Ask Republicans what they think of Pope Francis and you’ll likely receive strikingly conflicting answers. A recent Gallup survey found that only 45 percent of American conservatives have a favorable view of the pope — down from 72 percent last year. As a Catholic Republican, I find this trend troubling. When the Holy Father addresses Congress this Thursday, many Catholic Republicans — including nearly half the Republican presidential field — will confront these seemingly incompatible worldviews. In order to reconcile these ideologies, conservatives must do for the Republican Party what Pope Francis has done for the Catholic Church.
The teachings of the Catholic Church transcend traditional American politics. Masses at Georgetown’s Dahlgren Chapel are filled with students of all political ideologies because Catholicism, at its core, is catholic — universal. Any regular Mass-goer can attest that most homilies teach the congregation to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick and practice gratitude. Not long ago, the Catholic Church was defined by its stances on divisive issues. Pope Francis, though, has brilliantly reshaped the perception of the church to match what it truly is: an inspirational force for global social justice.
Fighting poverty, protecting our planet, reducing inequality and promoting world peace should not be partisan goals. The pope’s goals are universal. When Republicans speak ill of the pope or protest his visit, they are seen by many Americans as opposing the pope’s call for a better world — a crippling image for a political party. American political discourse should not be about whether or not to seek the pope’s ends, but rather which means are best to achieve them. It is time for Republicans to join Democrats in embracing the pope’s universal ideals.
Policy clashes with the church on certain issues are inevitable. Pope Francis opposes gay marriage, contraception, abortion and women in the priesthood. That’s not exactly the track record of a liberal hero, yet the left embraces him. The pope’s favorability rating among liberals is almost 25 percent higher than that among conservatives. Why? Because Democrats recognize the overarching universal themes of Francis’ papacy. Republicans should do the same.
Once Republicans have agreed on these goals, they must seek to prove that conservative policies are the best way to achieve them. Some observers say that Republican values are completely at odds with Pope Francis’ call to reform capitalism. You don’t need to read the catechism to know that the greedy, materialistic and gluttonous aspects of unfettered capitalism are undesirable.
But Republicans argue that capitalism is extraordinarily effective as a means to help societies at large. In his book “The Conservative Heart,” Arthur Brooks writes that billions worldwide have been lifted out of poverty thanks to the global free-market system, not government intervention. Pope Francis echoed this idea when he told world ambassadors, “Money has to serve, not rule.”
Republicans should boldly make the case for why free-market principles of economics, education, immigration, health care and even climate change align with Pope Francis’ universal priorities. I love being a Republican for many of the same reasons I love being a Catholic. I believe I’m part of communities that seek to help the less fortunate and create a more just world. I’m aware that many liberals are Democrats for the same reasons I’m a Republican. Once these good intentions are assumed on both sides, meaningful debate can take place.
Republicans must spread their uplifting conservative message with love in this debate. They must share it with everyone, including those who live in the shadows of society. This new approach, which some are already embracing, would radically change perception of the party. I know we have a long way to go, but I believe this change is both necessary and possible. For proof, look no further than the transformational leadership of Pope Francis.
Pope Benedict XVI served his fellow Catholics diligently, yet his accomplishments in the church didn’t quite make CNN headlines. Pope Francis, however, has earned global admiration. He has turned an institution defined by religious superstition and guilt into an institution lauded for its faithful hope and service. Without changing any Catholic doctrines, he has captured the hearts and minds of people around the world. In his papacy, he has reached out to lapsed Catholics, prisoners, divorced mothers, the LGBTQ community and many others who have long felt unwelcome in the church. And when it comes to hot-button social issues, he has spread his message with compassion, not condemnation. “Who am I to judge?” still reverberates in the Vatican rotunda. A recent CNN article by Jessica Ravitz titled “The Pope: Not just for Catholics anymore” documents how the Catholic leader is respected and adored by many Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, secularists and atheists alike. By reaching out to non-Catholics, the pope has proven the church to be truly catholic.
The GOP should follow suit. The ability to extend the conservative agenda for social justice to Americans who feel they are not welcome in the Republican Party will be the ultimate test of the party’s relevance in the 21st century. Republicans must prove that conservative policies help everyone, not just the stereotypical rich white men of the GOP. Republicans don’t need to abandon conservative doctrines; they simply need to change their approach and tone. My hope is that conservatives, while maintaining some policy disagreements with the pope, embrace the pontiff’s call for an inclusive, peaceful and loving world. The Republican Party desperately needs a Pope Francis figure to lead this charge so that one day CNN can publish an article titled “Conservatism: Not just for Republicans anymore.”
Richie Mullaney is a sophomore in the College.
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