GOP presidential candidates enter the Catholic cafeteria

A headline in the Washington Post Friday morning said, A Test of Faith: Pope Francis Puts GOP Hopefuls on the Defensive.” And, well, he might. After all, Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ is an affirmation of the scientific consensus on climate change, and very strong instruction that the world needs to do something about it… and fast. Most GOP candidates are at least climate change skeptics; some are outright deniers. Most, I suspect, would love to attract generous donations from fossil fuel interests. So, they are having a fit.

Thus, the Catholics among them (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum) are urging the Pope to “stick to theology” and not “science” (as if one can avoid science where this issue is concerned). But they worry about being seen as less-than-loyal Catholics when they oppose the Pope. They fear that some will see them as “cafeteria” Catholics… like the (awful!) progressive Catholics who pick and choose the teachings they follow. Ooooh, that hurts! [But, as EJ Dionne, a progressive Catholic columnist for the Post, said not long ago: “Welcome to the cafeteria!”]

In addition to this encyclical, Francis’ re-affirmation of the theory of evolution not long ago, as well as his brokering of the US opening to Cuba, make him start to look like a Democrat, and not a Republican, at least to the GOP line-up. And they don’t want to run against Francis. Hillary, Bernie, Martin and Lincoln are enough.

Of course, Francis is of neither party; he’s his own person. He’s telling it as he sees it. But his actions sound more Democratic than Republican.

Somehow, this would be humorous to watch… if the issue weren’t so serious. But, if you think about it, many modern popes have made life easier for Republicans when social issues were at the top of the election agenda, such as abortion, same-sex marriage and access to contraception under Obamacare.

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For the record, Francis re-affirms the traditional church teaching on abortion in this encyclical since he is framing his environmental message as a “life issue.”

But Francis’ issue emphasis is different. He is pleading for the poor, urging strong action to stem the tide of climate change, and in doing so, is offering a not-so-subtle critique of capitalism, which keeps the poor down and subject to the ravages of the climate.

None of this is meant to be partisan. It’s Francis’ message as he reads the gospel.

Still, I can hardly wait for his address to Congress. I hope both John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi sit on those chairs behind the podium. It will be wonderful to follow their facial expressions!


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