaking up Americans across the country but has been met with some controversy. Is the pope too political for his position?
Pope Francis began his visit in Washington D.C., meeting with President Barack Obama and becoming the first pope to ever address a joint session of congress. He also spoke at the United Nations in New York, participated in a multi-religious service at the 9-11 memorial at the World Trade Center, and visited students in East Harlem. The last city he visited was Philadelphia, at the Independence Mall, and even met inmates at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.
Throughout his tight visitation schedule, the Pope has made time to make quite a statement in the US, being very forward with his opinions on world issues. The pope has spoken out about a wide variety of topics including environmentalism, same sex marriage, and capitalism.
In his speech at the UN meeting, Pope Francis stressed the importance of upholding the rights of all living things, even the environment. “It must be stated that a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist,” he said. “Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. The ecological crisis and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity can threaten the very existence of the human species.” Francis called for world leaders to take a much more active role in environmental conservation.
The pontiff has gotten the most backlash, however, from his statements on the dangers of greed related to capitalism. In an interview translated from Italian by the National Catholic Reporter, Pope Francis said, “I recognize that globalization has helped many people to rise from poverty, but it has condemned many others to hunger. It’s true that in absolute terms it grows world wealth, but it also increased the disparity and the new kinds of poverty… When at the center of the system there is not anymore man but money, when money becomes an idol, men and women are reduced and simply instruments of a social system and an economy characterized, indeed dominated by deep imbalances.”
Many American conservatives have accused the Pope of being too political or too liberal because of these strong stances. Many find it difficult to stand behind their partisan beliefs while also supporting their religious leader. In his speech to Congress, the pope addressed many controversial topics including the necessity of the redistribution of wealth, the abolition of the death penalty, and a call to Congress to act on climate change and to aide and welcome immigrants and refugees. In between these points, considered politically liberal by many, the pope did include a couple of traditionally Catholic views such as a reminder on the church’s position on abortion and the importance of marriage and family. Can a catholic Republican leader stand with the pope despite his wide range of political stances?
These speeches have left America wondering is the pope a Democrat or a Republican? Is he liberal or conservative? Is the pope allowed to hold political views? I think it is important to remember that the pope is not a political leader in the United States. He does not belong to either political party. Pope Francis is a world representative of the Catholic Church, and has condemned the partisan system that leads to much division in our country. When Pope Francis speaks about hot button issues, he does so from the perspective of the church, one of a long line of popes who have done what they consider to be their best to relate biblical messages to modern day issues. If anything, instead of dividing religious beliefs down party lines, maybe the pope’s visit to the US can help unify us all across party divides to accomplish more than just a political agenda, and maybe even take a stronger look at the human rights issues that affect people of all parties, issues that Pope Francis has spoken about so compassionately.