You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Highlights From Pope Francis's Address to Congress

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress on Thursday morning. He cited four historic Americans and reminded the assembled politicians that they "are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good." Here are the the highlights from the speech, with insights from New Republic writers and editors on our live blog. Read Francis's full remarks here.

He Barely Mentioned Climate Change

Francis quoted some of his encyclical on the environment, but didn't say the words "climate change" or spend much time on the issue: 

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to "redirect our steps" (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a "culture of care" (ibid., 231) and "an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature" (ibid., 139).

Rebecca Leber noted that "Francis instead mentions the 'right use of natural resources' and the 'human roots' of today's environmental challenges," perhaps a softer way to broach the topic given the climate change deniers in the audience. But stay tuned for Friday, when Francis will address the United Nations. "The issue is likely to come up again in a more international context to muster support for a global climate agreement," said Leber.

He Cited Four Historic Americans

Francis structured his speech around four important Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. "I wish to dialogue with all of you," said Francis, "and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people."

Day was, according to Jeet Heer, "at the forefront of the Catholic Worker's Movement and radically antiwar." Merton was a Trappist monk who wrote extensively on spirituality and racial justice. Elizabeth Bruenig described the Pope's chosen exemplars as having "a less than lovely reputation on the hard right."

He Denounced the Death Penalty

Moments after receiving a standing ovation from pro-life supporters for saying that it is "our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development," Francis reminded the audience that the commitment to human life also means abolishing the death penalty:

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 here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

Marc Hyden, National Coordinator of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said in a statement, “There is no question that the Pope’s strong opposition to the death penalty is having a real impact on American conservatives. We see it every day in our work with fellow conservatives who, often prompted by their faith, increasingly are recognizing that the death penalty is both an unnecessary and harmful policy."

Heer pointed out in our live blog that the hardline from the Pope on the death penalty might explain the absence of Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch defender of the death penalty.

He Called for Economic Equality

Francis's opinions on economic equality are not a secret, and he again quoted his latest encyclical while talking about the importance of an even distribution of wealth:

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. ... “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). 
"Pope Francis' vision of the economy is, like his vision of the natural world, delightfully ecological," says Bruenig. "Businesses need to serve their community niches by creating jobs, operating sustainably, and making sure that the whole community can benefit from their presence."

He Challenged Politicians Not to be Slaves to Finance

Well, kind of: His prepared remarks contained this passage:

If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

But he left that passage out of his actual remarks, for reasons that remain unclear.

Correction: Pope Francis's prepared remarks said politics "cannot be a slave to the economy and finance," but he left that passage out of his actual remarks.