Throwaway Culture, Immigrant Sympathies, Climate Change: How Will Congress React to Pope Francis?

February 6, 2015 Updated: February 6, 2015

House Speaker John Boehner’s announcement Thursday that Pope Francis will address Congress at a joint meeting on Sept. 24 raises questions about how the pope’s views on controversial topics will be received.

Boehner, and many other members of Congress, including President Barack Obama, welcomed news of the accepted invite, which will mark the first time in history a Pope has addressed Congress. The speaker reached out to the Pope in March after it was learned Francis would visit the United States.

“His teachings, prayers, and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another,” said Boehner on Thursday.

It appears Boehner is aware of the potential for conflicting responses. In his invite he acknowledged the “Holy Father’s pastoral message challenges people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties,” but that the visit would be “in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions.”

Already, the news has people talking about just what the pope will say, and how his message will be received by those in power who hold very different views about issues of prime importance to the pope, such as climate change, war, poverty, and immigration.  On all these issues, he sets the moral bar high, yet not even the pope is beyond question.

In his yearly address to world leaders in January, Pope Francis speaks four times about his concern about “throwaway culture,” or a culture that rejects human life and god.

The pope was speaking to representatives of 180 states which have diplomatic relations with the Holy See in what has come to be known as his “State of the World” address. It is clear that Francis is not afraid to make suggestions.

It is likely that the pope will call the United States to address its forms of throwaway culture in terms of immigration.

Respect Life 

The immigration issue currently has Congress going in circles, with Republicans trying to stop the president’s executive action on immigration that protects 5 million people from deportation, but not being able to because they do not have a majority large enough, and Democrats blocking the move at the risk of failing to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

The gridlock came about after a failure on the part of lawmakers to come to an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform, something with the potential to address a number of issues important to both parties. 

Francis specifically refers to the unaccompanied minors immigration crisis, which forced a political showdown in July 2014 over a requested $3.7 billion in funding.

In his earlier address the Pope references the “alarming fact that many immigrants, especially in the Americas, are unaccompanied children, all the more at risk and in need of greater care, attention and protection.”

It is possible Francis will bring this up again and ask the country if it has done enough to help these children, many who fled at great risk the threat of gangs and violence to cross the border to an uncertain future. 

“Every conflict and war is emblematic of the throwaway culture,” Francis says, “since people’s lives are deliberately crushed by those in power.”


Pope Francis also addresses how the throwaway culture manifests itself in families, in particular the “hidden exiles” of the elderly, handicapped, and young.

He speaks of the rejection of the elderly when they are seen as a burden, and how we throw away the young when they are denied the prospect of employment. 

Every conflict and war is emblematic of the throwaway culture, since people’s lives are deliberately crushed by those in power.
— Pope Francis

The pope will speak to a nation that is already well on its way to institutionalizing the institutionalizing of the elderly, and that has seen some of the largest numbers of youth dropping out the work force in recent times as the economy fails to provide opportunities to most, with the exception of those who are highly educated.

Climate Change

Following in the footsteps of his predecessors Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who spoke of environmental protection as a moral concern, Pope Francis has pledged to make the environment a priority and is working on a highly anticipated encyclical, or teaching document, on climate change.

Francis has previously asserted that climate change is happening and people are partly to blame.

“I don’t know if it (human activity) is the only cause, but mostly, in great part, it is man who has slapped nature in the face,” he said in early January, according to the Associated Press.

The notion that human activity is contributing to climate change is a highly contentious one, particularly in the United States.

If lawmakers accept this premise it would determine policies that support alternative forms of energy that do not release greenhouse gases, and that could create new winners and losers in a new economy.

The president is highly supportive of this conclusion. Many members of Congress reject it out of hand.