Boehner invites Pope Francis to Capitol

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Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has invited Pope Francis to address a joint meeting of Congress when he visits the United States, saying the pontiff has “inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership.”

The Speaker’s office released Boehner’s letter on Thursday, a year to the day after the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis.

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He would be the first pope to address Congress if he accepts what Boehner described as an “open invitation,” according to the Speaker’s office.

Pope Francis has not scheduled a trip to the U.S., but according to press reports in January, he wants to visit in 2015. A Boehner spokesman would not say whether the pope has accepted the invitation.

The pope has won praise from across the political spectrum for his public displays of humility and his attempts to soften the Catholic Church’s rhetoric on divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality.

"Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service,” Boehner, who is Catholic, said in a statement accompanying a letter he is sending to the Vatican. "His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us-the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn-has awakened hearts on every continent.”

Pope Francis’s critique of wealth inequality has drawn the ire of some conservatives, including radio host Rush Limbaugh, who said it resembled “pure Marxism.”

The pope has defended his writings and said Marxism is wrong.

Boehner praised the pontiff’s message in his statement Thursday, saying while it has “challenged people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties,” the principles he has espoused “are among the fundamentals of the American Idea.”

“And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good,” Boehner said. “Many in the United States believe these principles are undermined by 'crony capitalism' and the ongoing centralization of political power in the institutions of our federal government, which threaten to disrupt the delicate balance between the twin virtues of subsidiarity and solidarity.

“They have embraced Pope Francis' reminder that we cannot meet our responsibility to the poor with a welfare mentality based on business calculations. We can meet it only with personal charity on the one hand and sound, inclusive policies on the other.”

Pope Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, made one visit to the U.S. in 2008. The late Pope John Paul II made several trips during his tenure.