In the wake of Pope Francis apostolic visit to the U.S., the world is still trying to figure out just who this Holy Father is. One thing is certain: He is predictably unpredictable he had surreptitious visits with both the county clerk from Kentucky whos made waves with her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses and with a same-sex couple from Argentina. Francis defies facile classification in prefabricated political categories. Yet that doesnt prevent the voices of various factions from calling him one of their own. Liberal Catholics like to think hes a liberal, and secular observers, for the most part, follow suit he passes the eyeball test pretty easily. Meanwhile, conservative Catholics try to convince themselves (and anybody wholl listen) that, despite appearances, the Pope is really a conservative.
Franciss address before the U.S. Congress (Sept. 24) offers a good example of this tug-of-war: Liberal Catholics found much to like while conservative Catholics scrambled to interpret his speech favorably.
A broad reading of the Popes speech gives the impression that he earned high marks on the liberal scorecard. According to The New York Times (Sept. 24), Francis emboldened liberals with a passionate defense of immigration, an endorsement of environmental legislation, a blistering condemnation of the arms trade and a plea to abolish the death penalty. He repeatedly bandied about liberal catch phrases, speaking up for those trapped in a cycle of poverty, calling for global solidarity and a distribution of wealth, and encouraging his listeners to be at the service of dialogue and peace. Even the names Francis dropped of the great Americans he wished to recognize were those of liberal icons, including liberal Catholic icons: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.
The Popes appearance before Congress wasnt, however, entirely a liberal lovefest. He did toss out a few crumbs to starving conservatives: He insisted that the voice of faith continue to be heard, he praised the richness and beauty of family life, and he called for the protection of life at every stage of its development.
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