Pope Francis has not commented on the crowded field of U.S. presidential candidates. But after a similar situation arose in Argentina, he was not amused.
In 2007, when the future pope was archbishop of Buenos Aires, 18 Argentines ran for president.
“So we are either a fantastic nation with 18 geniuses who can lead the country,” he told two journalists, “or we are a nation of fools who can’t agree.”
Francis is no fan of dictatorships, either. He has called on Cuba and other nations to scrap their “corrupt” regimes and give the people a voice in government.
Too many politicians. Too few. The Pope will soon get an up-close and personal look at both political dynamics.
On Saturday, he will land in Cuba, a communist nation controlled by the Castro brothers for nearly six decades. On Tuesday, Francis will fly to the United States, a country holding a fierce and freewheeling presidential campaign, with at least 20 candidates contending for the White House.
In both countries, Francis will attempt to stay above the partisan fray, according to Catholic officials. But they acknowledge the probability that his every word will be parsed and spun for political advantage.
“He’s coming as a pastor of souls and a prophet, not a politician,” said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. At the same time, the Pope will likely encourage Catholics to put their faith into action, Kurtz added.
Politician or not, this Pope holds sharply political opinions on everything from campaign finance reform to climate change.
Francis has also been open about his aims, saying he wants to influence upcoming summits at the United Nations on sustainable development and care for the environment.
In the United States, meanwhile, the Pope’s popularity has slipped, perhaps because of his political activism.
Fewer than half of American conservatives say they hold a favorable image of Francis, according to a recent Gallup Poll. The pontiff’s fiery denunciations of the “idolatry of money” and his linking of climate change to human activity could be partly to blame, Gallup said.
In general, it seems, liberals love it when the Pope gets political, while many conservatives would rather he stick to traditional religious subjects.
Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican — and Catholic — from Arizona, plans to boycott the Pope’s speech to Congress because of reports that the pontiff will focus on climate change.
“When the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician,” Gosar says, “then he can expect to be treated like one.”
With the tensions between the Pope’s political and pastoral roles in mind, here are the five toughest challenges he will face on his trip to the United States and Cuba, September 19-27.