By July 2, 2015 Read More →

Heed Pope’s encyclical: Iowa Catholic leaders to 2016 field

Pope’s encyclical focuses on environment, income inequality

pope encyclical

Pope’s encyclical: Jeb Bush says he doesn’t go to Mass for economic policy or for things in politics.  Facebook photo.

DES MOINES, Iowa – Roman Catholic leaders in the early voting state of Iowa have called on candidates for president to follow the teachings of Pope Francis and focus as much on the environment and income inequality in 2016 as they have in past elections on opposing gay marriage and abortion.

Thursday’s event marked the first time a U.S. Catholic bishop has publicly asked those seeking the White House to heed the admonitions of Francis’ June encyclical, said Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines. Bishops elsewhere in the U.S. plan similar pressure.

In that major teaching document, the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics called for a “bold sweeping revolution” to correct what he sees as a “structurally perverse” economic system that allows the rich to exploit the poor and has turned the Earth into an “immense pile of filth.”

“The goal of the pope is to raise the questions with all the candidates,” Pates said. “It’s a moral issue, our relationship with creation, our relationship with each other.”

The push from Pates and other bishops in Iowa threatens to disrupt the historically reliable alliance of evangelical Christians and conservative Roman Catholic voters, putting pressure on Republicans who have leaned on their religious faith to guide them on social issues.

It will also focus attention on how the six Roman Catholic seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former New York Gov. George Pataki, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, will wrestle with a pope’s teachings on economics and climate change that clash with traditional Republican ideology.

While Francis has condemned abortion and upheld marriage as the union of a man and a woman, he has not done so with anything approaching the frequency of his two predecessors, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Instead, Francis has urged church leaders to talk less about such social issues and more about mercy and compassion, so that wayward Catholics would feel welcome to return to the church.

“Pope Francis hasn’t changed church teaching, but he has given greater salience to social welfare and environmental issues, which has put Catholic Republicans in an awkward position,” said John Green, director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

Francis is expected to highlight the issues in September when he makes his first visit to the U.S., where he will address a joint session of Congress and the U.N. General Assembly.

Bishops beyond politically important Iowa plan to do so as well. Church leaders in Ohio and Virginia, plan events related to the encyclical in August, according to the Catholic Climate Covenant, which works with American bishops on the environment.

In Florida, a crucial state whose large population swings between voting Republican and Democrat, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski is planning sermons and events to amplify the pope’s call for action to curb global warming. Wenski is the U.S. bishops’ point person on the environment.

So far, most Republican candidates have taken the approach that Francis crossed beyond spiritual matters and into public policy.

Bush called Francis “an incredible leader” during a visit to Iowa last month. But he added, “I don’t go to Mass for economic policy or for things in politics.”

Campaigning in Iowa on Thursday, Jindal said Francis’ call to regulate the economy to assist the poor overlooks the principle that a less constrained economy can benefit the poor.

The Associated Press

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