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Analysis: Don't Over-Politicize Pope's Positions

A Virginia faith leader says it would be a mistake to see Pope Francis as politically liberal or conservative. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno/Wikimedia
A Virginia faith leader says it would be a mistake to see Pope Francis as politically liberal or conservative. Credit: Jeffrey Bruno/Wikimedia
September 24, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. – Some will see the Pope Francis' remarks to Congress today through a political filter, but one Virginia faith leader says it's a mistake to view the pontiff as liberal or conservative.

The Rev. Charles Swadley interim president and CEO of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, says Pope Francis is tough to pigeonhole politically. He maintains the pontiff is following a very old pastoral tradition based on devotion to mercy.

With anyone as important as the pope, that can have partisan implications, but Swadley says people probably are imposing their own interpretation of his positions from the outside, after the fact.

"People are sometimes frightened about what kind of impact that will have on the status quo and policy,” Swadley says. “Well, it's bound to have some impact. But he's not looking to go out and support a party or support a particular leader."

Francis will be in the United States through Sunday.

Liberals have praised the pope's positions on climate change, poverty and the fate of refugees and immigrants. But he made remarks on the family and traditional morality at the White House Wednesday that conservatives praised.

Swadley says a good way to understand this is that whether it's an economic issue or a matter of sexual morality, Francis will tend to take the side of the less powerful.

"The care for those who are most vulnerable, those who have been hurt,” Swadley explains. “It's not to be seen as a political agenda, as much as it's to see how he lives out his sense of calling as a pastor."

Francis has set a less judgmental tone on some gender and relationship issues. Some reformers had hoped he would go further and actually change the church's positions in more dramatic ways.

But Swadley says even if he wants to, Francis can only go so far to shift established church doctrine.

"He can't change everything,” Swadley stresses. “What he can do is put the right spirit of relationship on as much of these difficult issues as he can, and let the church wrestle with that."


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA