Pope to speak as pastor, not lobbyist on D.C. visit, cardinal says

Pope Francis has spoken out on capitalism, the death penalty, global warming, and migrants' rights. But he is not coming to D.C. this month to participate in politics, the Archbishop of Washington said.

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters in Washington Wednesday about the pope's upcoming visit to the United States.

Pope Francis will speak as a pastor and not as an advocate for particular policies when he speaks privately to President Obama and publicly to Congress during a Washington visit later this month.

That is the assessment of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, who will be the pope’s host during his visit to the nation’s capital Sept. 22-24 as part of a three-city tour.

“What our Holy Father will be doing is addressing issues. Public policy is one way of responding to issues. But another way to address issues is to put them in a spiritual and pastoral dimension,” the cardinal said Wednesday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters.

Pope Francis has been outspoken on a variety of issues, including what he sees as the flaws of capitalism, the “inadmissible” nature of the death penalty, the dangers of global warming, and the “globalization of indifference” toward migrants.

During his Washington visit, the pope will “try to evoke from all of us the understanding that we do have a responsibility for each other, and also for our common home, this planet,” Cardinal Wuerl said. “There has to be a way to deal with issues of environment, with issues of human freedom, with issues of life and the flourishing of human life.” But he added, “it falls to the government to come up with ways of addressing that.”

Wuerl downplayed the degree of change represented by Pope Francis’ announcement on Tuesday that he was authorizing all Roman Catholic priests worldwide to offer the sacrament of reconciliation to women who have had an abortion and repented. Previously, the authority to grant absolution for what the Catholic church views as the sin of abortion was granted by local bishops. In Washington, Wuerl said local priests had already been granted that authority.

“There is no change in Catholic teaching on the value and worth and sacredness of life,” Wuerl said. “All that said, how do we deal now with someone who has had an abortion? And isn’t the response a response of love, compassion, care? [The pope] keeps reminding us that we all need the embrace of God’s mercy.”

Demand to see the pope during his time in Washington has been overwhelming, Wuerl said. “I have found that I have far more dear friends than I ever realized,” the cardinal quipped. There are 25,000 seats available for the mass the pope will conduct – in Spanish – at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. “For every seat that we have, I would say that we have had 10 requests,” Wuerl said.

Wire material was used in this report.

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