Pope Francis is scheduled to address the U.S. Congress on September 24. His U.S. visit — which also includes stops in New York and Philadelphia — was arranged by House Speaker John Boehner, a practicing Catholic. The visit will be historic for multiple reasons. It will be the first time a pope has ever delivered a speech during a joint session of Congress, and Pope Francis has brought radically forward-thinking views to his religion since he was elected in 2013. It gives him the unique opportunity to discuss those views with the group of world leaders that needs to hear it most.
Lawmakers have been welcoming of Pope Francis’s visit thus far. Both Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, also Catholic, have expressed their support. “In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father’s message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds. His teachings, prayers and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another,” said Boehner. Pelosi’s statement was similar. “Pope Francis has renewed the faith of Catholics worldwide and inspired a new generation of people, regardless of their religious affiliation, to be instruments of peace,” Pelosi said.
In his recent speeches and writings, however, Pope Francis has expressed views that find fault with the American economic system of capitalism. He’s been one of the most prominently outspoken voices on global economic inequality, an issue lawmakers like Boehner and Pelosi are likely to avoid addressing. The issues raised by Occupy Wall Street protesters — concentration of wealth in America’s richest 1%, the influence money plays in American politics, etc. — are all problems according to Pope Francis’s ideology. The current U.S. Congress essentially represents everything Pope Francis finds as dangerous and inequitable.
Whether or not Pope Francis will directly address those issues during his speech in front of Congress remains to be seen, but the fact that he’s able to be so outspoken against global capitalism demonstrates the power of his influence. As a religious leader, he doesn’t necessarily benefit from capitalism in the way that America’s richest business leaders and politicians do. He also doesn’t have a country the size of the United States to run, but he’s able to spread his influence by speaking honestly about the issues he feels most passionately about.
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Pope Francis’s views on economic issues are considered radical because they’re so drastically different from those of Pope John Paul II, who ruled Vatican City from 1978 until 2005. John Paul II was critical of Communism, using his influence to help end Soviet rule in his native Poland and other Eastern European countries. He was vehemently anti-Marxist, while Pope Francis’s views have leaned towards the Communist end of the spectrum. Rush Limbaugh has described his writings and speeches as “pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the Pope.” The pope himself, however, dismisses those accusations. He’s stated the church “is poor and for the poor,” but claims that his views are rooted in the Gospel and not political ideology. “As we can see, this concern for the poor is in the Gospel, it is within the tradition of the church, it is not an invention of communism and it must not be turned into some ideology, as has sometimes happened before in the course of history,” Pope Francis said in his report entitled “This Economy Kills.”
Even if he’s not directly promoting Communism, Pope Francis is definitely one of the leading voices speaking out against global capitalism. “The economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the workforce,” he wrote recently, for instance. These words have more influence than other world leaders might suspect. There are 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, and Pope Francis’s doctrine is considered infallible. What he says goes.
Pope Francis has been using that power and influence to advance his agenda. That agenda includes directly attacking the capitalist systems that have created inequality in so many places around the world. He uses the word “attacking” directly in the following statement: “Inequality is the root of social ills … as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural cases of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.” This and other insights into the problems capitalism has created can be found in Pope Francis’s 67 page “Apostolic Exhortation” manifesto he published in 2013. It's clear that he has an incredibly specific position on the global economy and he's determined to make his opinions known.
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Popes, given their unique position and influence, are ideological and intellectual leaders more so than anything else. They’re technically spiritual leaders, but Pope Francis has been changing the Church — and, therefore, the opinions of millions — through both words and actions. Bloomberg describes him as “one of the most skilled politicians on Earth.” With the unique position that he holds, Pope Francis is furthering the important issue of global economic inequality. Hopefully his words will have some sort of influence over Congress when he addresses them later this year.