Juan Williams: Pope and change

Juan Williams: Pope and change
© Greg Nash

You know the answer to these year-end questions but just play along.

Name the biggest 2015 event on Capitol Hill? The one event it was near impossible to get a ticket to attend. 

It is not close – you’re right, the pope’s visit.

ADVERTISEMENT

And you’ll know the answer to this one too. Who said: “If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” 

If you said the pope, you win again.

And speaking to a Congress that is 31.7 percent Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center, and within earshot of a Supreme Court with six Catholics on the bench, who said this?

“Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money. Money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood…It is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

Did you answer, the pope? Right once again. Those words came from a leader with a higher approval than any American politician — a 59 percent favorable rating among the population at large, and a 71 percent rating among Catholic Americans, according to Gallup.

And who called for Congress to make a “courageous” effort to halt “environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”

Some wild lefty tree-hugger? 

Well, if you consider the pope a tree-hugger, yes, it was him, once again.

On issues ranging from climate change to gun control to gay rights, the liberals in Congress found a surprising ally in 79-year-old Pope FrancisPope FrancisEndangered Species Act is a modern-day Noah's Ark — Trump must stop trying to sink it Pope Francis cautions against nationalism, says recent political rhetoric has echoed 'Hitler in 1934' Pope: 'Defenseless people' targeted in US mass shootings MORE.

The pope’s visit was a mindbender for the GOP given the party’s reliance on opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights — two key elements of Catholic doctrine. Those wedge social issues have stirred the Republican base since President Nixon adopted a ‘silent majority’ strategy to defeat Democrats aligned with progressive movements on issues of sexuality and race.

Pope Francis is changing the religion-politics dynamic in a way that is sure to ripple through the 2016 landscape of presidential and congressional elections. Speaking to the polarized Congress, the pope clearly did not side with Republican voters who want more opposition to the Democrat in the White House and less compromise with the Democratic minority in Congress.

“The contemporary world, with its open wounds…demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps,” the pope said to a Congress paralyzed by division and suffering historically low approval ratings from Americans of all political beliefs.

Instead of politicians taking advantage of fear, anxiety and anger, the pope called for Congress to reject the “hatred and violence of tyrants and murders” and engage with a “renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.”

Later he added: “Politics is…an expression of our compelling need to live as one…Cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.”

The pope’s willingness to step into Congress’ big political fight over immigration reform really stung the ‘deport them all’ caucus among Republicans.

Standing next to President Obama at the White House, who in the face of Congressional inaction issued an executive order shielding 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, the pope said he is “the son of an immigrant family,” and was pleased to be visiting a nation “which was largely built by such families.”

Speaking in front of Congress, Francis said the members have to avoid repeating “the sins and errors of the past,” and reject a “mindset of hostility” toward refugees and undocumented immigrants.

And later speaking to America’s bishops, he added: “Perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that they [immigrants] also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them.”

The pope’s blessing of compassionate immigration policies came as the front-runner for the Republican nomination won standing ovations for calling Mexican illegal immigrants “rapists.” The same candidate, of course later proposed a halt to the flow of refugees from war-torn Syria and a block on all Muslim immigrants.

Congressional Republicans did not publicly criticize the pope. But conservative talk radio did not hold back.

Rush Limbaugh, the top-rated talk radio host, trashed the pope as a “Marxist.”

“We have a president and a pope who speak down to us,” said radio host Mark LevinMark Reed LevinProgressive group endorses three House freshmen Mark Levin hits ex-Fox News reporter over his criticism: 'He was very comfortable hobnobbing with conservatives' Hannity mocks NBC for making Maddow a debate moderator MORE. “Whether it is immigration, whether it is poverty, frankly they do not appreciate the American people. They do not appreciate American history…It is easy for a pope to come here from Italy, from the Vatican, and quite frankly, lecture us in many respects, and talk down to us in many respects about immigration.”

Among the Republican presidential contenders, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Catholic, also turned thumbs down to the Pope.

“I just think the pope is wrong…The fact is that his infallibility is on religious matters, not political ones.” 

Another GOP contender, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, simply dismissed the pope’s positions. Bush said he “doesn’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”

Republican candidates in 2016 will try their best to close their ears to what the Pope is saying. But Democrats have found a surprising voice to counter the conservative tendencies of churchgoers, especially evangelical Christians.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.