Some Quick Thoughts On the Pope’s Congressional Address


I don’t want to spend a great deal of time on the text of the speech. You can read it for yourself. But there are a few of points I want to highlight and ask questions about.

First, I said in my post yesterday morning that the White House address was a missed opportunity to talk about abortion in a week when Congress was duking it out over defunding Planned Parenthood. People got angry with me. I said at the end of the post, “Here’s hoping that in the Congressional address tomorrow, our modern holocaust gets more than a passing mention.”

I was forcing myself to be optimistic. There’s a reason why I usually don’t do that. Today, what we actually got — in terms of references to the pro-life position — was this:

Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction.  Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated.  Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves.  Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.  In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.  The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.  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.

In addition to the fact that this is the most bare-bones acknowledgement of the sanctity of life one could get in a speech before a governmental body that sends half a billion dollars a year to an organization that kills millions of children and sells their parts to the highest bidder, the entire emphasis was placed on abolition of the death penalty, which is not even consonant with the long-held teaching of the Church. (And as a friend asked me after reading the speech, “When did ‘murderer on death row’ become a stage of human development?”)

Statistically speaking, another friend of mine pointed out that more than twice as many babies are killed every day in the U.S. through legalized abortion than there have been criminals executed in the four decades since the re-introduction of the death penalty. (2,800+ legal abortions every day [reported] vs. 1414 executions since 1976.) Why is capital punishment the priority?

Second, we have the issue of marriage, which is under the most ferocious attack it has ever weathered since the 3rd chapter of Genesis. On that topic, the pope said:

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.

Read those words and tell me what they mean. Don’t project your own interpretation or bias — words in themselves signify something. Do these three sentences signify a defense of marriage in a country that just legalized sodomite relationships under that same definition? Particularly when you take this into account?

Life and family leaders worldwide are alarmed by a list the Vatican released today containing the names of those who will participate in the upcoming Synod on the Family, including a special list of 45 prelates handpicked by Pope Francis, many of whom publicly support positions contrary to the teaching or practice of the Catholic Church.

“The Ordinary Synod has a heterodox agenda and many of the prelates attending it have already shown themselves either supportive of that agenda or unwilling to resist it,” stated Voice of the Family, a group of Catholic laity from major pro-life and pro-family organizations worldwide, in a press release today.

“The family is now under grave danger from within the Church, as well as from international institutions and national governments,” the group said.

The list of “members by Papal appointment” includes a number of controversial figures whose actions or statements have caused Catholics from different parts of the world to question their orthodoxy…

You should really follow the link and read the roster, making note of each man’s record of opposition to Church teaching on marriage. If the Holy Father is concerned about marriage, my suggestion would be to start by culling that list – and soon, because the Synod is only 10 days away.

My third point would be simply to note the issues that got the bulk of his air time: labor, the elderly, immigration, refugees, indigenous peoples, the environment, the arms trade, war, dialogue between nations, economic injustice, etc. There are a number of important things to discuss in these arenas, but isn’t it odd that the Vicar of Christ never once mentioned Christ as the answer? That the Holy Name of Jesus was not spoken? That the four Americans used as the basis for his remarks (Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton) were favorites among political and religious progressives, and none of them were saints? (We do have American saints. The pope just canonized the most recent one yesterday.)

Finally, when the pope came out to address the crowds gathered outside the Capitol, he said, “I will ask God to bless” those present. But he did not bless anyone. There was no sign of the cross. And then, at the conclusion of his prayer, he said, “I ask you all please to pray for me, and if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you please to send good wishes my way.”


See it for yourself:

I’ve written about this last part before:

If thinking positively can have such a profound effect on your own life, what of thinking positively on behalf of others? I’m not talking about offering a person going through a crisis good advice, or rousing your team with an inspired pep-talk; I’m speaking of the mental exercise of sending “good vibes” in the direction of someone experiencing hard times. To me, this sounds a great deal like what many people callprayer. Only not. It’s directed from person-to-person, rather than from person-to-God-to-person. As such, I can’t help but wonder why a person would skip the God step in this equation unless they either:

a.)    Don’t believe in Him

b.)    Are afraid that others might be offended if they were to admit that they do believe.

Option “b” may not be particularly courageous, but it is, at least, understandable. Option “a,” though? To not believe in God but offer to do something that looks very much like praying just doesn’t make any sense.


Our society values niceties over virtues. We embrace being crass while doing everything in our power not to offend. We tolerate everything but believe in nothing. And when these paradoxical forces converge, they cancel each other out and create a potent strain of mediocrity that dilutes the meaning of all human interaction.

It was, I suspect you’ll agree, a very strange thing to do.

At the end of the day, I’m left struggling with what to make of it. Based on the reactions I’m seeing online, it seems events like today are a sort of Rorschach test, devoid of much real meaning, but vague enough that those who wish to project their own interpretation on them may do so. There’s a lot of gushing in the Catholic social media sphere today. It’s a pretty big head-scratcher considering the meager fare we were offered on the big issues of our day.

You can certainly find good in what Pope Francis said today. There are just enough touch points to find — if you’re looking for it — some Catholic influence here. But this speech could almost as easily have been given by a non-denominational member of Congress. The “blessing” afterward wasn’t; it was really just a prayer of the sort that a sitting president could say without technical violating the First Amendment. It’s the kind you might hear in a huddle at your average public high school football game in the Bible Belt.

I’ll get kicked in the teeth for saying it, but this simply wasn’t an impressive outing for Pope Francis. He had an opportunity, and he didn’t take it. We need firm moral leadership from our pope. When are we going to get it?

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