On the Hill: Congressman Sits Out the Pope, But Not for the Reason You Think

Pope Francis and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ)

Pope Francis is coming to Washington, DC on September 22nd, and nearly everyone in the nation’s capital is freaking out about his visit. Scores of people are taking a day off from their jobs in the hopes of getting a glimpse of the pope, and the federal government is even telling its employees to telework if possible so as to avoid the traffic as downtown streets close in preparation for the papal visit.

The pope is an increasingly popular figure in the United States—even to non-Catholics; he’s made public statements on topics like abortion and gay rights that have pleased progressives while at the same time maintaining much of the conservative theological positions held by his predecessor, pleasing ideological hardliners.

But not everyone in Congress is happy with Pope Francis and the softer image he’s projecting for the church. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), a self-proclaimed Catholic, just published a fascinating op-ed explaining why he will be boycotting the Pope’s address before Congress this week.

While many atheists and secularists would love to see more members of Congress boycotting a religious leader who will likely give a religious speech in our secular legislature, Gosar is not skipping the address out of concerns regarding the First Amendment. Rather, Gosar sees this visit as an opportunity to push his anti-science and pro-religious right ideology by taking a stand against the Catholic Church.

Stating that he originally hoped the papal visit would serve as a way to “address the condoned, subsidized, intentionally planned genocide of unborn children by Planned Parenthood and society” as well as a venue to discuss other conservative priorities, Gosar was instead disappointed to hear from the media that the pope will “focus the brunt of his speech on climate change.”

Climate change has been a big issue for the Francis, as he has emphasized religious teachings that call for environmental stewardship and even called for a “bold cultural revolution” to realign human priorities in order to save the planet. Gosar apparently doesn’t appreciate this ecological focus, decrying the “socialist talking points” and “false science” surrounding climate change in his article.

According to Gosar, “the earth’s climate has been changing since God created it, with or without man. On that, we should all agree.” Whether or not Rep. Gosar wants to admit it, scientists do agree, but not with him. According to NASA, “multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.”

While Rep. Gosar will be skipping the papal visit in order to stick his head in the sand and push his anti-science beliefs, it’s unlikely that his boycott will accomplish anything other than getting his name in a few local and national papers. The rest of DC will be closely watching the pope to see whether his religious message of environmental responsibility can break partisan gridlock and get Congress to work on this important and pressing issue.