- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2015

The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is asking Americans to give Pope Francis “room” to speak later this month without having it co-opted by those looking to force him to referee political debates here at home.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, also defended the pope’s decision to say a mass in Spanish during his brief visit to the nation’s capital, saying it’s the Argentine pope’s native language, and Americans should “welcome” that decision.

“Whenever he wants to make very refined points, and especially when he wants to interact, he’s most comfortable in Spanish or in Italian. For me, I think we’re the ones, if anything, who are in the driver’s seat not to politicize that, but really to welcome it. It’s welcoming someone who’s coming to our country, and just like I do for Thanksgiving, I want to make them comfortable and make it as easy as possible for us to hear their message.”

The chief reason for the pope’s visit is to attend a major church meeting in Philadelphia, but masses and speeches in Washington, including an address to a joint meeting of Congress, and in New York, including an address to the U.N., give him a highly public platform.

The Spanish mass will be Sept. 23 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where the pope plans to canonize Junipero Serra, an 18th-century Spanish missionary who founded many of the mission churches in present-day California.



Archbishop Kurtz said he expects Pope Francis to use his public appearances to further his appeals for charity and mercy, and to call for Americans in particular to move beyond a consumer culture.

The pope’s areas of emphasis, including criticism of free-market economies and a warning over global warming, have become ammunition for politicians on Capitol Hill, with Democrats deploying his words with increasing frequency.

The archbishop acknowledged that, but said he hoped Americans would “make room” for the pope to deliver his message free from a political lens.

“These are, for him, I believe, opportunities to seek to contribute to the common good. And I, right now, I don’t see downsides,” Archbishop Kurtz said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program, which will air Sunday.

“Probably the biggest problem would be not letting his whole message come out — that some people, if they were too quickly to co-opt it, or interpret it too narrowly in political terms. He’s coming as a pastor of souls, as a prophet, not a politician,” the archbishop said.

While the church leadership may not see the pope’s comments as political, many church members, and the broader American public, do.

His recent encyclical, “Laudato Si: On care for our common home,” made an appeal for humanity to tackle environmental challenges, including global warming, which is hotly debated in the U.S.

“Our Holy Father does not present himself as a scientist,” Archbishop Kurtz said. “He presents himself as a pastor of souls, as someone interested in the common good, and as someone seeking to use the best scientific information available.”

Flying back from a trip to Latin America this summer, where he deployed some of his most forceful criticism of free-market economic policies, the pope was asked by reporters about his critics.

“I have heard that some criticisms were made in the United States — I’ve heard that — but I have not read them and have not had time to study them well,” he said.

He said he will study them, “then we shall dialogue about them.”

Prodded by a journalist who said his economic critique seemed intensely focused on the poor, but not the middle class, the pope called than an “error” on his part and thanked the reporter for pointing it out.

“It’s a good correction, thanks. You are right. It’s an error of mine not to think about this,” he said, according to the New York Times.

His visit to the U.S. will come immediately after one to Cuba. The pope has been credited with playing a significant role in helping warm the decades of frosty relationships between the island nation and the U.S., culminating with embassies opening in Washington and Havana this summer — though he has waved off credit.

In the U.S., the Catholic Church is engaged in several battles over religious freedom and the way the Obama administration has carried about the Affordable Care Act. While supportive of broader government-assisted health care, the Catholic bishops have backed religious nonprofits who objected to the administration’s order that most health plans pay for contraception, which the church teaches is immoral.

The government tried to require that nonprofits certify they don’t want to provide contraceptive coverage, and either the government or a third-party insurer will step in and make sure their employees can get coverage without the nonprofits having to pay for it. But some nonprofits argue that certification itself, because it still triggers contraceptive care for their employees, makes them complicit in sin.

Archbishop Kurtz said he hopes the Supreme Court will take that case up in the term that begins in October.

He said the Little Sisters of the Poor, Catholic nuns who sued to challenge the contraceptive mandate, have become the “poster child for religious freedom.”

More broadly the archbishop, who as a priest in Allentown, Pennsylvania, used to head Catholic Charities, said the more restrictions that are placed on nonprofits, the tougher it makes it for Catholic-affiliated charities to help.

“We always saw this as a true partnership and I think we saw it as pluralism at its best. We weren’t seeking as Catholic Charities to impose our convictions on the government, on other people, but rather to say there are people within our nation who really desire the level of service and the values that service embodies that we provide through Catholic Charities,” he said.

“We continue to want to do that, and I think if for some reason that partnership is marred, I think most would agree the losers in many ways are going to be the people we’re serving.”

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