Pope Francis Will Soon Become the First Pontiff to Address Congress


It's official: Pope Francis will take some time during his fall visit to the United States to become the first pontiff ever to address both houses of Congress.

According to a statement House Speaker John Boehner released Thursday, Francis will be making the historic address Sept. 24.

"In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father's message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds," Boehner said. "His teachings, prayers and very example bring us back to the blessings of simple things and our obligations to one another. We look forward to warmly welcoming Pope Francis to our Capitol and hearing his address on behalf of the American people."

A warm welcome: Unlike a pending visit by another world leader, getting Francis in the room might be the most bipartisan act of Congress to happen in Washington in years.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told the media that she was "honored and overjoyed" that the pope was coming to the Capitol, noting that Francis had inspired people the world over to be "instruments of peace."

Republicans showered the announcement with equal praise. "From the slums of Buenos Aires to St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis is moving the hearts of millions and inspiring a new generation with an engaging and compelling style," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement. 

It's no mystery why legislators are excited. Francis is incredibly popular, enjoying a 78% favorability rating in the United States. (Congress, not so much: Our legislators currently come in at somewhere around 16.5%.)

But aside from being really cool, the papal address will also make actual history. USA Today reports that the U.S. House Historian's Office has confirmed the address will be the first time that a visiting pontiff or religious head of state has accepted the opportunity to speak before Congress.

What he'll be talking about: Republicans might be thrilled by news of the pope's visit, but they might not be so happy about the actual items on his agenda.

Francis spent much of 2014 preparing for an international push to mobilize Catholics against global climate change in 2015, an effort that will likely culminate in some serious pressure to reach an emissions-reduction deal at Paris in November. The pontiff is likely to take the forthcoming opportunity to lecture our science-denying Congress about the scientific consensus behind man-induced global warming, and perhaps even shame them for doing so little. As an outspoken advocate for the poor, Francis may also request that Congress make even just a bit of effort to tackle the structural causes of poverty.

Perhaps one or two of them might even listen. Pew Research Center reports that about 30.7% of Congress is Catholic, higher than the American average of 22%.

But if they don't, the pope is scheduled to be in the U.S. from Sept. 22 to Sept. 27, so Francis will have plenty of time to gallivant about spreading the word of God to a more receptive audience elsewhere.

h/t Associated Press

Correction: Oct. 5, 2017