- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2015

An Arizona congressman who decided not to attend Pope Francis’ address to Congress on Thursday says he is boycotting because he thinks the pontiff will focus on climate change instead of religious tolerance and the sanctity of life.

Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican, said Friday the Holy Father has provided no assurance that he will focus on issues such as abortion and the persecution of Christians when he speaks to a joint session of the House and Senate.

“If there’s one person who can talk about this at hell’s den, which is right here, it’s the pope,” Mr. Gosar, a Catholic, said Friday outside the House chamber. “And if he’s not going to make that his concentrating message, I find it disheartening.”

Mr. Gosar announced his decision to boycott the highly anticipated speech in an op-ed posted on TownHall.com, citing media reports that Francis will focus the brunt of his remarks on climate change.

“I pretty much know where he’s going to go on this,” he told reporters, moments after the House voted early Friday to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding for a year in the wake of controversy over its abortion practice.

Mr. Gosar said his colleagues have been supportive of his decision and that at least one other member will not attend the pope’s address, although he declined to name the lawmaker.

It also remained unclear whether the pope will, indeed, focus on climate change instead of the issues Mr. Gosar wants to hear about.

“We’ll find out, won’t we?” the congressman said.

He said he doesn’t have anyone coming to sit in the chamber to hear the speech — each member is permitted one special guest — and he hasn’t doled out his 50 tickets to watch the speech on the closed-circuit television on the Capitol lawn.

So far, other lawmakers haven’t asked him for those tickets.

“I haven’t had any requests,” he said. “People now are finding out where I stand, so we’ll see.”

Mr. Gosar, who attended a Jesuit college, used his op-ed to criticize the pope for wading into climate change talk that “is being presented to guilt people into leftist policies.”

“If the Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be the first in line. If the Pope spoke out with moral authority against violent Islam, I would be there cheering him on. If the Pope urged the Western nations to rescue persecuted Christians in the Middle East, I would back him wholeheartedly,” he wrote. “But when the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.”

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