Reporter's Notebook

Pope Francis's Visit to the U.S.
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For the first time in his papacy—and his life—Pope Francis is visiting the U.S. at the end of September. He’s coming for the World Meeting of the Families in Philadelphia but will also make stops in Cuba, D.C., and New York. Scroll down to see our coverage.
Show 1 Newer Notes

Catching Up With the Pope: So Long, Francis

Mark Makela / Reuters

Never accuse the bishop of Rome of failing to close with a bang. On Sunday, the Vatican announced that the pope had a private meeting with five victims sexual-abuse, either at the hands of clergy, teachers, or family members. “I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm,” he told an audience of bishops. “God weeps.” There was some controversy, though, over the way he phrased this culpability to Church leaders; some victims were distraught that he praised bishops for their “courage” in handling this scandal, The New York Times reports.

Other things from today: a giant mass on a giant parkway, filled with typical Francis moves.

He visited a prison, which I think is the most important visit of his trip—more from me on that soon. And before he took off, he had a private meeting with Joe Biden. We all know what happened last time he met with a political figure at a turning point in his career … Anything you feel moved to share, Mr. Vice President?

At 7:39 pm EST, Pope Francis’s plane took off from Philadelphia International Airport. We won’t know the full fall-out from this trip for a while, but if you’re hooked on Vatican happenings, never fear: In many ways, the real show hasn’t started yet. In just a few days, the bishops will gather in Rome for a synod, where Church leaders will talk about marriage, divorce, and other totally non-controversial Catholic things. I would say stay tuned, but I need some sleep before I can make any promises. Until the next papal visit …

Carlos Barria / Reuters

Emma Green / The Atlantic

In the Bible, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. At his visit to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia on Sunday, Pope Francis used this parable to talk about the mercy of God. “All of us need our feet washed,” he said, “and me in first place.”

The pope spoke in Spanish to inmates, their families, members of the press, and Philly officials for about 15 minutes, and then he walked around and shook hands with each of the inmates individually. He paused longer with some than others, but he never seemed hurried.

Francis’s trip to the United States has been part politics, part photo-op, and part Catholic pep rally. But insofar as his visit is missionary, this was the stop that mattered. His words on Sunday were urgent, encouraging prisoners to embrace his God and savior. And it matters for another reason: Mass incarceration is arguably the country’s worst policy and humanitarian failure. I’ll have more on this visit in the coming days; stay tuned.

Pope Francis addressed the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal on Sunday.

“I hold the stories and the suffering and the sorry of children who were sexually abused by priests deep in my heart. I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm,” he said in unscripted remarks before a speech in Philadelphia. “I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.”

This weekend, Francis met privately with five people who suffered sex abuse as minors. More on that here.

Poor, sleepy Francis. On Saturday, after a long day in Philadelphia, the organizers of the World Meeting of Families and the pope’s visit in Philadelphia put on a long concert / performance of family values, including testimony from a young engaged couple, the prayers of several grandparents, and a rendition of “How to Save a Life” by The Fray.

Remember The Fray? Francis  doesn’t either.

Tony Gentile / AP / The Atlantic

The pope also showed off his comedic talent; in addition to making a joke about mothers-in-law, he ended a totally ad-libbed speech about the gospels and the family with the question, “What time is mass?” Har har, pope, har har.

The pope enters Madison Square Garden for mass on Friday evening. (Alessandra Tarantino / AP)

On Friday, the pope took on the world: In an address before the United Nations, Francis spoke about the urgent need to care for the environment and the people who live in it. A lot of what he said echoed the encyclical he wrote in June, Laudato Si, which also made a strong case about the failure of international institutions.

Then we found out that the pope’s got a squad, complete with an imam, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk, and more. Their collective enemy? Religious extremism. At a memorial ceremony for 9/11, the Pope showed just how far the Catholic Church has come on pluralistic engagement.

More on the #FrancisEffect: He can make politicians cry, then resign. He probably can’t make them give up their nice things, though. Democratic presidential nominees have started fangirling him, obviously. One representative stole the drinking glass the pontiff sipped from in Congress, and he hath not any shame.

Lest Justin Bieber ever starts getting cocky about his fandom, he should have seen Francis’s visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in Harlem. As he approached, one girl screamed, “It’s the pope! I’m going to cry.” And where teenagers abounded, selfies did much more abound.


Tomorrow, to Philly, which will include two masses, a visit to Independence Mall, a visit to a prison, and a quarter of a million people gathered on a parkway. More soon.

Yesterday, John Boehner met the pope. Today, John Boehner announced he’s resigning. #FrancisEffect?

Russell has more:

The Pope Blesses U Street NW DC. #PopeInDC #BensChiliBowl

A photo posted by Angela R. Washington (@theangelafactor) on

Thursday was a big day for the pope, but maybe an even bigger day for John Boehner: The House speaker cried his way through Francis’s speech before Congress and his greeting on the west lawn of the Capitol. This was the first time a pope has ever addressed the United States Congress, and the pope used the opportunity to discuss immigration, war, poverty, the death penalty, and the importance of family. A few political elders appeared to doze during the speech; others strained forward with frowns, trying to understand the pontiff’s somewhat labored English.

As all this was happening, Molly and I had a little debate—Pope Francis: Democrat or nah? She argues that he has elevated issues that are particularly dear to American Democrats. I argued back that his worldview is much more coherent than most in American politics, defying the left/right U.S. political spectrum. Furthermore, it flows out of the gospel, not ideology.

Speaking of politics:

Pope Francis with Joe Biden and John Boehner just after delivering an address to a joint session of Congress. Carlos Barria / Reuters

Molly has a piece up this morning pushing back on my argument that Pope Francis is not a ‘progressive’—he’s a priest. “Religion writers never tire of reminding us that, as revolutionary as Francis may appear, he actually believes the same things as previous popes,” she writes. (True: still not tired.) “But what makes Francis different is really a matter of which Catholic beliefs he has elevated to the level of communal concerns—public policy—and which he has framed as individual choices.”

She makes a persuasive argument: Francis has taken on issues that matter to U.S. Democrats, like climate change and immigration; he has pushed for government action on these issues, in both his writings and his speeches; and Republicans fear him, sometimes even using the “priest, not politician” line to put him down.

These facts may be true, but they still miss the broader point. In his speech to Congress today, Francis put forth a challenge to Republicans and Democrats alike, speaking on immigration, the environment, war, traditional families, and more. As I wrote in my article on the speech:

In a room where almost all Democrats voted to authorize the Iraq war more than a decade ago, it’s hard for politicians of any party to take credit for authentically ending global war.  In a country which continues to be a leader in carbon emissions, it’s hard for anyone to claim leadership on climate issues.

I have a personal policy of never Francisplaining to others, (a) because I’m Jewish and (b) because that’s the single fastest way to end up looking like a dummie on the topic of this unpredictable and strong-willed pope. So instead, consider these ecumenical-ish thoughts:

During the pope’s visit, he has met with the president, will address Congress, and will speak to the UN. But some of his most important meetings may be unscheduled. Crux reports that on Wednesday, Francis met with the Little Sisters of the Poor, who have challenged the so-called contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

In July, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the opt-out designed by the administration—basically, a short form that certifies that a group has a religious objection to providing insurance coverage for birth control—does not represent a burden on the sisters’ religious exercise. But earlier this month, the Circuit Courts split on this question, meaning that the Little Sisters’ case, or one similar to it, may be headed for the Supreme Court.  

The stop was not on the pope’s public agenda, but Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesperson, briefed reporters on the visit on Wednesday evening. He said “the visit was ‘connected’ to the pope’s remarks delivered earlier that day, in which the pope praised U.S. bishops for their efforts in defending religious liberty ‘from everything that would threaten or compromise it,’” Crux reports.

#pope-pocalypse #washingtondc #allthetraffic

A photo posted by Ashley (@a.m.tish) on

I pedaled my bike to work this morning through the largest security operation ever mobilized for a single person. Pope Francis’s visit is a National Special Security Event, a designation otherwise reserved for summits held by the UN, NATO, the WTO, the IMF, presidential inaugurations and funerals, State of the Union addresses, Olympic games, and Super Bowl XXXVI. Even by those standards, the pope’s five-day tour of Washington, New York, and Philadelphia has mobilized coordination, counterterrorism, crowd management, crisis response, and traffic control (land, sea, and air) on a scale that is, in U.S. history, unexampled.

I read the warnings last week, imagining hordes, sirens, riot gear, choppers whapping overhead. Instead it was like the morning after snowfall.

Catholic ex-blogger Andrew Sullivan discusses the mass appeal of Pope Francis during a ranging discussion with Bob Wright, author of The Evolution of God:

Watch the entire hour-long episode here. Or check out some of these smaller chunks:

Andrew wrote an essay a few years ago exploring the question, “What Is the Meaning of Pope Francis?” Money quote:


Since Francis’ introduction of a reproduction of [a painting called “Mary, Untier of Knots”] in Buenos Aires, it has grown in popularity in South America, with the faithful praying in front of it for Mary to “untie the knots” in their own lives. What strikes me about it is how undoing knots conveys a way of being in the world. It begins with a recognition that life isn’t easy, that a smooth and linear path is rarely given to us, that challenges keep presenting themselves. It is not so much the overcoming of these challenges that defines us, but the manner in which we tackle them.

It’s possible to get extremely frustrated by knots, after all, as I remember each time I retrieve a set of iPhone earbuds from the black hole of a coat pocket.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Yesterday, my colleague Emma wrote wisely about the dangers of viewing Pope Francis through a partisan American political lens. Yet even if the bishop of Rome isn’t a politician, any speech he delivers on the White House lawn, with President Obama by his side and dozens of members of Congress in attendance, is bound to have political repercussions.

Partisans on both sides were hoping for something to bolster their causes, and in short remarks, delivered in careful, slow English, Francis offered something for everyone.

Conservatives were pleased to hear Francis’s comments on religious liberty, a hot-button issue all summer: