Jonathan Liedl lives in St. Paul, Minn., where he is a graduate fellow in the Catholic Studies program at the University of St. Thomas. He works as the communications coordinator for Catholic Rural Life, a non-profit devoted to revitalizing the Church in the countryside and applying Catholic teaching to rural issues. In addition to writing and editing for the Register, he is a contributing editor of the web-journal Ethika Politika. Liedl earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Arabic Studies from the University of Notre Dame.
Earlier today, I wrote about how Pope Francis’ social teaching has routinely been mischaracterized by the media, and how we should prepare ourselves for more of the same during his six-day papal visit.
The Holy Father himself addressed this during his flight from Cuba to America. In response to a reporter’s question that referenced bizarre accusations originating in America that Francis is a Communist, the Pope said explanations of his social views that give the impression of him “being a little to the left” are in error.
“My doctrine…is the social doctrine of the Church,” Pope Francis said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”
This message was emphasized at a press briefing that took place in Washington shortly after the Pope retired to the Apostolic Nunciature. The Catholic officials that made up the panel repeatedly stated that Pope Francis was not a politician and was not in America to push a political message. Rather he is a pastor, a spiritual leader who, in the words of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, “is inviting us to rise above whatever may divide us culturally and politically.”
“Pope Francis comes to the US to speak the mind of the heart of the Gospel,” clarified the cardinal, who is the archbishop of Galveston-Houston and the vice president of the USCCB.
Which is why it was one part ironic and one part sad that the first question asked from the media was one that once again tried to place Pope Francis somewhere on the left-right political spectrum.
To be fair, Michelle Boorstein, the Washington Post’s religion reporter, was asking for clarification of what the Pope meant when he made his airborne remarks of not “being a little to the left.”
Still, she’d gotten the answer to that question already. As the Pope said himself, and as the panel addressing media said shortly after, the characterization of the Pope as a leftist makes no sense because his views on policy are derived from the Gospel and the social tradition of the Church, which transcend any political ideology.
Ironically, perhaps the most compelling illustration that Pope Francis did not come to America to push politics was offered by the President of the United States himself. President Obama did not greet the Holy Father as simply the head of a country—he greeted him as the head of his family; his wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia accompanied him as he welcomed Pope Francis on the tarmac.
It was a needed reminder that while his address to Congress and the United Nations have garnered the most attention, it is actually the World Meeting of Families taking place in Philadelphia that brought the Pope to our shores in the first place.
And if the president, the most powerful political figure in the world, can recognize that Pope Francis is about far more than politics, hopefully Catholic citizens can do the same.