Pontiff’s speech likely to critique economic policies advocated by GOP-led Congress that have contributed to inequality
When Pope Francis becomes the first pope to address a joint session of Congress, in September, many Catholic theologians and activists expect that he will focus on rising global economic inequality rather than on the hot-button cultural issues that often dominate U.S. politics.
The pontiff continues to disappoint Catholic women pressing for equality in the church, reproductive rights and allowing birth control, and his recent endorsement of a Slovak referendum to ban marriage and adoption by same-sex couples has dismayed supporters of LGBT rights. But most papal observers don’t expect to see those issues addressed in Francis’ congressional speech. Instead, they predict that the pope will use his critique of the current global economic order to challenge his audience on the role of government in alleviating inequality as well as on immigration and climate change.
The central message of Francis’ papacy has been that “income and wealth inequality in our world is the source of social ills,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying group best known for its Nuns on the Bus campaigns challenging income inequality and pressing for immigration reform. “Until we remedy that, we won’t have any sort of real peace or good community.”
Francis’ view on the global economy, say Catholic theologians, is deeply rooted in Catholic social justice teaching that demands care for society’s most vulnerable to promote the common good. Francis’ critique of global capitalism, laid out in detail in his 2013 apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” decries the “economy of exclusion.” That phrase, said Meghan Clark, an assistant professor of theology and religious studies in moral theology at St. John’s University in New York, is based on his belief that “we’re in a state in which when someone isn’t ‘useful,’ they simply don’t even exist.”