Is Congress turning to divine intervention to lift it out of bipartisan bickering and legislative gridlock?
House Speaker John Boehner wants Pope Francis to come to Washington D.C. and address the entire Congress. It would mark the first time the head of the Catholic Church personally spoke before Congress.
“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service,” Boehner said in an email announcing that he had invited the Holy Father. “His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us – the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn – has awakened hearts on every continent.”
Boehner, an Ohio Republican who is Catholic, expressed admiration for the Pope’s success in getting people in the United States from all ideological and religious walks of life to examine human rights and social justice.
Boehner appeared to take a swipe at the Obama administration when he bemoaned “crony capitalism” and the “ongoing centralization of political power in the institutions of our federal government, which threaten to disrupt the delicate balance between the twin virtues of subsidiarity and solidarity.”
In recent days, Republicans have stepped up their criticism of what they see as Obama’s abuse of executive power. They have criticized Obama for changing aspects of the Affordable Care Act, and for suspending deportation for two years for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors. They have criticized the deportation suspension initiative, known as DACA, as an end-run around Congress by the president in an attempt to give them a form of “amnesty.”
Boehner also appeared to take aim at government entitlement programs, saying that they go against what the Pope supports for aiding the less fortunate.
Americans, Boehner said, “have embraced Pope Francis’ reminder that we cannot meet our responsibility to the poor with a welfare mentality based on business calculations. We can meet it only with personal charity on the one hand and sound, inclusive policies on the other.”
“The Holy Father’s pastoral message challenges people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties,” Boehner said. “His address as a visiting head of state before a joint meeting of the House and Senate would honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions. It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.”
In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to Boehner, congratulating him on becoming speaker of the House.
“I want to congratulate you for articulating so strongly your commitment to the defense of unborn human life,” Pope Benedict wrote. “The bishops tell me that this new health care law provides federal funding of abortion and that this is one of the reasons you opposed that law.”
But the pope said in no uncertain terms that he supported universal healthcare for all Americans, and that he hoped Boehner did, too. It could be a glimpse of the activism that Pope Francis, known for his candid, intrepid ways, would bring to Congress if he accepts the invitation.
“Frankly, the rest of the world has been laughing at the U.S. for decades because you spend so much on health care and don’t even cover all your people,” Benedict wrote to the speaker. “ I have not been laughing. I have been scandalized that a great and religious country like yours has taken so long to guarantee health care as a right. I have spoken about this as clearly as possible and I am sure that you, Mr. Boehner, as a good Catholic will heed my voice in this matter.”
Benedict also did not hold back on pushing for immigration reform, telling Boehner that Joseph and Mary had to cross borders to do what was best for their family.
“I especially call your attention to the situation of so many immigrants in America, men and women who share your Catholic faith, who came to your country because they share your sense of hopefulness about America… I am confident that you will work with President Obama to come to the aid of these immigrants in your country.”