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.
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.
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.
Earlier that day, Francis defended religious liberty in front of Independence Hall, likely to the satisfaction of the more conservative bishops in attendance. He also celebrated mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, where Philadelphia’s archbishop, Charles Chaput, made a bid to show that he is Francis’s number-one fan: “This is a city that would change its name to ‘Francisville’ today if we could do that without inconveniencing the rest of North America,” he said.
On Sunday, Francis will meet with bishops, visit a prison, and celebrate mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which is expected to attract a quarter of a million people. The end of this visit is nigh; stay tuned.
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.
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.
The Irish Catholic son of a barkeep hosted Pope Francis in the first-ever address by a pontiff to Congress. And it seemed the pope’s message had at least some impact on the timing of the speaker’s decision.
Boehner said he had originally wanted to announce on November 17—his 66th birthday—that he would step down at the end of the year. But the conservative threat to depose him moved up the timetable, and when he woke up Friday on the morning after meeting the pope, he said to himself, “Today is the day I’m going to do this.”
He resisted, however, the notion that conservatives had forced his hand. “I can tell you, if I wasn’t planning on leaving here soon, I would not have done this,” Boehner said. The famously-emotional speaker broke down several times during his 15-minute news conference, most notably when he recounted a private moment he shared with Pope Francis. As they were leaving the Capitol on Thursday, the pontiff took the speaker aside and asked him to pray for him. “Who am I to pray for the pope,” a deeply-humbled Boehner told reporters. “But I did.”
A lot of folks have been asking whether Francis’s trip to the U.S., and particularly D.C., will have any political effects. Aside from John Boehner’s moment of clarity, it seems like the pope is being processed through politics as usual. Democratic presidential nominees have tried to glom on to his comments about climate change, poverty, and immigration. Congress started considering environmental legislation right after Francis’s speech, and as Russell wrote on Thursday, the process became gridlocked immediately. The holy father might be able to revive ailing infrastructure, but perhaps Washington is too far gone.
At the very least, kleptomaniac politicians enjoyed the visit. Philly News reports that Representative Bob Brady stole the pope’s drinking glass, water still in it, from the rostrum in the House chamber. He, his wife, and two staffers drank from it; Senator Bob Casey, his wife, and his mother dipped their fingers into it; and the rest will be used to “bless” Brady’s grandkids.
“Anything the pope touches becomes blessed,” Brady told the Post. “I think so and no one is going to change my mind.” In 2008, Brady also nabbed the glass Obama used at his inauguration, the Post reports.
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.
Tomorrow, Pope Francis will spend the day in New York City, addressing the United Nations, visiting the 9/11 memorial, seeing some schoolkids in Harlem, and celebrating mass in Madison Square Garden. We’ll be following the papal trail; check back on this thread for updates. Meanwhile, the Vatican sleeps:
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:
The first thing to note is that Francis’s worldview is one with continuity. There’s a reason that, in his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si, he criticizes international-development organizations for using birth control as a panacea to issues like hunger and extreme poverty. The topics Americans call “social issues”—birth control, abortion, sexuality—are intimately connected, in the teachings of both Francis and the Church, to economics and politics. One of the phrases Francis repeatedly uses is “throwaway culture,” and this includes a lack of appreciation for marriage, widespread abortion, and use of birth control. “A widespread and insensitive mentality has led to the loss of the proper personal and social sensitivity to welcome new life,” he said in September about the sin of abortion.
Contrary to Molly’s argument, Francis does believe this is a concern for governing institutions—they are “communal concerns,” or public policy, as she puts it. The whole reason Francis is in the United States is for the World Meeting of Families, which is all about traditional marriage, the welfare of children, the importance of life-giving. And the topic of that synod Molly mentioned at the end of her article? Marriage, divorce, sex, and family.
In the encyclical he co-authored with Benedict XVI, Lumen Fidei, he writes that marriage and family are the root structures from which community improvement flows. “I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage,” he writes. “This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh and are enabled to give birth to a new life.”
Granted, the pope and his confidants have been critical of clergy who focus narrowly on issues like birth control and abortion. For example: In an interview in 2013, the pope criticized bishops for being “obsessed” with gay marriage, abortion, and birth control. And yet, on Wednesday, the pope made an unscheduled visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are suing the government over the birth-control mandate of the Affordable Care Act. As I wrote in July, these are the poster-sisters of right-wing religious-freedom advocacy in the United States; the pope is showing solidarity with a fight against the government on birth control.
Molly writes that “priests can and do have ideologies.” Above all, Francis hates ideology. “In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness,” he said during a mass in 2013. “Ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: He is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought.”
As our colleague David writes, Francis’s words and actions will almost certainly have political ramifications, including his speech to Congress on Thursday. That does not make Francis a politician, and it definitely doesn’t make him a Democrat. As political writers never tire of telling us, the American political system is broken. Why try to punish the pope by twisting him into its forms?
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.
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.
A few police leaned against their cars, red and blue lights strobing, muted. My ride is usually high-strung, with drivers yelling at me, and me yelling at crosswalkers, white-knuckled, sweating through my shirt. But west of the Capitol there was scarcely a car on the road. Traffic lights blinked uselessly. I let my bike swerve between the lanes.
The silence was buttery. My commute took on unexpected significance and intensity. I countenanced the inaudible. The matrix of signals broadcast from radios, microphones, and video cameras, language beneath language, zipping through the air. And (go with me) something cosmic, too. Silence as contrast to what we are.
The business of Washington is so blaring. The motorcades and fanfare, everything deliberated and repeated by everyone all the time. Does silence require a visit from the Pope? Perhaps at some level on guard against romanticizing the Holy Father, I recalled reading that outside Independence Hall, the founders had the entire street covered with earth so they could hear themselves think.
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.
Your first thought is just anger: how on earth did this get so fucking tangled up? Your second impulse is to grab it and shake it or even to pull on it to resolve the issue in one stroke. But that only makes things worse. The knots get even tighter. In the end, you realize your only real option – against almost every fiber in your irate being – is to take each knot in turn, patiently and gently undo it, loosen a little, see what happens, and move on to the next. You will never know exactly when all the knots will resolve themselves – it can happen quite quickly after a while or seemingly never. But you do know that patience, and concern with the here and now, is the only way to “solve” the “problem.” You don’t look forward with a plan; you look down with a practice.
This has a relationship with the concept of “discernment” that is integral to Francis’ spiritual life, as it is to any Jesuit’s. A Christian life is about patience, about the present and about trust that God is there for us. It does not seek certainty or finality to life’s endless ordeals and puzzles. It seeks through prayer and action in the world to listen to God’s plan and follow its always-unfolding intimations.
Read the rest here. For more religious reflections from Andrew, check out this podcast he did with Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, and this one he did with Richard Rodriguez, author of Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography. If you have any of your own reflections on Francis or religion in general, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post them.
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.
So Francis tosses one to conservatives with religious liberties and one to liberals with climate change, huh?
With countless other people of good will, [American Catholics] are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.
Then, rather more to the left’s delight, Francis spoke at some length about climate change. “Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” he said. “Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.” He linked that to income inequality:
Pope quotes Martin Luther King re: climate & development. "We have defaulted on a promissory note - and now is the time to honor it." Wow!
For the next 25 hours, I’ll be offline—I’ve got some reflections here on what it means that the pope came to America on Yom Kippur. My Atlantic colleagues will be following the papal happenings in this thread—stay tuned.
Bonus: At the end of his Cuba trip, the pope gave a homiletic tribute to grandmas. Yep: Awww.
As pope stalkers of the world watched his flight path on the Alitalia website, the plane started making several loops over North Carolina on its way to Joint Base Andrews this afternoon:
In an earlier version of this note, I reported that the reason the plane started circling was that Obama and his entourage had been running late to the greeting ceremony. However, as a White House spokesman subsequently pointed out, the Pope deplaned at 4 p.m., precisely as scheduled, and the president was on hand to greet him. Others have meanwhile indicated that the Pope’s plane took off early from Cuba, which would explain the flight pattern.
After saying a racial slur and being exiled from radio, Morgan Wallen has become only more popular. What’s going on?
It’s no exaggeration to say that one of the biggest artists in American music right now is a disgrace. Three weeks after the 27-year-old country singer Morgan Wallen said a racial slur on camera, his second studio album, Dangerous: The Double Album, is at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. His singles have been bobbing in the country-music top 10 and the cross-genre Hot 100. Billboard’s ranking of the most popular artists in the United States had him in the top spot for five straight weeks. Thousands of people are, at this moment, streaming Wallen’s songs, buying his records, and watching his music videos—putting money in the pockets of someone who has admitted to saying one of the most noxious things imaginable.
The GOP has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
We are living in a time of bad metaphors. Everything is fascism, or socialism; Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Soviet Union. Republicans, especially, want their followers to believe that America is on the verge of a dramatic time, a moment of great conflict such as 1968—or perhaps, even worse, 1860. (The drama is the point, of course. No one ever says, “We’re living through 1955.”)
Ironically, the GOP is indeed replicating another political party in another time, but not as the heroes they imagine themselves to be. The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.
A guide to America’s awkward, semi-vaccinated months
The past 11 months have been a crash course in a million concepts that you probably wish you knew a whole lot less about. Particle filtration. Ventilation. Epidemiological variables. And, perhaps above all else, interdependence. In forming quarantine bubbles, in donning protective gear just to buy groceries, in boiling our days down to only our most essential interactions, people around the world have been shown exactly how linked their lives and health are. Now, as COVID-19 vaccines rewrite the rules of pandemic life once more, we are due for a new lesson in how each person’s well-being is inextricably tangled with others’.
This odd (and hopefully brief) chapter in which some Americans are fully vaccinated, but not enough of us to shield the wider population against the coronavirus’s spread, brings with it a whole new set of practical and ethical questions. If I’m vaccinated, can I travel freely? Can two vaccinated people from different households eat lunch together? If your parents are vaccinated but you’re not, can you see them inside? What if only one of them got both shots? What if one of them is a nurse on a COVID-19 ward?
At some point—maybe even soon—the emergency phase of the pandemic will end. But what, exactly, is that magic threshold?
In the middle of January, the deadliest month of the pandemic, one day after inauguration, the Biden administration put out a comprehensive national strategy for “beating COVID-19.” The 200-page document includes many useful goals, such as “Restore trust with the American people” and “Mount a safe, effective, and comprehensive vaccination campaign.” But nowhere does it give a quantitative threshold for when it will be time to say, “Okay, done—we’ve beaten the pandemic.”
A month later, it’s time to get specific. The facts are undeniable: The seven-day average of new cases in the United States has fallen by 74 percent since their January peak, hospitalizations have gone down by 58 percent, and deaths have dropped by 42 percent. Meanwhile, more than 60 million doses of vaccine have gone into American arms. At some point—maybe even some point relatively soon—the remaining emergency measures that were introduced in March 2020 will come to an end. But when, exactly, should that happen?
The deep roots of America’s political legacy in Alabama
Granddaddy’s voice was raspy; love laced his hello. His throne, a maroon recliner, filled the corner of the den in his ranch-style home. On a typical summer afternoon—during one of our weeklong sojourns back to Montgomery, Alabama, from wherever the Air Force took my dad—my cousins and I would be sprawled across the floor, keeping up a ruckus.
In the evening, Granddaddy would fumble with the remote, his hands worn from years working on the telephone lines for South Central Bell, and turn on the news. He would shush all of us; this was one of his favorite times of the day. Granddaddy always wanted to know what was going on, even if he could already tell you why it was happening. He was full of the wisdom of a man born into the sharecropping South of 1931.
Financial confessionals reveal that income inequality and geographic inequality have normalized absurd spending patterns.
The hypothetical couple were making $350,000 a year and just getting by, their income “barely” qualifying them as middle-class. Their budget, posted in September, showed how they “survived” in a city like San Francisco, spending more than $50,000 a year on child care and preschool, nearly $50,000 a year on their mortgage, and hefty amounts on vacations, entertainment, and a weekly date night—even as they saved for retirement and college in tax-advantaged accounts.
The internet, being the internet, responded with some combination of howling, baying, pitchfork-jostling, and scoffing. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York quipped that the thing the family was struggling with was math. Gabriel Zucman, a leading scholar of wealth and inequality, described the budget as laughable, while noting that it showed how much money consumption taxes could raise.
The nation’s politics is in dire need of earnestness. Can its culture meet the moment?
On Tuesday evening, at the start of his Fox News show, Tucker Carlson shared the results of an investigation that he and his staff had conducted into a well-known agent of American disinformation. “We spent all day trying to locate the famous QAnon,” Carlson said, “which, in the end, we learned is not even a website. If it’s out there, we could not find it.” They kept looking, though, checking Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Twitter feed and “the intel community,” before coming to the obvious conclusion: “Cable news” and “politicians talking on TV,” Carlson said, must be responsible for the lies running rampant in America. “Maybe they’re from QAnon,” he added. “You be the judge.”
This anti-investigation, like so much of what happens on Carlson’s show every day, was funny right up until it was frightening. (Just before informing his viewers of his inability to locate QAnon.com, Carlson had attempted a rebranding of disinformation itself: “Freelance thinking,” he called it.) The most basic of good-faith searches would have revealed the reality—and the danger—of a widely believed conspiracy theory positing, in part, that Democrats eat children. But reality is not Carlson’s project. Destabilizing it is. Fox’s most popular personality, his show’s marketing literature will tell you, offers “spirited debates” about the news of the day. In truth, Carlson is simply selling cynicism. Night after night, he informs you that the ways you might have of understanding the world and yourself within it—politics, culture, science, art, the news, other people—are not to be trusted. The only American institution that remains worthy of your confidence, in the bleak cosmology of Tucker Carlson Tonight, is Tucker Carlson.
The first way to fight a new virus would once have been opening the windows.
A few years ago, when I still had confidence in our modern ability to fight viruses, I pored over a photo essay of the 1918 flu pandemic. How quaint, I remember thinking, as I looked at people bundled up for outdoor classes and court and church. How primitive their technology, those nurses in gauze masks. How little did I know.
I felt secure, foolishly, in our 100 additional years of innovation. But it would soon become clear that our full-body hazmat suits and negative-pressure rooms and HEPA filters mattered little to Americans who couldn’t find N95 masks. In our quest for perfect solutions, we’d forgotten an extremely obvious and simple one: fresh air. A colleague joked, at one point, that things would have gone better in the pandemic if we still believed in miasma theory.
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and homeschooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and nonexistent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
Side effects are just a sign that protection is kicking in as it should.
At about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning, I woke to find my husband shivering beside me. For hours, he had been tossing in bed, exhausted but unable to sleep, nursing chills, a fever, and an agonizingly sore left arm. His teeth chattered. His forehead was freckled with sweat. And as I lay next to him, cinching blanket after blanket around his arms, I felt an immense sense of relief. All this misery was a sign that the immune cells in his body had been riled up by the second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, and were well on their way to guarding him from future disease.
Side effects are a natural part of the vaccination process, as my colleague Sarah Zhang has written. Not everyone will experience them. But the two COVID-19 vaccines cleared for emergency use in the United States, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, already have reputations for raising the hackles of the immune system: In both companies’clinical trials, at least a third of the volunteers ended up with symptoms such as headaches and fatigue; fevers like my husband’s were less common.