Pope Francis and the Republican Presidential Hopefuls: A Widening Divide

(Reposted with Permission from the Author)

With Pope Francis increasingly focused on economic inequality, protecting the environment, compassion towards immigrants and peace through diplomacy, it’s perhaps appropriate to ask: have Republican presidential candidates taken steps to follow his example on these four issues?

1. Economic Inequality

On economic inequality, Pope Francis has called for ending an economy that kills. Pope Francis believes such an economy has been perpetuated by a “throwaway culture.” But what exactly constitutes an economy that kills?

Is it when the United States wastes $165 billion in food (40 percent of our food supply) and over one trillion gallons of water a year? It certainly is when 1 in 6 Americans struggle with food insecurity and the state of California is dealing with a drought of historic proportions. Pope Francis views these issues as both economic and moral concerns. Furthermore, His Holiness believes neglecting these issues hurt the poorest disproportionately.

During the first Republican presidential debate, candidates repeatedly mentioned the path towards economic growth is through tax cuts, deregulation, and smaller government. With regards to tax cuts bringing on economic growth to the middle class and poor — commonly called trickle down economics — Pope Francis has unequivocally rejected such a theory.

The pope wrote in Evangelii Gaudium that, “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacra­lized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Weeks prior to the debate, former Florida Governor and Catholic Jeb Bush stated, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”

More recently, Jeb Bush said he believes Americans need to work longer. This despite the fact that a 2014 Gallup poll found full-time workers are working 47 hours a week on average and 4 in 10 say they work at least 50 hours a week.

New Jersey Governor and Catholic Chris Christie has proposed raising the Social Security retirement age from 67 to 69. However, life expectancy in the United States is about 79 years old. Thus, under Christie’s plan, you may only get to enjoy a decade’s worth of retirement.

Louisiana Governor and Catholic Bobby Jindal dismissed the pope’s views on economic inequality as being directed at a global audience rather than specific policy proposals made by himself or other elected officials in the United States.

In stark contrast to these views, Pope Francis believes when people have to work longer due to “the competitiveness imposed by a consumer society … work ends up dehumanizing people.”

2. Protecting the Environment

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, has drawn sharp criticism from numerous GOP presidential candidates. In encyclical, Pope Francis declares, “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all”, and that “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.”

In a radio interview prior to the release of the encyclical, former Pennsylvania Senator and Catholic Rick Santorum claimed, “the Church is probably not as forceful and credible” when it discusses political and scientific issues.

When asked about the pope’s encyclical, Jeb Bush told Sean Hannity, “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”

During the GOP debate, there was no mention of protecting the environment or addressing climate change.

3. Compassion towards Immigrants

Pope Francis has repeatedly mentioned the “globalization of indifference” regarding migrants. Such indifference causes needless pain and suffering for millions of migrant families.

Billionaire businessman and GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said many immigrants from Mexico are rapists, killers and drug dealers. Trump went on to later say Mexico should pay for any wall built along the U.S.-Mexican border.

In a piece for the New York Daily News, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York blasted Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, saying that while he’s “not in the business of telling people what candidates they should support or who deserves their vote. But as a Catholic, I take seriously the Bible’s teaching that we are to welcome the stranger.”

4. Peace through Diplomacy

In his short pontificate, Pope Francis has encouraged and engaged in diplomatic talks with Iran, Cuba and Palestine. In doing so, Pope Francis has sought to resolve differences among nations in a peaceful manner rather than through armed conflict.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Cuban-American Catholic, tried to downplay the pope’s diplomatic influence on Palestine and Cuba by stating, “His desire is peace and prosperity, he wants everyone to be better off. He’s not a political figure.”

On the Iran deal, the Vatican released a statement applauding it, stating, “The agreement on the Iranian nuclear program is viewed in a positive light by the Holy See.”

Even the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which usually sticks to commenting on domestic issues, approved the Iran nuclear deal in a letter addressed to Congress.

Conversely, every single GOP candidate declared the Iran deal needed to be stopped. Instead of trying to peacefully resolve differences between nations, GOP candidates seem more inclined to use the military to, as Huckabee bluntly stated, “kill people and break things.”

A prevailing narrative developing among GOP presidential candidates is that Pope Francis isn’t a political leader and therefore they don’t have to listen to him on matters such as the economy, environment, immigration, and diplomacy. Bush, Rubio and Santorum have all been on record asserting this. Regardless of these dismissive views, as the sovereign of Vatican City, Pope Francis is in fact a statesman and political figure.

Ultimately, by downplaying Pope Francis’ influence on these and other social justice issues, the Republican presidential hopefuls run the risk of alienating an increasing number of Catholics.

Stephen Seufert is the State Director of Keystone Catholics, a new social justice advocacy organization in Pennsylvania dedicated to promoting the common good. 

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