Pope Francis used the right words to address Congress members and senators regarding lawmaking and doing politics. There is much to say about his statements on immigration, the environment and the family, but his criticism of fundamentalism, the simplistic “good vs. evil” mentality and his call for pragmatism strongly resounded among the members of one of the most divided and inoperative sessions in the history of U.S. Congress.
His tone was simultaneously direct and diplomatic. He addressed the hypocrisy of anti-immigrant attitudes of people who have immigrants in their own family tree and of favoring death penalty while opposing abortion. He spoke of poverty and mentioned four people in the U.S., of whom two ‒ Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton ‒ stood out for their social activism within the Catholic faith.
Still, beyond specific issues, the Pope’s statements regarding politics and the need to work jointly for the common good were meant as a call to legislators to leave their extremism and intolerance behind.
This was a necessary message delivered in the right forum. Divisions in Congress continue to grow. On top of the traditional Democrat-Republican rivalry, the majority party is also polarized by the challenge of the Tea Party’s absolutist legislators. For them, “negotiation” is a bad word, and Pope Francis’ proposal to “sacrifice particular interests” to seek the “common good” is blasphemy.
The Pope’s diagnosis of the reasons for the stalling of Congress is correct. A simplistic “good vs. evil” or “the innocents pay for the sins of the guilty” view is responsible for the Legislature’s intolerance. This attitude that judges but fails to comprehend is the result of a lack of compassion against the poor and animosity toward immigrants.
In case it was not clear, Pope Francis recalled the principle of not doing unto others what you don’t want others to do unto you. It isn’t so hard to understand. If legislators followed this apolitical idea, they would be capable of getting closer to their mission of working for the well being of all people in the U.S.