Pope Francis and the Republicans: AP story has little interest in the pope and Democrats

Several Republicans want to share the spotlight with Pope Francis when he comes to America next week. Democrats? (shrug)

That's a logical takeaway from an Associated Press story on views of Pope Francis by seven of the GOP's presidential candidates.

And before you can say, "Hey, wait a minute," the story fires a shotgun blast of paragraphs:

To some Republican presidential candidates, it's better to be with the popular pope than against him.
Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have deep policy differences with Pope Francis, but the senators will break off campaign travel to attend his address to Congress later this month, a centerpiece of his eagerly anticipated visit to the United States.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a devout Catholic, will attend Mass with Francis in Washington. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another Catholic candidate, plans to attend one of the pope's East Coast events.

AP then explains that Francis has drawn popular admiration not only for his kindly manner, but also for his "humility and efforts to refocus the church on the poor and needy." It also says he has waded into "numerous hot-button political issues" like immigration, climate change, the Iran nuclear deal and diplomatic relations with Cuba.

So the article has Bush applauding Francis as an "amazing man" with a "gentle soul." And Rubio honors Francis as a "moral authority" but adds, "I'm a political leader and my job as a policymaker is to act in the common good."

The story also reports sidesteps by Scott Walker and Rick Santorum, who say they’ll be out of town when the pope visits Washington. That strikes me as odd to single out those two but not, say, Ben Carson, named last week in a CNN poll as GOP's current front runner.

More glaring is the omission of Donald Trump, whose religious talk has often raised eyebrows. Last month, Trump said this to CNN's Chris Cuomo:

The real estate mogul said that though he is a Protestant, he generally likes Pope Francis, who has been outspoken on a number of politically sensitive issues including poverty, climate change and judging gays.
"I have great respect for the Pope," Trump said. "I like the Pope. I actually like him. He's becoming very political, there's no question about it. But I like him. He seems like a pretty good guy."

That was no more or less vapid than his fellow Republicans said, methinks.

But back to the biggest gap: nearly all of the Democratic Party. No quotes from Martin O'Malley, a proud Catholic who nevertheless differs with the Church on some issues. Nothing from from Vice President Joe Biden, a presidential possible who has praised Francis as a "transformative leader" and a "moral rudder for the world."

And you have to wonder about AP's lack of curiosity after reading the recent interview with Hillary Clinton by David Muir of ABC News:

"I am not a Catholic, but I am a great admirer of the pope," Clinton, who is a Methodist, said. "I think that what he’s trying to do is take this venerable institution, the Roman Catholic Church, and really, once again, place it on a firm foundation of scriptures of Christ’s words."
(Clinton, who has never met Pope Francis, also remarked to Muir that she is "jealous" of his meeting with him and that "I wish I could’ve been there.")

Clinton says she hopes the pope will "prick the conscience of everyone," in both parties, to make college affordable for low-income youths. Sounds like a policy issue to me.

AP's article does mention Democrats, just not much. It says mainly that they have a problem with the Catholic Church's "stern and contrary view" on abortion, as during the 2004 election. "Francis has taken a more conciliatory tone on abortion, as well as homosexuality, but hasn't changed church doctrine," the story adds.

(Notice how it's the church that hangs tough, then gets conciliatory. "Republican candidates have stepped gingerly around their differences with Francis," AP says, but Democratic candidates apparently hang tough on principle.)

The story also says President Barack Obama plans to meet Francis in the Oval Office, and that he agrees with the pope on matters like "income inequality." No direct quotes on whether he admires Francis as a moral authority or a "gentle soul," though. I guess only Republicans talk like that. Do discussion of conflicts with the pope over 2,000 years of doctrines on marriage and family.

AP could have also acknowledged that Democrats are comfortable with Francis' statements on Iran, Cuba, immigration and helping the poor. But the only other Democrat in this article is John Kerry -- in a reference to the presidential campaign more than a decade ago, with a different pope.

A final beef with this article: calling Catholic teachings political issues or policy differences.

They’re beliefs, folks. We are talking about doctrines, some of them a millennium or two old.

Yes, some heavily overlap with debates in the public arena. But the teachings -- such as the encyclical Laudato Si, on caring for the environment -- are typically filled with theology, philosophy and scripture. (And the church decided some matters, like abortion and homosexuality, long before they were politicized.) Reducing them to politics or "policy" is like painting a panorama while peering through a peephole.

Even the AP article seems to recognize this, saying that when Francis speaks in Washington, "it's unlikely he will insert himself directly into presidential politics." Yet it then quotes a religion professor who says Pope Francis is "very unpredictable." Like it wants to disavow the cake and eat it, too.

Thumbnail photo: Pope Francis greets pilgrims during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in December 2013. Photo by giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com.

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