WASHINGTON – It may be more than just courtesy that prompted President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama to greet Pope Francis on the tarmac when the pontiff lands Tuesday at Joint Base Andrews.
The first couple could have welcomed the pope when he arrived at the White House, which has been custom with most visiting heads of state.
However, Francis’ initiatives and his speech before Congress may be the best thing that’s happened to Obama since he won the Nobel Peace Prize, in advance.
The pope and the president appear to be of one mind on opening the doors to Communist Cuba. They seem to share points of agreement on the extremes of capitalism: Obama’s fiery “you didn’t build that” speech in the 2012 campaign. The pope pronounced the “just distribution of wealth” a “moral obligation” in a recent speech in Bolivia, according to Fortune.com.
Francis has endorsed Obama’s controversial deal with Iran on nuclear development, which is anathema to Capitol Republicans, along with a handful of Democrats with Jewish constituencies.
Like all Roman Catholic prelates of history, Francis also urges the embrace of immigrants. This parallels the president’s open border policies on our southern frontier, and the Democrats’ “sanctuary cities” preference.
Francis’ marquee public policy issue, and one he is expected to address in the Capitol and at the United Nations, is his conviction that human activity is contributing to global warming, or climate change, and that it must be aggressively curbed. He is expected to say that the world is running out of time to deal with it. In the past, the pope has said the world’s poor are the helpless victims of reckless capitalist exploitation of fossil fuel.
Nowhere does the division between the Republican right and Francis loom larger than on the pope’s militant stand on climate change. In last week’s GOP presidential debate, two Catholic candidates vigorously attacked Obama’s new regulations on carbon emissions.
He didn’t mention the pope, and he may not even have had him in mind, yet New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Obama and the Democrats are chasing “some wild left-wing idea that somehow us by ourselves are going to fix the climate.”
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said, “we should be skeptical of decisions the left wants us to make. They will not do a thing to lower the rise of the sea … but what they will do is make America a more expensive place to create jobs. I am not in favor of anything that will make it harder for [Americans] to raise their families.”
None of the other candidates at the Simi Valley, Calif., event disagreed. And Rubio, Christie and others said climate change is a problem.
When asked about the pope’s climate concerns, Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – like me, a Catholic convert – suggested Francis should center his concerns more on issues that deal exclusively with the church. Bush is not alone in this.
Many churchgoing, traditional Catholics – not just conservatives as described in the mainstream media – hope the pope will show more interest in reforming the seminaries, increasing vocations and in the liturgy.
Some hope Francis will say something this week about the alleged sale of baby tissue by Planned Parenthood, an issue raised by former business executive Carly Fiorina, an Episcopalian, who took part in the debate.
Looking ahead, some who are confused over past statements of the pope are circulating a petition signed by dozens of bishops worldwide asking him to stand up for fundamental Catholic values at next month’s Synod, or mini-council in Rome.
In any case, Francis has become the world’s top celebrity, hands down.