The Institute of Politics and Public Service hosted Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and IPPS Fellow Luis Fortuño (R-Puerto Rico) for a dialogue on the political implications of Pope Francis’ Congressional address to a crowd of around 60 people in McCarthy Hall on Friday.
Promoted as a conversation between both Democrat and Republican Catholic politicians, the dialogue centered on Pope Francis’ theme of seeking bipartisan solutions to address ethical issues.
Director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life John Carr moderated the discussion. He began by recalling that when John F. Kennedy ran for president, he was criticized by other important politicians because he was Catholic and they worried he would be influenced by the pope.
“Now, it seems like the only thing the Democrats and Republicans agree on is they need advice from this pope,” Carr said.
When Carr asked the panelists what areas of the pope’s speech most resonated with them, both Kaine and Fortuño mentioned the pope’s affirmation of American service.
“It is important to look at what our personal responsibilities are, and I believe he admires that of our nation, but at the same time he feels that we have a social responsibility as well,” Fortuño said. “It’s a dual responsibility; it’s not only one or just the other — it’s both.”
Kaine agreed and highlighted the pope’s encouragement of both the public and Congress to accept greater social responsibility.
“[Members of Congress] contribute to a denigration of the entire enterprise [of politics] and a lowering of expectations,” Kaine said. “But his speech was to set high expectations, and not only for us, but through us to the American public.”
Carr continued by asking about the challenges Pope Francis posed to Washington politics and partisan divides. One issue Fortuño highlighted was the difficulties regarding immigration.
“The greatest challenge, and a challenge that he has thrown back at the European leaders as well, with the migrant crisis that is actually overcoming many cities in Europe, is that we also have a responsibility in our hemisphere with our own migration issues and how to deal with it,” Fortuño said.
Kaine pointed to how the vote to defund Planned Parenthood was timed for the papal visit, and how the pope’s words could influence future negotiations.
“The challenge is how to grapple with the church’s teachings about sexuality and reproductive rights and contraception and abortion,” Kaine said. “To what degree are those doctrines about our personal behavior and to what degree are those doctrines about what laws we should pass for people who are in different churches and have different traditions?”
Kaine also referenced the Catholic doctrine on the sanctity of life in terms of his role on the Armed Services Committee and the decision to sell weapons to Egypt.
“If they’re using them against political opponents,” Kaine said. “I mean, are we giving them arms for money that’s ‘drenched in the blood of the innocent?’”
Later in the discussion, Carr raised the question of how politics and morality are connected and what may possibly result from the pope’s call for cooperation .
Fortuño went on to discuss his belief that the pope’s visit played a pivotal role in Speaker of the House John Boehner’s decision to resign in October. Fortuño expressed hope that the resignation will improve political dialogue in Congress over the next few weeks, with the government shutdown approaching.
Kaine also addressed the sentiment that both parties were committing sins of omission when handling issues regarding migrants, particularly in the context of the Syrian refugee crisis. Kaine touched upon the debate over whether or not the U.S. should become further involved in the Syrian Civil War.
Richie Mullaney (COL ’18), a member of the Georgetown University College Republicans, attended and spoke about the importance of listening to the pope’s call for bipartisan collaboration.
“What I think is so important for conservatives to recognize is the universal theme of Pope Francis’ papacy,” Mullaney said. “That they’re not partisan goals that Pope Francis is advocating for, that they’re universal goals and that we shouldn’t be worried about whether to achieve his ends, but rather the means to achieve them. I think that once we recognize that Democrats and Republicans can agree on Pope Francis’ goals, then we can debate about how we get there.”
President of the Georgetown University College Democrats Matthew Gregory (SFS ’17) agreed and noted the unifying nature of the pope’s call to action.
“When you look at a visit of someone like the pope coming in and treating these as moral issues rather than political [ones],” Gregory said, “it really allows us to reevaluate some of the things that have brought us apart, both Democrats and Republicans and within the Democratic Party.”
IPPS Executive Director Mo Elleithee said the event was intended to look at the combination of varying faiths and political views, especially given the Jesuit values of the university.
“People practice their faith differently in their lives and public officials are no different,” Elleithee said. “To be able to put those pieces together, and I think Georgetown is uniquely positioned to be able to do that because faith is part of our DNA here at Georgetown, I think it does help give people a window into what makes the people that make the system work.”