by Alex Cervone
On March 13, 2014, House Speaker John Boehner(R-Ohio), extended a formal, written invitation, with Nancy Pelosi(D-California), to Pope Francis to speak to a joint session of Congress. This would occur during his expected visit to the United States in 2015. Additionally, President Barack Obama is to visit the Vatican to meet with His Holiness on the March 27. Both indicate growing diplomatic relations between the United States and the Vatican. Provided the Pope accepts this open invitation, it will be a historic event. Never before has the Pope, or any religious leader serving as a head of state, addressed Congress. As for the motivation behind the invitation, according to a statement from Boehner’s office, his visit would be an “excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.”
Additionally, Boehner exclaimed in his statement: “The Holy Father’s pastoral message challenges people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties. 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.”
Boehner seeks the Pontiff’s attendance to foster Catholic ideals that are philosophically harmonious with his own political viewpoints, and the traditions of the nation. Boehner’s own political views are congruent with recent statements by Pope Francis where he condemned capitalism, calling it a “new tyranny.” Additionally, Boehner seeks to invite the Pope to address Congress due to the Pontiff’s inspiring millions of people around the world with his message of social justice, mercy, and forgiveness. He hopes Pope Francis will have a similar effect on Americans. Boehner revealed in his statement that, “They 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.”
Boehner hopes that a visit by the Pope will continue to inspire Americans with these Catholic principles of benevolence and selflessness.
As for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, she also stated that she has been inspired “by his message of peace, compassion and brotherhood.” It is clear why both politicians desire a visit by the Pope. They view Pope Francis’ ideals as being consistent with the traditional values of the United States that they hold dear.
Boehner highlighted that the pontiff’s: “…Social teachings, rooted in ‘the joy of the gospel, have prompted careful reflection and vigorous dialogue among people of all ideologies and religious views in the United States… Particularly among those who champion human dignity, freedom, and social justice. These principals are among the fundamentals of the American Idea.”
As such, Boehner and Pelosi’s inviting Pope Francis to speak at a joint session of Congress is an expression of not only their own faiths, but also their desires to serve the country through the reinforcement of constructive American ideals. They seek the promotion of the Catholic ideals of human dignity, freedom, and social justice. Public opinion of Congress has been declining recently due to the rising tensions between Democrats and Republicans, combined with the overall state of the economy. With approval ratings, according to recent Gallop Polls, hovering above the single digits, perhaps a visit by Pope Francis is exactly what Congress needs.