Can lawmakers show the pope respect, even when they disagree?
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On Thursday, Sept. 24, history will be made at the U.S. Congress. Pope FrancisPope FrancisPope Francis names first woman to senior Vatican diplomatic post Benedict warns about celibacy in new book seen as warning to Francis Pope urges US, Iran to seek 'dialogue and self-restraint' MORE will be the first Roman pontiff to address a joint meeting of Congress.

The eyes of the world will be on this historic event. Not on His Holiness, so much — he has already been the object of attention, and affection,from millions around the globe. Instead, the eyes of the world will be on the members of Congress — nearly one-third of whom are Catholic — who will be in the House chamber listening to the message of the leader of the billion-plus Roman Catholic Church and head of Vatican City.


The world will be watching whether these legislators and the institutions and ideologies they represent will listen with intent, openness and respect for both the man Francis and his office as supreme pontiff, or whether they will use the pope's address as an opportunity for political and partisan aggrandizement.

The reality of politics in America today is personal, bitter and biting. Political disagreements in the modern era have abandoned the "10 Commandments of Rational Debate" and are all ad hominem: attack the character of the person rather than the argument itself.

No longer do we live in a time when individuals with differing political beliefs and positions can debate in an open, intellectual and respectful manner. Instead, we have devolved to name-calling, insults, innuendo and character assassination. What's worse is that many times, those carrying out such attacks are barely knowledgeable on the subjects on which they argue, simply "following their guts" or "expressing their opinions" regardless of whether or not their opinions are based on ignorance, hearsay, bigotry or some other asinine and baseless grounds.

The breakdown of logical and respectful political discussion has also eroded the notion of respect for office. Not long ago, one could disagree fundamentally with a president of the United States but still respect the office he holds. That time is gone. We have eliminated personal respect in politics and have undermined the notion of respect for high office.

And that lack of respect is not just a problem among average citizens. In the most glaring public display of such debasement of office, in 2009, Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonUS officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  Valerie Plame: 'I'm alarmed' over escalation with Iran Paralysis of nations is empowering cities MORE (R-S.C.) yelled "You lie!" during an address by President Obama to a joint meeting of Congress. A sitting member of Congress, during a joint session, refrained to the tactics of a frat boy during a pep rally rather than have the decorum of an adult in an elected office.

A recent article in The Hill pointed out that during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE's address to Congress, House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats hammer abuse of power charge, allege Trump put self over country Overnight Energy: Trump issues rule replacing Obama-era waterway protections | Pelosi slams new rule as 'an outrageous assault' | Trump water policy exposes sharp divides Pelosi slams Trump administration's new water rule: 'An outrageous assault' MORE (D-Calif.) "remained seated during standing ovations and made sure the people around her — and those watching from the press row — could see her disagreement."

And it appears that the papacy and Francis are not immune to the new reality of hate-driven nonsense that we call political debate in America.

In a Sept. 19, 2015, piece in The Weekly Standard, a conservative media bastion, entitled "Pope Francis: Menace or Farce?," Jonathan V. Last refers to Francis — whose full official title is Bishop of Rome And Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles; Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church; Patriarch of the West; Servant of the Servants of God; Primate of Italy; Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province; Sovereign of Vatican City State – as either "a menace to society and his Church, or a foolish, farcical dupe."

Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarPelosi slams Trump administration's new water rule: 'An outrageous assault' Republicans criticize Pelosi for gifting pens used to sign impeachment articles Overnight Energy: Republicans eye top spot on Natural Resources panel | GOP lawmakers push back on bill to make greener refrigerators, air conditioners | Green groups sue Trump over California fracking plans MORE (R-Ariz.) — himself a Catholic — intends to boycott the address of his spiritual leader for purely partisan and political reasons. In a article, Gosar states that, "I have both a moral obligation and leadership responsibility to call out leaders, regardless of their titles, who ignore Christian persecution and fail to embrace opportunities to advocate for religious freedom and the sanctity of human life."

Gosar made his decision based on media reports of what His Holiness may discuss instead of what Gosar would like him to discuss. A cursory Google search demonstrates that His Holiness has discussed the issues Gosar would like him to mention nearly once per week since January. His Holiness has been an ardent advocate for advancing and promoting freedom of religion; he has called on each parish in Europe to adopt a refugee family; and he has referred to the persecution of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) a genocide.

But Gosar is indicative of this larger political dysfunction. He will not even grant the leader of the Roman Catholic Church the dignity of listening to his argument, then making a decision. Instead, he has chosen to boycott the Holy Father, ignore his message, and miss an opportunity for engagement. All of this based solely on unconfirmed media reports.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerA time for war, a time for peace — and always a time to defend America Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January Soleimani killing deepens distrust between Trump, Democrats MORE (R-Ohio) may not have taken into consideration the sad reality of political discourse in the United States when he invited Francis to address the once-august United States Congress.

Francis can cause controversy not only by calling for Christians to live fully the Gospels, but also by actually living it out himself. Sometimes that looks conservative; sometimes that looks liberal. Attempting to categorize and then demonize Francis for taking stands that do not coincide with one's own does little to distract His Holiness, and only serves to make one look radical, small-minded and pandering.

Let's hope that when the eyes of the world fall on members of Congress on Thursday, they do not see a sniping, politically motivated room full of the worst stereotypes of American politicians, but instead see an open, respectful chamber full of America's representatives.

Grieboski is the chairman and CEO of Grieboski Global Strategies, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, and founder and secretary-general of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom.