Controversies about Pope Francis visit started before the trip

This article appears in the Francis in the United States feature series. View the full series.

Greetings from Vienna. We are here celebrating the eight-month birthday of our precious granddaughter Amelia Marie.

We hope everyone in the United States is enjoying the visit of Pope Francis to Cuba and the U.S. From all reports, everything seems vintage Francis at this point. This visit will be about gestures, symbolism and tone. He is already conveying well his pastoral message of reconciliation, compassion and outreach to the poor and those on the periphery.

Yet it also appears that controversy is already following this pope as some seem to have difficulty accepting his inclusive message of love and service.

At least two controversies have already arisen. First we have those who feel Francis was not being hard enough on the Cuban government.

Francis did not explicitly condemn the Castro government, although he did hint a number of times at the need for more religious freedom and that we should to focus on people and not ideology. That was not enough for some. He was compared to Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI who were more direct in their call for major changes to the Castro regime.

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Of course Pope Francis is in the midst of dialogue encouraging greater détente between Cuba and the United States. His efforts have already produced fruit in the reestablishing of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Just because there are those who believe he needed to go marching into Cuba with vigorous condemnations of the government does not mean that he should, or that such a move represents appropriate diplomacy and strategy for him at this time.

Another area of controversy involves Congressmen who planned to boycott the pope’s address to Congress.

At least one Catholic congressman has been quite harsh in his criticism of Pope Francis and has refused to attend the address. Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Arizona, says he would support the pope if he stuck to “standard Christian theology.” Yet he sees Francis as using “questionable science as Catholic dogma” when it comes to climate change. He wants the pope to address Christians being persecuted in the Middle East and to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of life. Gosar says, “When the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.”

I’m sure Pope Francis is grateful to have Congressman Gosar plan his agenda for him and clarify what he is and is not supposed to talk about. I know also that both liberals and conservatives have differing views on what they want to hear from this or any pope.

Yet, it seems to me that all of us would do well to listen to the core message of each pope. That is particularly true for Francis since he is the current one. He also is pushing a message that is cast in a different tone than recent popes have. When at the heart of his message are two documents that move the church in a somewhat different direction, Laudato Sí, and Evangelii Gaudium, it would seem that they deserve some thought and consideration.

I believe anyone who considers himself to be Catholic would want to take another look at his positions in the light of these two powerful documents. Maybe the good Congressman from Arizona should have done some reading and thinking before making a final decision on whether to at least listen to the Holy Father. As Francis said in Cuba, we need to focus on people rather than ideology.


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