Latin America

Pope Francis’s US visit underscores divisions among nation’s Catholics

Pontiff due to arrive from Cuba, where he refused to criticize Castro regime

US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis.
US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

Pope Francis’s visit to the United States, which begins on Tuesday, is bringing to the fore the deep divisions that exist between conservative and liberal Catholics over the pontiff’s views on a host of issues, ranging from inequality and climate change, to immigration and Cuba.

Argentinean-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio will for the first time arrive on US soil from Cuba, where he spent three days visiting the Caribbean island but was prevented from meeting dissident leaders by police.

One sector sees the pope pushing Marxist and Peronist ideologies in his addresses

Pope Francis’s messages on global and social issues have separated US Catholic intellectuals into three camps. On one side, liberal Catholics have applauded the stances he has taken, while conservatives believe that, because the pope is not a politician, using his opinions for partisan purposes only distorts the real message.

Then there is a third sector that sees the pope pushing Marxist and Peronist ideologies concerning the economy, climate change, immigration and Cuba in his addresses. Bergoglio grew up and was educated in Argentina’s Peronist society.

Rush Limbaugh, the influential ultra-conservative radio host, described the pope’s apostolic exhortation Evangeli gauium, which was published at the end of 2013, as “pure Marxism.”

In this weekend’s The Washington Post, columnist George F. Will wrote: “With a convert’s indiscriminate zeal, he embraces ideas impeccably fashionable, demonstrably false and deeply reactionary. They would devastate the poor on whose behalf he purports to speak – if his policy prescriptions were not as implausible as his social diagnoses are shrill.”

Obama shares many of the same views, especially on Cuba, immigration and climate change

Neither Limbaugh nor Will are Catholics but their opinions reflect the great divide among the Church’s followers in the United States.

President Barack Obama, who has never hidden his admiration for the pontiff, will greet Pope Francis upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington. They share many of the same views, especially on Cuba, immigration and climate change.

The New York Times has called the pope Obama’s “most powerful ally.”

But the US president and the pontiff still differ on some matters, including abortion and gay marriage, an issue that makes some conservative sectors uncomfortable and that the pope has not backed.

Pope Francis has also come under criticism for ignoring dissidents during his three-day visit to Cuba. Of the three popes who have visited the communist island – John Paul II and Benedict XVI – Francis has been the only pontiff not to have made a public call for political changes.

Pope Francis may have wanted to avoid jeopardizing the tense negotiations between Cuba and US

The issue has been a sensitive one for the Vatican.

“Did you know that more than 50 activists have been arrested over the past few days so that they wouldn’t come close to the pope?” one journalist asked Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi on Monday.

“I have nothing to say about this,” responded a visibly uncomfortable Lombardi.

One explanation for Pope Francis’s refusal to meet with dissidents centers on the possible belief that it might upset the Raúl Castro regime at a time when it is in the middle of tense negotiations to re-establish diplomatic relations with the United States.

Pope Francis mediated the secret talks that have led to the initiation of discussions by both countries.

English version by Martin Delfin.

More information