It’s no secret that John Boehner and Pope Francis don’t agree on all the issues. The Catholic Speaker of the House has made that clear. But he’s still excited to hear the pope address Congress next Thursday, because, as he puts it simply: “it’s the pope.”
Fellow Republican US Rep. Paul Gosar never got that memo. In a stunningly tone-deaf move, the third-term Catholic congressman from Arizona announced on Friday that he would boycott Pope Francis’ historic address.
[A]t this pivotal moment in world history, His Holiness, Pope Francis, is intending to spend the majority of his time on one of the world’s greatest stages focusing on climate change. I have both a moral obligation and leadership responsibility to call out leaders, regardless of their titles, who ignore Christian persecution and fail to embrace opportunities to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human life. If the Pope plans to spend the majority of his time advocating for flawed climate change policies, then I will not attend.
Doubting the pope’s moral authority to speak on care for creation is one thing, but it’s beyond the pale to suggest that Pope Francis ignores Christian persecution and fails to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human life.
Time and again, Pope Francis has spoken out harshly about the world’s indifference toward the suffering of the Christian people in the Middle East. Just two weeks ago, he had this to say during a daily Mass in Rome:
There is no Christianity without persecution. Remember the last of the Beatitudes: when they bring you into the synagogues, and persecute you, revile you, this is the fate of a Christian. Today too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it.
The sanctity of human life? Pope Francis is no shrinking violet on this issue too. Earlier this month, he praised an American woman who had the courage to keep her child — and he didn’t mince his words:
I know it’s not easy to be a single mother. I know that people can sometimes look askance at you, but I’ll tell you one thing, you’re a brave woman because you’re capable of bringing these two daughters into the world. You could have killed them inside your womb, and you respected life. You respected the life you were carrying inside you, and God is going to reward you for that, and he does reward for you for that. Don’t be ashamed. Hold your head high. ‘I didn’t kill my daughters. I brought them into the world.’ I congratulate you.
Make no mistake: Francis believes that life begins at conception, but he knows it doesn’t end there. His call to care for creation isn’t part of some vast left-wing agenda, but a religious response to God’s ancient request to care to protect, sustain, and develop creation. In fact, it was Benedict XVI who was first dubbed by the media as the “green pope” for his groundbreaking environmental work as the Bishop of Rome
Would Gosar have boycotted Benedict as well?
What Francis, Benedict, and the Catholic Church get, but Paul Gosar fails to understand, is that caring for creation first and foremost is a religious issue. From the beginning of the Bible, God has asked humanity to be good stewards of all that God has given us: fresh water, clear air, and abundant harvest.
Gosar boasts of his Jesuit education, but he didn’t do his homework on this decision. As Jesuit priest the Rev. James Martin tweeted:
Dear @RepGosar: Have you forgotten that part of the Jesuit tradition is listening to people with different points of view from your own?
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) September 18, 2015
It’s not only Jesuit and Christian to do that. It’s American. We’re a nation that believes that legitimate diversity of opinions doesn’t divide us; it strengthens us.
By making the juvenile decision to not even show up to listen to Pope Francis’ address to Congress, Gosar has the dubious distinction of embarrassing both his Church and his nation.
Perhaps that’s the logical consequence of anyone who has the audacity to suggest that they’re more Catholic than the pope.