Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) announced last week when Pope Francis delivers remarks to a joint session of Congress, he intends to “boycott.” The far-right congressman said it’d be fine if the religious leader addressed moral issues Gosar cares about, but since Francis is likely to reference moral issues the pope cares about, the Arizona Republican isn’t interested.
“When the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one,” the congressman wrote.
Similarly, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) – who, like Gosar, is Roman Catholic – sat down with Politico this week to flesh out his expectations for the papal address.
“I’m hopeful that Pope Francis will speak to these two issues: One is the church’s unfailing and steadfast opposition to abortion, the position that life begins at the moment of conception and it ends at natural death, and the dignity of every human person. That’s a position of the Roman Catholic Church that’s really unassailable and I’m hopeful that that position will be reiterated from the floor of Congress next week. I’m looking forward to that.“Second component that is so strong among the Catholic Church is the position of marriage, and it being between a man and a woman.”
Or put another way, Steve King is “looking forward” to his church leader telling Steve King how correct Steve King is. The pope, the argument goes, should stay in the GOP’s lane: there are moral crises, as defined by Republicans, that warrant Pope Francis’ concern. Nothing else need be mentioned.
And what if Francis addresses the climate crisis and/or economic inequality? Those concerns “are less religion and theology and more politics,” the right-wing Iowan responded.
Opposition to reproductive rights and blocking equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, King added, “are solid, timeless principles of the Catholic Church and much of the rest of Christianity.”
The threats to the natural world, however, are “political.”
To be sure, this isn’t new. As we discussed a couple of months ago, Republicans from Jeb Bush to Rush Limbaugh have adopted a similar posture: there is no moral or religious component to a global climate crisis, so the pope has no reason to voice concern for humanity’s future. The crisis, conservatives argue, simply falls outside the Vatican’s purview.
It’s as striking as it is wrong. In culture-war debates the right routinely argues that policymakers should heed the appeals from religious leaders. More generally, conservatives express alarm about the left trying to push voices from the faith community “out of the public square.” It’s these religious leaders, the GOP argues, that should help guide public debate.
But when the climate is on fire, the pope is apparently supposed to keep his mouth shut – or face Republican scorn and “boycotts.”
For much of the right, a global threat to much of the planet’s human population is divorced from questions of “morality.” They say this with a straight face, even ridiculing the pope for believing otherwise.
By all appearances, Francis doesn’t care. Here’s hoping he delivers a challenge on Thursday to insulated lawmakers who aren’t accustomed to thinking about moral debates outside the realm of sex.