Pope Francis, Catholic Social Thought, and US Public Life

Georgetown University recently hosted a discussion on Pope Francis, Catholic social teaching, and US public life, featuring Emma Green of The Atlantic, Michael Gerson of the Washington Post, and Mark Shields, syndicated columnist and commentator for the PBS NewsHour. The moderator was John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. You can watch the full nuanced, thoughtful conversation here:

And here are some highlights of their remarks:

Michael Gerson

  • It is not a normal political time….We have been called to consider…who we include as members of the community, who we value and who we dehumanize
  • In the budget, almost all of the cutting is done at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable and the elderly….Just the cuts in HIV spending could cost up to a million lives
  • In many ways, it’s the Catholic moment….The country really needs the powerful personalism that the pope presents. It really needs solidarity as the basis of our politics.
  • We’ve seen the return of nativism to the center of American politics and American life
  • Right now, the policy debate on the Republican side is almost completely sterile. And that’s because they’ve blamed the wrong things and people.
  • Now we’re having an argument about whether there is a common good to serve at all
  • Catholic social thought begins with first principles and applies them; it doesn’t begin with social controversies and then react to them
  • We have a tremendous empathy deficit in America
  • People turn to the news not for information but for ammunition and to support their preexisting biases

Emma Green

  • There’s really no party that fully represents a Catholic point of view
  • Many people feel politically homeless. This is particularly true of millennials.
  • There may be coalitions emerging that we may not have been able to imagine previously
  • On the eve of the March for Life, I spoke with a young woman who spoke passionately about how much she cared in equal terms about care for refugees and the poor and care for the unborn. There is a hunger among millennials for more coherent thinking (against old culture war bifurcations)

Mark Shields

  • The Democratic Party is a top down party. The reality is the Democrats have no farm system, they have not reached out to encourage people to become part of a majority party
  • The Democratic Party right now is at risk of applying—in minority status—a litmus test, of becoming a social club.
  • You’re gonna put together a majority in the country when you’ve got a third of Democrats who are pro-life? There’s got to be room for and voices for and attention paid to people like Bob Casey and Joe Donnelly. There wouldn’t have been an Affordable Care Act without the votes of pro-life Democrats.
  • Trump is as deep as bird bath, he is criminally uncurious
  • One is America First (Trump), the other is global solidarity (Pope Francis)