Sunday, September 20, 2015


This is a big week for foreign visitors. Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, arrives and no sooner leaves Washington than the leader of China comes to town for a state visit. Pomp and circumstance were never so abundant. It’s a good week to stay out of the tangle of blocked streets the visits will make of downtown traffic.

Pope Francis, new on the job but a man who knows how to make waves, some spiritual and many political, arrives riding those waves at the crest of the popularity the world — Protestants, Jews and unbelievers alike — accords to the man that Catholics call “the vicar of Christ.”

Joe Biden, a devout Catholic and a man given to rash enthusiasms, calls Francis “the most popular man in the world … the single most popular man in the world.”

The pope is clearly a man of the radical left, and delights in it, taking positions on immigration, income inequality, criminal-justice reform and global warming that are at odds with the beliefs of many and perhaps most Americans. He decries materialism, greed and global warming that he says threaten to turn the globe into “an immense pile of filth.” We’re not sure about the immense pile of filth, but his denunciation of materialism and greed is right on the mark.

“If [Barack] Obama said some of the things that Francis says, he would be labeled a Trotsky-ite,” Candida Moss, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, tells The Washington Post. “It must be amazing for [the president] to be able to say, ‘I am to the right of Pope Francis on this issue.’”

Indeed, the pope has his secular uses. “The big question for [Mr.] Obama and his advisers,” says The Post, “is whether the pope’s soaring popularity can ever-so-slightly shift the ground on some issues crucial to the White House, and provide openings for the president in his waning months in office.”

Pope Francis may disdain politics as the president’s men would like to play it, but he can stand with the best of the masters of the hustings. After his first Easter as pope, rolling across St. Peter’s Square in Rome after saying mass, he halted the popemobile and stepped out to greet a small boy afflicted with cerebral palsy. He lifted him up to his eye level and kissed him. The touching video played for the rest of the day on television networks across the world. If a president or a seeker of the presidency had done that, most viewers would have regarded it as a cynical photo-op.

President Obama no doubt feels a special kinship to this pope for their similar views on what the left calls “social justice.” The president has cultivated few ties of faith, beyond his frequent apologies to Islam for perceived sins of America, since he left the Chicago congregation of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright over his frequent sermons demonizing America, Israel and Jews. But the president has spoken of how his “heart and mind were touched” by the works and example of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, the archbishop of Chicago.

Contraception rights embodied in the Obamacare legislation, and the president’s late endorsement of homosexual marriage after years of saying marriage is between one man and one woman, muddied his relationship with the Catholic Church. The president’s feelings were hurt when he didn’t feel Catholic love. “He does feel stung by the fact that the official Catholic Church, the institutional [Catholic] church in the United States, has not warmed to him,” says Stephen Schneck, the co-chairman of Catholics for Obama in the 2012 campaign.

But all that fades for a few hours this week when Washington puts out a welcome for a man who puts faith above politics, even for a few hours. It’s a pause to refresh that everyone can appreciate.

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