Pope Francis praised America’s Roman Catholic church for its “unfailing commitment” to the pro-life cause on Wednesday, saying it was “the primary reason” for his visit to the country.
The statement came during an address to the assembled bishops of the United States. “I appreciate the unfailing commitment of the Church in America to the cause of life and that of the family, which is the primary reason for my present visit,” he said at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
The statement runs counter to the expectations set for the pope’s trip, which has been billed as a tour to denounce “the excesses of capitalism,” speak about environmental issues, and advocate on behalf of immigrants. The pope was not expected to focus on issues where he disagrees with President Obama, such as abortion and marriage. ‘‘There are differences [on abortion],” Ambassador Ken Hackett, the president’s envoy to the Vatican, told Bloomberg Business. “I don’t think that’s where they are going to put all their energies when they sit down one-on-one.”
Francis called on the bishops to address a series of societal problems in the course of their work:
I encourage you, then, to confront the challenging issues of our time. Ever present within each of them is life as gift and responsibility. The future freedom and dignity of our societies depends on how we will face these challenges. The innocent victim of abortion, the children who die of hunger or from bombings, the immigrants who drown in search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden; the victims of terrorism, wars, violence, and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature — at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters.
The pope concluded with two exhortations to the bishops. First, he urged them to be “pastors close to the people, pastors who are neighbors and servants” in their capacity as church leaders. Then, he moved to the topic of Latin American immigrants — and here he seemed to resist attempts to press his religious authority for political causes, even as he made an emphatic plea on behalf of the immigrants.
#share#“I ask you to excuse me if in some way I am pleading my own case,” he said. “The Church in the United States knows like few others the hopes present in the hearts of these ‘pilgrims.’ . . . Offer them the warmth of the love of Christ and you will unlock the mystery of their heart. I am certain that, as so often in the past, these people will enrich America and its Church.”
The U.S. bishops wasted no time in using the pope’s remarks to press President Obama’s team on abortion. When Secretary of State John Kerry took to Twitter to hail Francis’s, “call to resolve disputes through diplomacy, address #climatechange and protect the vulnerable in our world,” they replied immediately. “Agree, John. @Pontifex reassures all of us that Catholic teachings have always treasured human life from its very beginning,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tweeted.
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.