The inspirational Pope Francis I is making waves in American politics. Over the past year, the popular Pope has brought the issues of poverty and human dignity to the forefront of Catholic life and international news. An advocate of liberal immigration laws and welfare programs that recognize of human dignity of every individual (regardless of their birthplace or inheritance), the Pope has become very popular among liberal Catholics. As John Carr, director of the Georgetown University Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, notes, the Catholic Church has always cared about issues of poverty and human dignity, but Pope Francis is the first Catholic leader in years who has managed to make these issues relevant and influential. In fact, President Obama has openly acknowledged Pope Francis’s influence on him, and recent comments from Jeb Bush suggest that the Pope’s talk of Social Justice is even beginning to influence conservative American politicians.
This past month, Jeb Bush adopted Pope Francis’s position on immigration when he referred to illegal immigration as “an act of love.” The comment was a far cry from the Republican platform and received criticism from certain conservative pundits and politicians including Charles Krauthammer and Donald Trump. Stephen Colbert even suggested that the comment completely alienates him from his fellow conservatives. However, other conservatives, including Catholic pundit Bill O’Reilly and Senator Marco Rubio, were eager to reconsider their views on immigration in response to Jeb’s comments. In typical fashion, O’Reilly tried to claim that the term “an act of love” was an O’Reilly original that Jeb stole from him, while Rubio tried (in vain) to subtly support immigration reform without alienating his conservative constituents.
Although it is difficult to identify the source of the newfound sense of social justice amongst certain conservatives, Carr suggests that the Pope is behind it. In his words, “Pope Francis’s first miracle is to get political leaders in the U.S. to talk about poverty.” By framing the discussion of immigration and poverty in terms of social justice and Catholic Social Teaching, Pope Francis has given new life to the debate. As someone who is more concerned with policies than with politicians, I am thrilled to see certain conservatives embrace liberal social justice policies and I can only hope that Pope Francis continues to remind politicians of the role social justice plays in politics.