The two roles of one pope

Pope Francis made history when he became the first pope to ever address the United States Congress. As the crowd rose to their feet, many stretched, leaned and even reached out in hopes of catching even the slightest touch. As he approached the microphone ears opened wide and mouths fell silent to hear to words that would resonate under the embossed words “IN GOD WE TRUST” in the halls of Congress.

by Kelly Jester
by Kelly Jester

Though the moment was historical and many see the pope and an infallible messenger of Christ, his role as a politician has been met with some skepticism. Political leaders and pundits have claimed the pontifical leader is out of line and should limit his role to religious doctrine and stray from politics. However, upon further analysis it is understandable how the pope has the responsibility to engage in political activity around the world.

For starters, Pope Francis is not only a religious leader, but also a political leader. The Vatican consists of two basic components; one being the Holy See representing the religious aspect, in which Catholics believe that the church is infallible, and the other being the Vatican City State in which the pope is the political leader. According to the United States Department of State, Vatican City is recognized as a sovereign independent territory. With such recognition the State Department cooperates with the Vatican on “international issues of mutual interest, including human rights, peace and conflict prevention, poverty eradication and development, environmental protection, and inter-religious understanding”. As the political leader of the Vatican City State, Pope Francis has every bit as much business engaging in politics and addressing issues outside of the realm of religious doctrine as any other political leader.

In an interview with Charlie Rose of CBS News, Vladimir Putin made the argument that his concern was not to rebuild the Soviet Union, but for those who were outside of Russia as the Soviet Union collapsed. Putin explained the issue facing the separation of families due to the borders suddenly changing and the challenges this posed to 25 million people. Pope Francis and Putin cannot be compared. However, if Putin can be concerned about Russians who were outside the confines of the Russian veil, then why can’t Pope Francis? Essentially, the pope’s engagement in politics comes in the form of associational representation. Though the pope is not addressing ethnic citizens of the Vatican State, he is seeking representation for the constituency of the Vatican State; Roman Catholics who don’t draw borders on the geopolitical scale, but rather the spiritual scale.

When the pope addresses freedom of religion in the United States, he is doing so as a political figure with an infallible faith that his political wisdom is guided in righteousness. Likewise, when the pope addresses borders, immigration and the protection of families, it is with political expertise and the experiences that families around the globe have suffered from. To say that the pope has no knowledge in this field lends significant credit to the legitimacy of Putin, and takes away the wisdom of the pontiff.

Pope Francis (R) and US President Barack Obama shake hands during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican. The meeting at the Vatican comes as a welcome rest-stop for Obama during a six-day European tour dominated by the crisis over Crimea, and the US leader will doubtless be hoping some of the pope's overwhelming popularity will rub off on him. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB
Pope Francis (R) and US President Barack Obama shake hands during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican. The meeting at the Vatican comes as a welcome rest-stop for Obama during a six-day European tour dominated by the crisis over Crimea, and the US leader will doubtless be hoping some of the pope’s overwhelming popularity will rub off on him. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

The question remains if Pope Francis crossed the line and indulged into American politics too much. Did the Pope attempt to engage too heavily into U.S. policy? While he did address the issues of life, family, multiculturalism and immigration, Pope Francis did not engage in any policy implementation strategies. Rather than addressing issues that United States policy makers are oblivious to, Pope Francis engaged in issues important to all Americans. The issues addressed during the speech to congress have bipartisan representation. Democrats and Republican both agree that the issues of poverty and immigration are something that must be tackled. What they may not agree on is how to formulate policy to achieve such goals. That being the case, we can say that what political persuasion did come from the Pope was not a partisan plea, but rather a call to action to help the afflicted, not a political party suffering in the polls.

As a final thought on the subject, the path Pope Francis took highlights his capacity as a political leader while remaining a religious leader. He demonstrated the capability of encouraging good will with the free will to choose. His tactics came with a message of peace that was neither wrapped in conservatism or liberalism, but rather Catholicism. His pursuit of political goals may have religious aspects that motivated his desire to see an eventual facilitation of changes, but never did his agenda seek to push his ways upon the free and the brave.

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