Pope Francis' foray into politics creates discomfort for Rubio, Bush and other Republicans
WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama announced the diplomatic opening with Cuba, Sen. Marco Rubio blasted it as a "dangerous and desperate" attempt at legacy building and said it would enable "other tyrants" to rise up, making Americans "less safe."
But when Pope Francis landed in Cuba last week, the Florida lawmaker and presidential candidate had a starkly different tone. "I pray the pope can use his moral authority to inspire true religious freedom, and bring us closer to the day when freedom can finally take root on the island country," Rubio wrote in a column published on CNN.com.
Pope Francis — who wraps up a visit to Washington with a speech before Congress Thursday — has put Rubio and other Republicans in an uncomfortable posture on an array of issues.
"The fact is that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Catholic and presidential candidate, said Sunday.
The first Latin-American pontiff has called for action on climate change, embraced the Iran nuclear deal and critiqued capitalism. He has said women who commit the "sin" of abortion can be forgiven and "if a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?"
Much as Pope John Paul II excited Republicans with strong stands against Communism and abortion, Pope Francis' positions have aligned more with Democrats. One Republican — Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, who says the pope's view on climate change is a "socialist talking point" — plans to boycott the pope's speech.
Other Republicans, including Rubio and fellow Catholic and presidential contender Jeb Bush, have been forced to choose their words carefully as they suggest the pope should not get involved in politics.
"He's saying uncomfortable truths, particularly in terms of the economy and the environment," said James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large of America, the National Catholic Review. "These teachings continue the long history of Catholic social teaching."
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