Pope Francis’ address to Congress is tomorrow, and if his speeches in Washington Wednesday are an indication, Alaska’s congressional delegation is likely to hear the pontiff say things they disagree with. This is especially true for U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, who says he’s not convinced human activity is a major cause of climate change.
Sullivan describes himself as a life-long Catholic, and he is getting a double dose of pope this week. He called from Catholic University, a few miles north of Capitol Hill, where the senator, with thousands of other people, was waiting for the pope to appear and celebrate Mass.
“If you saw where we were right now, we’re a nation of believers,” he said. “You see people of all different faiths and creeds out in this audience right now. I think it’s just very exciting.”
At the White House in the morning, the pope devoted about a third of his speech to climate change, which he says is a problem that can’t be left to future generations.
“When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of history,” Pope Francis said. “We still have time to make the change needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”
Sullivan says he hears that and more.
“Well, look I mean, I listen to what he has to say. A lot of his message, though, is about the sanctity of life and taking care of the least fortunate in society, which is a long-held conviction and belief of the Catholic Church.”
Sullivan says it’s important to listen to all of the pope’s messages, and beyond that, to what the pope represents.
“Particularly the issues of the most vulnerable in society and focusing on that,” Sullivan said.
Does that affect him as a senator, since the pope has called for reforming political and economic systems to help the poor?
“Well I think if you listen to the message it’s a little –” Sullivan broke away for a moment to note a sighting of Jeb Bush in the audience.”You know, the media is trying to make this very selective. The teachings are much broader.”
Sullivan says he hopes the pope learns from his American visit, too. The senator says the pope should see that, unlike in Europe, American churches are still full on Sundays.
“And we’re a nation that has probably done more than any other country in the world, through a market-based economy, raising people out of poverty in ways that no other country in the world has done.”
Sullivan believes in reducing federal regulation and growing the economy, which he has offered as a solution to the nation’s budget woes and the way to help Alaska’s poor get off welfare.
If the pope were to learn that from America, it would be an about-face. The pontiff, in a encyclical letter this year, urged people to reject a “magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.”
The pope’s visit challenges politicians of all stripes, on the right for their economic and environmental policies, on the left for their support of legal abortion. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate, divides the message. Rubio told Fox News that as a Catholic, he believes the pope on theological matters.
“He’s infallible on those decisions. That does not extend to political issues like the economy,” Rubio said.