Thursday, September 24, 2015

Francis First Pope to Address Joint Meeting of Congress: Special Report

The Holy Father's Address to the Joint Meeting of Congress.
An SCB News Special Report. SCB News: "Aequum et Libratum."

It is not all that unusual for a foreign head of state to address a joint meeting of Congress. To pick just a few examples, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, did on March 3, 2015. Prime Minister Winston Churchill did in 1941 and 1943. Nelson Mandela did in 1994, when he was deputy president of the African National Congress.

What is unusual -- in fact, unprecedented -- is for a religious leader to do so. While the Dalai Lama got to be guest chaplain for Congress, he has not addressed a joint meeting. Pope Francis is the first pope ever to do so, so today presents an historic event.

The Bear invites you to think about that for a moment. No matter what you think of Pope Francis, that's our guy, recognized by the United States of America, given the unprecedented privilege of addressing Congress as a religious leader.

Call the Bear a papist if you want, but he thinks that's cool.

The address itself, delivered in poignantly painful English, was not too bad, in the Bear's opinion, We know the Pope's a lefty, so we must factor than in. But he made a subtle reference to abortion and included encouraging language on the family.

Let's take a look at what the Bear found interesting. According to his new policy of "Aequum et Libratum," the Bear hasn't read any other commentary before writing this. He doesn't want to be influenced by others. This is a longish piece, but the Bear covers everything he found worth talking about.

Overall Impression

We know the things Pope Francis cares about. He's the Social Justice Warrior Pope. So economic opportunity, immigration, the death penalty, and climate change were all featured. He quoted liberally from Laudato Si. Liberals are going to find many supportive sound bytes. Conservatives are going to have sift for a few nuggets. Like his previous speeches on this trip, there are no surprises that should make anyone think differently about this Pope.

"Abraham, Martin and John"

Cue Dion for Pope Francis' tribute to four Americans. Actually, the only Catholic President John F. Kennedy didn't make the cut. But, in addition to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Pope included two names guaranteed to make heads spin. Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

Day was a lefty social justice worker who will one day be the patron saint of socialists. Maybe anarchists. Day began her messy young adult life as an avid supporter of radical causes. She started the Catholic Worker newspaper in 1933. After her conversion, Day continued to be associated with radical causes, but in a Catholic sort of way. She was a Benedictine Oblate.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk whose interest in incorporating eastern spirituality into Christianity led to his electrocution by a fan in Bangkok, Thailand while attending an interfaith congress. No doubt the Bear does not do justice to Merton's work, but he feels safe in saying it was unconventional toward the end.

Now, imagine you're the Pope. You're in America, so you want to pick some American heroes to pay tribute to. Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. are obvious. But what Catholics contributed to American history? The Bear might have gone with Archbishop Fulton Sheen and Fr. John Hardon. Okay, maybe not Fr. Hardon, but surely our first American saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton would have been a non-controversial and wonderful choice.

Unfortunately, the Pope could not have picked more polarizing examples than Day and Merton.

This is Pope Francis. He is not going to pass up the opportunity to promote a radical social justice worker, even though he has to know it is going to alienate many people. And Merton's oddball mix of Christianity and Buddhism is so encountery, and dialoguey, it makes him the model for interfaith love.

But what's wrong with mainstream Catholicism? "Plain ol' Roman Catholicism" is the Bear's new ideal, and here the Pope goes spoiling it with "Social Justice Catholicism."

There is more to cover, so the Bear must leave this sad exercise. Like he said before, unfortunately we can't be surprised. In the great scheme of things, however, it's just a speech.


The Bear thought this was interesting.
Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.
Here we get a clue about what the Pope means when he frequently talks about "fundamentalism." He notes the increase of violence "committed in the name of God and of religion." Of course then he goes on to say that "no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism."

That is polite nonsense, and the Pope knows it. We all know what religion he is really talking about, and he knows we know. He's saying it without saying it. But fundamentalism is not only religious. It can be an ideology or economic system.

"Fundamentalism" seems to be the Pope's word for a violent mind-set in the name of some cause. An us vs. them attitude. The Bear suspects the violence need not be open, but it is enough if it is latent, and expressed in hatred of others. Communism has certainly exhibited the Pope's kind of fundamentalism. It thrives on class warfare and hate.

The Pope also condemned "black and white" thinking: "But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners."

Sometimes people state the obvious while pretending they're being profound. Is there any normal person in this country who really sees the world as black and white? Maybe Dorothy Day did. (Probably "red and not-red.") The Bear does, in some matters. You're either in the Ark of salvation, or you're not. But mostly he's capable of detecting nuances where they exist. 

Is it troubling to hear the Pope say it is wrong to see the world around you in terms of "good and evil?" The Bear will have to think about this. On the one hand he sort of gets it, but on the other, we live in a time when the very message we need is to recognize good from evil and choose the former.

In any event, the Bear has learned that the people who most want to dialogue are least interested in what he has to say, and in the same spirit, the people who insist the world isn't black and white are the ones who divide the world into the enlightened and the fundamentalists.

Religious Diversity
In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society.
Religious diversity is America's thing. The Pope is not going to stand before Congress and demand that everyone convert to the One True Faith. The Bear reads in this something positive: the government should recognize the value of religion and respect it. A timely reminder.

The Golden Rule

The Pope says we have to let anyone who wants a better life into our country. Thank you, Holy Father. We'll take that under advisement. We can see how that's working out in Europe.

But here is one of the nuggets the Bear said you have to sift for: "The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development." 

Get that? The Pope just told a joint meeting of Congress to get rid of abortion. Imagine that! So, he didn't use the word, and seemed to conflate it with illegal immigration, but for "it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time" Pope Francis, it's welcome, and surprising.

The Family

The Pope expressed a welcome concern for the family. If he is telegraphing anything, the Bear would find this encouraging:
Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.
The Bear can only read this as a condemnation of same-sex unions. Do they call into question "fundamental relationships?" Yes. Do they threaten the "very basis of marriage and family?" Yes. What has this country recently done? The U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges imposed same-sex marriage in June. The language may be veiled, but what else could he be talking about? The Pope did not come to lecture the U.S. Congress, but the Bear found this language interesting. 

Then there was this:
At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.
This is actually profound. Economic pressure discourages young couples, while the seemingly infinite possibilities provided by our materialistic culture provide a different kind of counter-incentive. The Bear wonders how many of his readers find themselves waiting for grandchildren that never seem to arrive?


These are the points the Bear found interesting. Perhaps the biggest, and most revelatory, disappointment was the selection of Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. But, then again, who else would Pope Francis pick?

The Bear was encouraged by Pope Francis' words on the family, and also by his veiled, but clear reference to abortion.

You can read the text of the Pope's address here.


  1. RE: Francis' list of worthy Americans made me think of Paul McC's "Let 'Em In."

    Sister Suzie, Brother John
    Martin Luther, Phil and Don
    Brother Michael, Auntie Gin
    Open the door, let 'em in

    I'm sure Francis has the door wide.

  2. I would like to know if Dorothy Day really helped the poor or if she was nothing but a cranky, narcissistic activist?

    1. I think that would be a good article. She was undeniably hard left, but that doesn't mean she didn't help people. It doesn't mean she did, either. But what an unfortunate choice. I said the Pope had to know how polarizing a figure she is, but on reconsideration, she might not register as anything unusual to another leftist like Pope Francis.

  3. Further thoughts: If the man ever went beyond his provincialism (that's really a good word for his limitations), he would have done a very simple, smart and unifying thing by paying tribute to fellow Italian Catholic, Yogi Berra, who just died this week. Every one would have stood and applauded. He missed a great moment. He needs a new PR team.

    1. That would take a really savvy group of handlers, and Pope Francis doesn't strike me as that kind of public figure. But he could have said something like, "I don't want to save the world, but we gotta do something about destroying the planet."

  4. Day was a devout, believing Catholic. Read her journals.

    Merton got a little flaky at the end, but his major works are great, solid stuff.

    1. I don't question Day's devotion. She is a signal example of the workers activist of circa 1930, mixed up with Communists and anarchists, and praising every Communist hero she ever read about well into the latter part of her life. As I mentioned above, I now think the Pope didn't even see an issue with citing her instead of an Elizabeth Ann Seton, because a fish doesn't feel wet.

    2. Fair enough. The Bear is in defense mode lately and is unlikely to detect irony.

  5. If he said that, it'd be like deja vu all over again!

  6. At the risk of being clawed by an angry bear, this chattering squirrel high in a tree doth protest thy lazy but good-willed acceptance of what happened before Congress.

    There is evil afoot in the forest; a darkness the forest has not seen in a long time, if ever. I would expect, therefor, from Christ's Vicar not politics for politicians but an urgent and clear clarion evangelistic message on behalf of our Savior. Three simple, clear paragraphs of denunciation of the world's pervasive, murderous corruption and evil and the clear path to salvation that leads to Jesus Christ, our King, delivered in a voice like thunder. And then it is gone, while those that remain sit in wonder.

    Instead; a meandering, confusing political speech full of meaningless bifurcated topics to politicians and the Pope's friends in the One-World-Government movement in which you and all parse the words and the intent of our Shepherd to mean something they clearly do not.

    No, this was a time for Moses and his Staff. The time was lost, Joe Biden was nodding his head happily, evil was not addressed in any form, the Church marches forward with the World to a perilous un-Christian, un-repented future and we little creatures of the forest will pay dearly.

    1. First, you have made the common mistake of forgetting that Bears are excellent tree-climbers.

      In the Bear's fantasy world, yes, this is what happens. Where the Bear to be made the Pope of Rome, yes, that is what he would do.

      However, do really think even Pope Benedict would have done that? There are certain diplomatic expectations. The Pope addressed political issues before a political body, and some of them were unsound in the Bear's opinion. He went as far -- no, farther -- than anyone really expected him to go on the issues of abortion and gay marriage. Pope Francis has a strong aversion to speaking of sexual issues, for whatever reason, and the Bear won't speculate.

      In no alternate timeline does the Pope address Congress like Paul addressed Festus, and they all walk out saying "almost thou persuadeth me to be a Catholic.'

      And I don't know what is lazy about going over a speech with a fine-tooth comb and spending half a day writing original analysis, then writing an article on Dorothy Day. Lazy would be to spend thirty minutes dashing off a dozen snarky comments of the top of the Bear's head that do nothing to advance understanding of the Pope. You know, like the Bear used to.

      But since you're new to the combox, the Bear will just climb to the top of the tree, look at you a moment, then smile and pat you on the head.

    2. I already jumped to the next tree.

      As a squirrel who gathers nuts and observes from on high, I always thought it the highest compliment to a bear that he is lazy. I certainly meant no offense. Merely "a pleasant good day to you kind and lazy bear". I always assumed laziness was why you never moved from your pew, until you told us creatures you nailed your paw to the floor, (bears don't suffer pain well, I rather doubt the story).

      In regards to the Vicar of Jesus Christ Lord of All, I think in normal times I agree with you, but in times of emergency, when the very branches are burning down of the forest in which we live, I do not. Christ's Vicar ALWAYS proclaims Jesus Christ, especially when called to the floor of the world's greatest deliberative body, and ESPECIALLY when that body is deliberating life and death for its people, our children, woodland creatures everywhere, the nation and world in which we live but most especially Christ's Bride who suffers so. Proclamation and defending the Faith is our primary, if not our ONLY calling on earth in each our own way ... The Vicar of Christ exponentially, galactically so.

      The Spirit of Antichrist is alive and well in these days and it is time for appropriate response to this evil that walks the floor of our forest.

      All the best to one of my favorite writers in blogdom and the kindest most industrious (no insult by that I hope), bear in the land

    3. Your first comment (as far as the Bear recollects) and you managed to get growled at by the Bear. Now, that shows promise! Just be careful with that "emergency" thingamajig.

      And thanks for the compliments!

  7. What Brian said. Sorry, Bear, the white glove milquetoast mode in times like these ain't gonna cut it. Yes, Christ must be preached in season and out. Our Pope is a disgraceful man.

    1. No need to apologize. The Bear is not here to be agreed with, but to say what he thinks. Same for his guests.

  8. When the Pope throws us a couple of smelt, don't tell me it's salmon.

    One is left with the strong impression that the Pope avoided speaking truth to power in DC. His speech today at the UN was much stronger in defense of the unborn and the natural family. He even used the word "unborn".

  9. I'm afraid the veiled reference to abortion was really a very clear reference to the defense of the sacredness of life of death row criminals. That's where he takes the Golden Rule. He immediately goes in the next paragraph to an appeal for the end of the death sentence and instead rehabilitation. He was not referring to abortion.
    Unless I'm looking at a different speech.
    Again - everybody is sure he meant this or that- but he never spoke the word/s 'abortion', 'samesex marriage', 'homosexuality', 'trafficking in human parts', or 'Jesus Christ'.

    1. Are you saying that being on death row is a normal "stage of development" for human beings? The Bear will respectfully stick with his interpretation.

    2. After the sentence you quote: "The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development." comes the following in the very next paragraph:
      "This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops blah blah..."

      I saw that sentences quoted from many pro-life sources flying into my mailbox as proof that he covered abortion. Hooray! A friend threw it in my face-"Yes he mentioned abortion." I thought to myself- ONE sentence? I would take what I could get. Until a bit further down the road I read the context- the part of the speech it came from and he was pressing the case for the abolition of the death penalty. My little crumb was taken away from me. You can see what he means when you read what follows....and it's not about the unborn.

    3. Christine, still interested in hearing how you tie the phrase "protect and defend human life at every stage of its development" with the death penalty. "Every stage of it's developement" is common code for the unborn. The fact that he goes on from that broad premise, which certainly includes the unborn, to zero in on the death penalty specifically doesn't change the broad premise. Someone on death row is not in a "stage of development" LOL -- an unborn baby is meant. I'm willing to listen to any argument how a prisoner is a human in some "stage of development" but an unborn baby is ruled out. I'm not a Francis fan, but I think we should give a fair listen to what our Holy Father says, don't you? With all due respect you're really torturing the text to avoid his allusion to abortion.

    4. I never understood 'every stage of its development' to refer only to the unborn. I understand it as meaning from conception to (natural) death- the whole spectrum of human development.
      Pope Francis obviously subscribes to the 'seamless garment'.

    5. Yes, "every stage of development" includes conception. And yes, we have seen this "seamless garment" before. I can't explain why nearly all of our prelates feel compelled to say "abortion, BUT not only abortion, joblessness, and how hard it is to get that last bit of peanut butter at the bottom of the jar." It's almost like anti-abortion sentiment is rather vulgar to them. Really! Demonstrating in front of an abortion clinic? I suppose it's alright for the simple masses, but our sort just doesn't go in for that sort of thing."

    6. The unfortunate thing about the seamless garment approach is that there is no proportionality. Just as you said- they equate joblessness with abortion. And of course the death penalty is in there, too. "If you are really pro-life you would care for children AFTER they are born by supporting all the entitlement programs so that the gubmint can throw $$ at them." I have even heard blame put on pro-lifers for children dying of hunger. I guess they mean sometimes it would be better if they were never born.
      When people talk about life issues or, 'all life is sacred', I don't always know where they are coming from. That tent has become overcrowded with pretenders. I'm with those who call abortion and euthanasia, the deliberate killing of innocent human life, grave moral evils. These are non- negotiable.
      There is no moral equivalency between abortion (and/or euthanasia) and the death penalty.
      Yes- it's true. I'm one of those vulgar 'anti-abortion' lunatics who stand in front of abortion clinics. I'm involved now in 40 Days For Life and I thank God for it. It has given me something important to do during Francismania fever.

    7. God bless you for your work, Christine. And we agree on most things discussed here. I'll just invite you to consider how executing a particular person is without question taking a human life. So it is not out of left field to compare it to abortion, in the way that, say, joblessness is. If you have your justifications for the death penalty (there really are none, other than an emotional desire for vengeance; this is one of the few things the Bear happens to be a bona fide expert on) so there are those who can justify abortion. (Of course they are wrong.) They condemned prisoner may be guilty, but he may also have made his peace with God, either in the Church or outside of it, the best he knows. The Death Penalty is a conservative litmus test. The Bear understands this, Perhaps we should instead listen to the Church. Despite everything, it does have a legitimate teaching office, and Catholics are supposed to pay attention. Thank you, Christine, for an intelligent and peaceful discussion, and the kiss of peace to you, friend.


    This is revolting. I'm ashamed of this country on so many levels.

    1. Perhaps you should be disappointed in Argentina, where it originated. It was made with silver contributed by ordinary people and has a medallion of Mary, Untier off Knots, and its symbolism includes the 12 apostles. Do you think it is blasphemous, or a matter of taste? As of the article I read, there were no definite plans for where or when it will be presented, much less used. But thanks for an excellent example of the sort of thing I'm personally not going to blow a gasket about anymore. Hey, as least it doesn't have a hammer and sickle on it!

    2. I admire the man for his craft, and bravo for the donated silver and iconography, but a proper Catholic sense would have recognised the conceit in putting USA on the chalice.

      I heard, as a child, that Jaqueline Onassis Kennedy had her hosts for Holy Communion personally embossed with her insignia. There was no outrage in the telling of that. Perhaps it is Catholic cultural legend.

      Our fallen natures is all I can say.

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