The Pope’s Speech to the US Congress

The historic speech by Pope Francis to a joint session of Congress in Washington is now just that – history. Catholics and non-Catholics alike were quite eager to see what he would say – or not say. And those who are more or less conservative have been disappointed in various ways.

In Australia it was on live television last night so anyone could listen, and we also have the full transcript, so we need not rely on sketchy media reports. While the Pope received a number of rounds of applause during his speech, there were some disappointing areas, as well as some notable omissions.

pope congressFor a church that is concerned about the killing of the unborn, the most notable omission was any direct mention of the ‘A’ word – abortion. There was just a one-liner, and this has disappointed many. Instead of discussing abortion at length, he went after capital punishment instead:

The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

This of course flies against not only the clear teachings of Scripture, but also against various past Catholic social teachings. But I discuss that further elsewhere, eg: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/05/05/killing-and-catholic-social-teaching/

And here: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/11/on-capital-punishment-part-1/

So he goes for the more PC anti-death penalty line, while refusing to talk about genuinely evil murder (as opposed to licit killing), the slaughter of the babies. Another area that many of us are concerned about – including many Catholics – is a weak or poor understanding of one of the real threats we face: political Islam.

He obliquely mentioned this, but in yet another instance of moral equivalence: yes there are a few bad Muslim eggs, but so too there are in every religion:

We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.

Um, actually I am happy to say there are clear lines between good and evil: those who have boldly stated that they want to kill us and enslave us are evil in my books, and are not morally identical to their victims. There are evil political ideologies and religions. While none are perfect, some are clearly far worse than others.

As to marriage and family, these tremendous social goods (and Christian goods) only get a very brief mention. Marriage is mentioned once, and one of the major threats to both institutions is never mentioned: the militant homosexual lobby. He said this:

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

That is a good start, but he could have said much more on this. This is one of the key moral battles of our time. Sorry, it is not global warming or the free market. So once again, pro-family Catholics (and Protestants) were rather disappointed here.

And of course as an evangelical Christian, I wish he would have talked about the most important topic there is: Jesus Christ and the good news of the gospel for lost sinners. He of course did mention the Christian socialist Dorothy Day and her social gospel work, but that is not quite what I have in mind.

While elevating Jesus and his work at Calvary may not have been his purpose in this important address, to fail to mention these matters even once seems like a real dereliction of duty for any major religious leader in the Christian tradition. Regrettably a social gospel without the biblical gospel becomes mere leftist social activism.

While I can go on in analysing his talk, it might be more appropriate to repeat what some Catholics have said about it. Folks may reject what I have to say, but they are less easily able to reject what other Catholics have to say. So let me mention just a few.

On the abortion issue American pro-lifer Father Peter West said this: “It’s a shame that Pope Francis neglected to mention the rights of the unborn while pleading for an end to the death penalty. Planned Parenthood must be rejoicing.”

Writing just before his speech, Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. and member of the Catholic diocese there, said this: “Conservatives worry about the way he seems to have turned from the culture war over issues like abortion and homosexual marriage. The image that gets transmitted is that these are not ‘Francis issues’ – that he’s more interested in income inequality, the gap between rich and poor, the environment.”

Libertarian Catholic judge and commentator Andrew Napolitano was even more scathing. He penned this piece a day before the speech to Congress:

The Church has taught for 400 years that abortion is murder. Because the victim of an abortion is always innocent, helpless and uniquely under the control of the mother, abortion removes the participants from access to the sacraments. Until now. Last week, Pope Francis, without consulting his fellow bishops, ordered that any priest may return those who have killed a baby in a womb to the communion of the faithful. He said he did this because he was moved by the anguished cries of mothers contemplating the murder of their babies.
I doubt he will defend these decisions before Congress. He will, instead, assault the free market, which he blames for poverty, pollution and the mass migrations into Europe away from worn-torn areas in the Middle East.
In his papal exhortation on capitalism, Pope Francis spectacularly failed to appreciate the benefits of capitalism to the health, wealth and safety of the poor. Instead, he has reworked the Peronism of his youth to advocate government-mandated redistribution of wealth and to condemn those who work hard, employ others and achieve wealth — even when they give some of that wealth to the Church.

I will leave it to Catholics to debate amongst themselves as to whether the judge has got all this right or not. All I am doing here is offering the thoughts of a few Catholics. Many others could be appealed to in their assessment of the speech in particular and the Pope in general.

In conclusion, please do not get me wrong – this is not just a case of me, a Protestant, launching into some anti-Pope thing. Most of the folks I quote above are Catholics. And I have had numerous conservative Catholic friends and colleagues tell me that they are quite concerned about the new Pope.

He seems to be all over the place: one minute he sounds good, the next minute he sounds atrocious. And some recent past Popes I have been quite supportive of. So it depends on who it is, and in this case, there seems to be real ambivalence about this guy, not just with me but with many others – Catholics included.

So don’t attack me – I am just the messenger here. And this is of course not an anti-Catholic diatribe. It is simply discussing a very public talk made by a very public Pope, and recording some of the comments of others. Those who want to get into sectarian debates are advised to go elsewhere thanks.

There are plenty of other sites where people can engage in such sectarianism. Indeed, as has always been my policy here, those comments which are simply about attacking Catholics, or Protestants, will be deleted.

www.wsj.com/articles/conservative-catholics-in-u-s-greet-pope-francis-with-unease-1442967375
www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/sep/23/andrew-napolitano-is-pope-francis-a-false-prophet/

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21 Replies to “The Pope’s Speech to the US Congress”

  1. WARNING: Given the purposes of my website, it was probably foolhardy of me to even write this article. Catholic bashers and Protestant bashers will both want to use this for their own purposes. So I repeat: Those who want to use this post just to make comments that are anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant will have their comments deleted. Folks can go to other sites for such sectarian battles. This has always been my policy.

  2. As a Catholic I am very grateful to you Bill for writing this paper. I agree with what you have written absolutely. In my view it was a poor effort. I was bitterly disappointed that the Pope did not utter the word homosexual. Of course the inference was there, hidden beneath other stuff. It is a tragedy that such a great opportunity to speak the truth to the world on this subject of such great importance was side-stepped. Of course the American Catholic Church has been hit very hard by homosexuality in the clergy even at the highest level but that is no excuse. St Paul says somewhere: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. The Pope may or may not have grieved the Holy Spirit but he certainly grieved me.

  3. I think Francis is a controlled pope. I read about some of the people he has appointed in various positions; pro-gay marriage types, advocates of changes in church teachings, etc…..why on earth is a Pope approving such people to serve in the church?
    It doesn’t add up. I do appreciate that Catholics revere the Pope as God’s earthly representative; but there’s something not right with this one.
    Something big is going to go down over the coming months, I’m sure of it. The dots are all joining up fast, like in a child’s puzzle-book and the image will soon be revealed.

  4. Bill you used the word ‘ambivalence’ in your article. This is the key that sums this fellow up I think. Where does he stand on some of the key issues?

  5. Bill, thanks for your article. As a Catholic, I have no objection to your criticisms of the Pope for his speech, because they are made in a fair-minded manner.

    The Pope has made statements in the past that show him to be totally orthodox, such as when he referred to the gay agenda as the “machinations of the Father of Lies”. I think, however, that as the head of the Catholic Church he is trying to create a dialogue with the secular world, and to couch his speeches in such a way that the secular world doesn’t close its mind to what he has to say. He seems to have been quite successful so far in getting the world to listen to him. I personally feel that he is watering down the Christian message too much, and I was more comfortable with the more intellectual previous two popes, but we shall see how the present pope proceeds.

    As an aside, what he said about capital punishment is not at variance with Catholic teaching. The Church teaches that the death penalty is morally permissible, but that it is nowadays generally unnecessary. The _Catechism of the Catholic Church_, paragraph 2267, states: “Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offence incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent’.”

  6. Interesting stuff Bill, thank you.
    I think this Pope wants to engage…to dialogue. The more I read about him, the more I am satisfied that he aligns on all fronts with Orthodox Catholic teachings. He wants to gather the Lost, but I guess he must first get them to listen and respond. He’s doing things his way, but that doesn’t mean he is abandoning the values that good Christians all share. Sometimes the flock may feel uncomfortable and perhaps abandoned when the Shepherd goes seeking the ‘one’. I sometimes do. Just a thought….

  7. Dear Bill,

    Your criticism of Pope Francis is reasonable and fair. I too am disappointed in his speeches. Mostly because of what needed to be said but wasn’t. I converted to Catholicism more than sixty years ago because I arrived at the belief that the Papacy was instituted by Jesus Christ and St Peter was the first Pope. I could also see the sense of it being a safeguard against “Royal Popes” such as King Henry VIII and anyone else who wants to put their own interpretation on the Christian faith. However, the Pope is infallible only when he speaks ex cathedra on faith and morals but I agree that the world takes notice every time the Pope speaks. In my opinion he missed an excellent opportunity to condemn abortion murder. I remember George Negus commenting that St John Paul II was going on one of his ‘Right To Life tours’ he spoke up for the unborn so often and to me that is the most basic of human rights. Not all the Popes have been canonised and some have been downright bad but none of them have failed when it comes to defending the Catholic Faith and as Mark says he has spoken up about things but perhaps not loud enough. Finally, I too like Chris am wondering who is controlling and advising him. We must pray for him because he sounds as if he really needs our prayers.

  8. Bill, I am a little confused by this article and it pushes me into a question for you. Do you believe that Pope Francis is a Christian? Please, I am not bashing anyone. I would just appreciate knowing where you stand in regard to this one question. If you answer or do not answer or even if you erase this I will not say another word. Thank you.

  9. Thanks Dennis. My answer partly depends on what exactly you are asking here of course. Catholics, like the Orthodox and Protestants, adhere to the ancient creeds such as the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed which laid out the basics of orthodox Christian teaching. So unlike the cults, such as the JWs, the main doctrines such as the Trinity and deity of Christ are not denied by Catholics.

    But obviously many important theological differences remain, such as on the question of religious authority, the nature of salvation, the place and role of Mary and the saints, and so on. These are without question key areas of difference. Thus Catholics affirm vital biblical teachings, but differ from Protestants in many areas as well.

    As to whether an individual Catholic is a Christian (that is, genuinely born again and headed to heaven) that is something no one can know with absolute assurance – only God knows the human heart and can make that judgment. So whether a Pope or an individual Catholic or an individual Protestant is a genuine Christian is ultimately something only God knows, but I of course believe many people in the Catholic Church are truly saved and have a personal relationship with Christ. In a similar sense, there are many people in the Protestant churches who are not saved and do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

    I hope that explains where I am coming from a bit more. My warnings here were about the usual and interminable sectarian debates that arise whenever I discuss these sorts of things. But there are zillions of other sites where folks can do this, so I tend to not seek to have it done here.

  10. True, “one minute he sounds good, the next he sounds atrocious” and yes, “he could have said more”
    … but we must remember this Pope, although he has a Masters in Chemistry, may be multi-lingual – but sadly, this does not include English. His English is definitely lacking and could certainly could do with some English lessons.
    I can imagine how difficult it would be for me to be asked to deliver a speech in Spanish or Chinese. I would have no hope! So he is braver man than I am. He did better than I could do.

    Since the Pope had limited time to deliver his speech, I think his words “our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development” summarizes quite well his attitude on the sanctity of human life including condemning abortion, euthanasia and murder.

  11. Thanks Mark. But I don’t find your rationalisation all that helpful to be honest. He of course does know English. And he is the Pope – a world leader who can and does deliver perfected speeches all the time in various languages. Even if he is not an expert in English, his minders and advisors of course can and do prepare for him perfected speeches in English, no probs. So it has nothing to do with delivery but everything to do with what was prepared and written down beforehand. He gives one not very clear sentence on abortion, then immediately launches into a whole paragraph on the death penalty – and in perfect English no less! So he certainly knew full well ahead of time exactly what was in his talk, what was not, and what was to be emphasised.

  12. I tend to agree with your comments Bill. As a Catholic, I would like to the church leadership generally take a firmer line on the basics. Whilst diplomacy is important, the softly, softly approach has got us nowhere. We are going backwards.
    Firm unwaivering leadership is needed in these difficult times.

  13. It seems the Pope has a lot in common with Desmund Tutu and the Dalai Lama

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPqE36aY9cg

    http://time.com/3822656/pope-francis-2015-time-100/

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/tibet/10682492/Dalai-Lama-supports-gay-marriage.html

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2928251/Pope-holds-private-meeting-transsexual-man-fianc-e-sex-swap-Spaniard-said-local-priest-denounced-devil-s-daughter.html

    Pope Francis might not wish to judge gays, but we are asked to warn the lost, like the gays, that judgement is coming.

    What Pope Francis, Desmund Tutu, the Dalia Lama, gays and paedophiles have in common, I leave you to figure out.

    David Skinner UK

  14. I wish people would learn not to accept so trustingly everything they hear or read in the secular media. When they jumped up and down with joy about the Pope supposedly saying, “Whom am I to judge gay people”, they were in fact misquoting him. What he actually said is no different from what the Church has always taught about homosexual acts. He did use the word “gay” for the first time, but he probably didn’t realise that in English the word means “homosexual lobbyist”. Here is the full text of what the Pope said, from EWTN Television:

  15. The Pope reminds me a fair bit of Obama – I have seen 9 video clips where he (Obama) says he is a muslim, and I have seen 4 where he says he is a Christian. You can’t be both. In the end, I think with these people – their words are just words – spoken to satisfy some group or other, and the heart has no connection with these words at all. I’m only an old farm boy, but that’s the way it seems to me.

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