Pope’s visit likely to make US politicians squirm

September 15, 2015
Contact: Nardy Baeza Bickel nbbickel@umich.edu

FACULTY Q&A

This story is part two in a three-part series on the pope’s upcoming visit to the U.S. and Cuba.

Pope Francis will visit the U.S. for the first time Sept. 22-27. University of Michigan Professor Brian Porter-Szücs, an expert in Roman Catholicism, says Francis’ stances on immigration and capitalism, in addition to the church’s traditional values on abortion, divorce and homosexuality, will make Republicans and Democrats very nervous during his visit.

Porter-Szücs is the author of several books on Catholicism, including “Faith and Fatherland: Catholicism, Modernity, and Poland.”

Q: What is the main message the pope will bring?

Porter-Szücs: It’s clear that he really wants people to understand that the Catholic Church is more than just sex. And his re-emphasis on some very old Catholic teachings about economic and social policy have been a key part of his agenda. This has involved a sharp criticism of the United States and the general socioeconomic system that we have. My suspicion is that he’s going to want to make that the meaning of his visit.

Q: Will the pope’s visit translate into political gains for either the Republican or Democratic party?

Porter-Szücs: Moving into this trip, a lot of people have expectations that he’s going to reinforce this or that particular ideological position. Actually, I think they should all be very nervous because he offers a worldview that doesn’t fit into American political categories. On the one hand, he is not going to overturn Catholic teachings on homosexuality, on birth control, on divorce. He’s going to offer a softer message, but he’s not going to change it. He still lines up quite firmly with the conservative position in the United States on those cultural issues.

But his position on social justice questions are far to the left of really anything that any major American politician is advocating right now. He is quite critical of capitalism as such and his most recent encyclical, although mainly about the environment and about the dangers of global warming, link that with the broader economic structure of the capitalist world which he describes as unsustainable and basically immoral and un-Christian.

It’s hard to see how that kind of message is going to help any Republican Party agenda, but he can’t be appropriated by the Democrats either because of his positions on sexuality and lifestyle. I think that when he speaks in the United States, politicians on all sides of the American political spectrum are going to squirm. He’s a challenging pope.

Q: What will his impact be on the debate surrounding immigration?

Porter-Szücs: The fact that he is from Latin America and that he’s coming to the U.S. at a time when debates about immigration are so much at the forefront of news both here in the U.S. and in Europe, I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes part of the message that he has to deliver. At a time when there’s an immediate crisis of accepting refugees in Europe, the pope has come out very firmly in instructing Catholics directly to arrange ways to house, feed and give comfort to refugees that are coming to Europe. This is extremely controversial to say the least, especially in the countries of eastern Europe where there is a strong sentiment against taking any immigrants or refugees.

Obviously, here in the U.S. this is an equally powerful issue because of the rise of Donald Trump and the anti-immigrant sentiment that he embodies.

The pope is not going to come out directly and challenge any specific statement by any specific politician, but it would be surprising if he didn’t say something about the about his feeling that the United States should be more open to supporting immigration and to supporting Latin American immigration in particular.

Contact Porter-Szücs: 734-330-2626, baporter@umich.edu.