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The Optimistic View of the Pope’s White House Visit

This morning, the world’s eyes turned to two men that many conservatives view warily at best, President Obama and Pope Francis. But there were some reasons to cheer.

They say “hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue” and yes, we probably prefer that those who pay homage to a virtue to practice that virtue, but virtue probably deserves its own tribute. If somebody who practices what is wrong feels the need to publicly salute what is right, isn’t that a form of victory for what is right?

Yes, it’s infuriating to watch the Pope visit Cuba and never mention human rights. But when the Pope stands on the White House South Lawn, before President Obama, an audience of 15,000 and the live-broadcasting television cameras and declares…

Mr. President, together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.

It’s rather hard to interpret that as “hey, your administration’s imposition of its will upon the Little Sisters of the Poor is just fine with me.”

For those who have found the Vatican’s comments on war and peace in the years since 9/11 infuriatingly unrealistic and naïve, Francis’s call “to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it” is refreshing.

Undoubtedly, some conservatives grind their teeth at the Pope’s comments on climate change, but even here, the Pope’s language is a more articulate version of, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute”:

When it comes to the care of our “common home”, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13).

Even Obama in his introduction of Pope Francis uttered words that would fit in at a pro-life rally:

You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the “least of these” at the center of our concern. You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and as societies, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized, to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity — because we are all made in the image of God.

In a country full of dysfunction and disappointment, some moments still manage to turn out just right. Before dawn Wednesday morning, roughly fifteen thousand Americans gathered in Lafayette Square in front of the White House, patiently lining up before cheery volunteers and polite U.S. Secret Service officers – having endured their own scandals not too long ago – moved everyone through the metal detectors steadily and efficiently. If there were any threats, no one noticed them. So far, the Pope’s visit is proceeding without a hitch.

Today in Washington, and later this week in Philadelphia and New York, the Pontiff of the allegedly old, stodgy, on-its-way-out Catholic Church will attract droves. The Man Upstairs isn’t done with our story.

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