In Strasbourg, Franciscan Polity 101
Tomorrow, the first American Pope heads to the heart of Europe as Francis addresses the Continent's 751-member Parliament at Strasbourg.
Already, the last 20 months have revealed most of the key points the talk is likely to hit – a protest of the "idolatry of money" to which people are sacrificed and a call to reject the "throwaway culture" it's birthed; special pleas for the care of the young suffering under brutally high unemployment rates, an elderly population subjected to "cultural euthanasia" and migrants who risk their lives in hope of welcome; an emphasis on "dignity, not charity" for the poor, a better protection of the environment, peace amid a "Third World War" already ravaging the globe... and, well, you get the idea.
In any case, the talk is the first major speech Papa Bergoglio will give to a global policy-making body as a compendium of his secular worldview. In that, it immediately becomes a significant piece of Catholic social teaching and political theory as it's meant to be understood in the current context. And given the nuances of the still-new pontificate, beyond whether anything "new" shows up, one angle worth watching will be a comparison between the vision sketched by Francis and that of his predecessor – and, in particular, if and how much daylight exists between the two.
With an eye to said exercise, at least some will find it useful to return to B16's twin "grand lectures" on church and state in Western society: the now Pope-emeritus' 2010 manifesto in Westminster Hall during his state visit to the UK, and on his native soil the following year before the Bundestag (the German parliament) at the resurrected Reichstag in Berlin. As all but about six people have forgotten that these texts even exist, they're well worth a fresh read – they rank atop the landmark messages of Papa Ratzinger's reign and do not deserve to be left in obscurity.
As for Francis, meanwhile, until tomorrow's talk the most extensive summary the Pope has given of his social mind came in late October, at a global gathering of "popular movements" mobilized for the rights of workers, the suffering and marginalized. And once the Strasbourg speech is given, it'll likewise forerun at least two major wide-lens messages coming in 2015: the pontiff's planned encyclical on ecology – likely to emerge in the spring – and the speech to the United Nations in New York that, with a US visit now really-truly-finally-officially-confirmed for next September, will take place on the way to Philadelphia and the trek's climactic weekend.
Speaking of the Stateside swing, one invitation that awaits a response would, if accepted, make for the most historic moment of all: a papal address to a joint session of Congress – a forum John Paul II was offered, but declined on his lone stop in Washington during his first visit in 1979.
As Francis' English underwent noticeable improvement between his first public utterances in this tongue last year and the mid-August trip to Korea, well, it'd be less of a surprise if he accepts the turn than if he doesn't. For a determined, gut-driven Italian, it's simply too rich an offer to refuse.
On another front of things English, the Pope's recently-revamped geopolitical team now includes a well-placed Strasbourg vet: the newly-named "foreign minister," Archbishop Paul Gallagher, served as the Vatican's lead diplomat at the Euro chambers from 2001 until his transfer to war-torn Burundi three years later.
The speech is scheduled for 10.30am local time (same as Rome; 4.30 ET) Tuesday morning.