Pope Francis and Selected Global Issues: Background for Papal Address to Congress

September 8, 2015 (R44184)
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On March 13, 2014, Speaker of the House John Boehner formally invited Pope Francis to address a joint meeting of Congress.1 In a press release, the Speaker highlighted how the pope's "pastoral manner and servant leadership…[has challenged] all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service."2 Francis officially accepted the invitation on January 9, 2015. The pope's address to a joint meeting of Congress is scheduled to be held on September 24, 2015.3

A joint meeting of Congress is generally held when a prominent individual, often a foreign head of state, is invited to address the House and Senate simultaneously. Because addressing a joint meeting of Congress is available by invitation only, agreement on whom to invite, and when they will speak, is generally reached between the House and the Senate. Pope Francis's address to Congress will be the fourth address by a foreign head of state to a joint meeting of Congress during the 114th Congress (2015-2016).4

Pope Francis is the first religious leader to address a joint meeting of Congress since the Queen of England (who is head of the Church of England but was not speaking in that capacity) spoke in 1991 and the first pope ever to do so. For practical purposes, this means that logistical and security arrangements will be different for Pope Francis' address to a joint meeting of Congress than other foreign heads of state due to the expected large crowds. Pope Francis' address has been designated a National Special Security Event (NSSE).5 (See Appendix A.)

This report provides a brief overview of who Pope Francis is and how his papacy is unfolding followed by a concise analysis of selected global issues on which he has focused that are of interest to the 114th Congress. The report will not deal extensively with Vatican or Catholic Church reform or the Catholic Church's role in international affairs.6

Background on Pope Francis and His Papacy

On February 28, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Ratzinger) announced his retirement from the papacy, becoming the first pope to retire voluntarily in more than 600 years. For the first time in hundreds of years, a conclave (private meeting) of cardinals was called to Rome to elect a new pope to lead the Holy See to replace a pope who was still living.

Background on the "Holy See"7

The name "Holy See" refers to the authority and jurisdiction vested in and exercised by the pope and his advisors in guiding the Roman Catholic Church worldwide. The Holy See is, in essence, the central administration of the Roman Catholic Church. Vatican City is the territorial base of the Holy See; it is a sovereign, independent territory occupying an enclave of 109 acres (about ¾ the size of the Mall in Washington, DC) within the Italian capital, Rome. Vatican City has about 800 inhabitants, most of whom are clerics but also including the Swiss Guard. There are another 3,000, mostly lay people, who work in the Vatican, but live outside it. The economy, which uses the euro, is supported mainly by worldwide contributions to the Catholic Church and also by income from investments, real estate, museum fees, and the sale of postage stamps and publications. The pope exercises supreme executive, legislative, and judicial authority over the Holy See and within Vatican City.

Under international law, the Holy See has the legal standing both to enter into treaties as the juridical equal of a state, and to send and receive diplomatic representatives. The Holy See has diplomatic relations with approximately 180 nations and is an active member of numerous international organizations. Between 1870 and 1984, the United States did not have diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Several presidents, however, designated personal envoys to visit the Holy See periodically for discussions of international humanitarian and political issues. On January 10, 1984, the United States and the Holy See announced the establishment of diplomatic relations. The Holy See maintains an Apostolic Nunciature, an ecclesiastical office of the Roman Catholic Church and the equivalent of an embassy, in Washington, DC. The nuncio serves as the ambassador of the pope.

According to the U.S. State Department,

[t]he United States and the Holy See consult and cooperate on international issues of mutual interest, including human rights, peace and conflict prevention, poverty eradication and development, environmental protection, and inter-religious understanding... the United States and the Holy See enjoy a positive relationship that serves to amplify a global message of peace, hope, and justice.8

Although there have been many areas of shared concern over the years, Vatican policy in international affairs has sometimes been at odds with that of the United States. For example, the Church criticized the first Gulf War and the 1999 NATO campaign against Serbia, and Pope John Paul II spoke out forcefully against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Holy See has generally opposed war that fails to meet its 'just war'9 criterion.

Many analysts predicted that the conclave might elect a non-European pope due to the perception that the Vatican needed reform and the Catholic Church needed a leader who reflected its growth and dynamism in regions outside Europe.10 Few predicted, however, that the cardinals would select then-76-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Cardinal of Buenos Aires, who had reportedly been a runner-up to Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005, due to Bergoglio's advanced age and to the popularity of other non-European cardinals. Bergoglio became the first non-European pope since Syrian Gregory III assumed the papacy in 741. He is the first Jesuit pope, the first Latin American pope, and the first pope to choose the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi.

Biography of Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio)11

Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born on December 17, 1936, to a family of Italian immigrants who raised him and four siblings in a working-class neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. After high school, Bergoglio worked in a chemistry laboratory before entering the seminary. He attended the Colégio Máximo, a Jesuit college where he would spend most of the next 25 years as a student, teacher, and rector.

Bergoglio took his final vows as a Jesuit in 1969. He was selected as provincial (head) of the Jesuit order in Argentina and Uruguay in 1972 at 36 years of age. Bergoglio served during a time in which Argentina experienced the return and subsequent ousting of Gen. Juan Perón, as well as a military dictatorship (1976-1983) during which thousands of people (including priests) were tortured and assassinated. Fr. Bergoglio reportedly tried to keep his order apolitical and focused on service to the poor, while secretly helping dissidents who needed shelter or a way to flee the country.12 Nevertheless, the Argentine Jesuits became divided between "progressive" priests who embraced liberation theology,13 some of whom were persecuted by the military, and conservative, often older, priests. The perception among some Argentine Jesuits that Bergoglio could have done more to protect the radical priests in the order strained his relations with many of the Jesuits.14

In the mid-1980s, Fr. Bergoglio was sent to Germany to finish his doctoral studies, but cut short his studies to return to Argentina. In 1992, Bergoglio became a bishop, and from then on his influence within the Argentine and broader Latin American Catholic Church increased. His priorities included "the poor… [improving] education, and dialogue with other Churches and faiths."15 Even after his elevation to Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and Cardinal in 2001, Bergoglio continued to adhere to his humble roots by, for instance, riding public transportation and visiting with marginalized populations. In 2007, Cardinal Bergoglio was asked to summarize the Latin American Bishop Conference's vision for the Church. He wrote of a poor Church "called to be a sacrament of love, solidarity and justice."16

Papacy of Pope Francis and Select Critiques

Because of his work with the poor, Cardinal Bergoglio took the name Francis (after St. Francis of Assisi) upon assuming the papacy. St. Francis was a 13th-century friar who dedicated himself to the poor. He is considered the patron saint of animals and the environment. He is also credited by some with launching the first Catholic-Muslim dialogue in 1219.17

As when he was Fr. Bergoglio, Pope Francis has said that he has sought to embody his namesake's outlook and pastoral focus. He (like the Franciscan order) rejected luxurious dress, transport, and accommodations and has encouraged others in the Vatican to do the same. He has reinforced principles prevalent in Catholic social teaching that have been in place since the late 19th century, which include the principles of care for nature, dignity in work, solidarity, and peace-making, as outlined in papal enyclicals (letters).18 Pope Francis has traveled to Asia and Latin America and made interreligious dialogue a priority.

Pope Francis' symbolic actions, such as washing the feet of a Muslim woman at a Holy Thursday mass in 2013, have exemplified his vision for a Church in service to the poor and marginalized, among [whom] he maintains are "certainly migrants and refugees."19 His first papal visit was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, a place where many Europe-bound migrants had died. In 2014, he wrote that children who migrate alone from poor and violent countries in Central America to the United States should be "welcome and protected."20 In response to the current refugee and migration crisis unfolding in Europe, Pope Francis has called upon Catholic parishes, religious communities, monasteries, and other entities in Europe to "welcome a family of refugees."21

Pope Francis sees the future of the Church as residing in areas such as Latin America, where 70% of Catholics are under 25, as well as Africa and Asia. In his first two years, he appointed 39 new cardinals, 24 of whom were non-Europeans. He also beatified Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out on behalf of the poor.22

Most media coverage of Pope Francis suggests that his writing, actions, travels, and use of social media may be shaping a new image for the Catholic Church, while still maintaining its dogma.23 While appealing to some, Francis' vision and approach have been opposed by some Vatican officials who are used to Rome being the center of Church power and are unaccustomed to a leader who prefers spontaneity over convention.24 His approach has also been criticized by those who maintain that the Catholic Church in Latin America in which Pope Francis ministered has not always sided with the poor, indigenous, or women.25 Pope Francis apologized for the Church's role in the European conquest during his July 2015 visit to Bolivia.26 While some find Pope Francis' limited experience outside Argentina refreshing, others suggest that his relative inexperience has opened him to being taken advantage of by some world leaders who may not share his vision on world affairs.27 Some also assert that Francis has unfairly maligned market-led economics.28

As Church leader, Pope Francis is confronted with a range of challenges, including sensitive issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, and how the Church should minister to divorced Catholics. He is responsible for administering the Church's response to the ongoing issue of sexual assault/exploitation by some priests, for which the Vatican continues to receive criticism internationally.29 He also faces what some believe is a necessary reorganization of Vatican management and finances—both of which deteriorated under Benedict—for which Pope Francis has brought in external consultants.30  In addition, he may also be forced to reckon with the significant decline in the number of Catholics entering the priesthood, a problem seen as acute in the United States and Europe, which has fed arguments by some that the Church should permit priests to marry and women to be ordained. Those in favor of creating more roles for women in the Church have been disappointed thus far by his efforts on that issue.31  

Pope Francis' Statements and Actions on Selected Global Issues

When he assumed the papacy, many analysts predicted that Pope Francis would attempt to reform the Vatican, but few predicted that he would become as active as he has on global issues.32 His prior experience living and ministering to the poor in Argentina and his humble approach to the papacy have made him a popular global figure who many view as having the credibility to weigh in on global issues.33 While not negating his moral authority as a religious leader, some analysts question whether Pope Francis should offer specific opinions on public policy issues such as the merits of free trade.34 The issues discussed below are not an exhaustive list, but rather examples meant to illustrate the range of global issues of interest to Congress on which Pope Francis has expressed views or taken action.

Pope Francis is not unique among Roman Catholic popes or religious leaders in speaking on public policy issues generally, or environmental issues in particular. For centuries, various popes have addressed social and other policy issues of the day, including socialism, nuclear weapons disarmament, labor unions, and "the Evils Of Society."35 Some have argued that Pope Francis' education as a chemist has informed his views, not necessarily on particular details of environmental policy, but on the broad philosophical approach that church views should be derived from empirical observations, previously dismissed by some as "materialism."36

Environmental Stewardship and "Integral Ecology"

Among the public policy issues on which Pope Francis has expressed views are the interconnected relationships involved in environmental degradation, economics, and public health.37 The most prominent of Pope Francis' statements is an encyclical letter published on June 18, 2015, entitled Laudato Si (Praise be to you) On Care For Our Common Home.38 (See Appendix B for more information on that document.) Congressional response to this encyclical has been mixed. Senator James Inhofe, Chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, indicated, "I disagree with the pope's philosophy on global warming."39 Senator Al Franken, with several co-sponsors, introduced a Senate Resolution that would resolve "[t]hat the Senate stands with Pope Francis and the scientific consensus that (1) human activity is the primary driver of climate change...."40

To provide context to this document, it is useful to understand what an encyclical is, and what it is not. Laudato Si appears to be directed to a broader audience than previous encyclicals, being addressed to "every person living on the planet...to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home."41 Previous Roman Catholic popes have also used encyclicals as vehicles for expressing views on environmental policy issues. (See Appendix B.)

While the encyclical has been characterized in many media accounts as focusing solely on climate change, this is one of many issues it addresses. Other issues the pope addresses in an interconnected manner in the encyclical include social justice, human rights, dignity and responsibilities of individuals, the sanctity of life, economics, and environmental pollution. The terms "climate" or "global warming" are mentioned in four paragraphs (out of 248) of the more than 100-page encyclical.42 The document's focus is broader; it speaks to "integral ecology," or the proposition that the world is not facing separate social and environmental crises, but "one complex crisis that is both social and environmental" (paragraph [ph.] 139). 43 Some observers have offered this passage as an apt summary: "What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?" (ph.160)

The diversity of topics addressed in the encyclical can be reflected in a few excerpts:

Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. (ph. 28)

The natural environment is a collective good and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. (ph. 95)

Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths. (ph. 20)

There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. (ph. 26)

Poverty and Inequality

Catholic social teaching has opposed economic systems and/or policies that exacerbate poverty and inequality.44 Pope John Paul II, a staunch anti-communist, also warned that capitalism, if not constrained by a "strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in totality (ph. 42),"45 can breed consumerism and hurt the poor. Benedict XVI wrote about individual and societal duties to promote charity and justice and expressed concern about how "the world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase (ph. 22)."46 Critics acknowledge these teachings on poverty and inequality and the Church's role in development work, but maintain that its opposition to contraception may undermine public health and anti-poverty efforts.47

Pope Francis has criticized the "cult of money"48 driving the global financial system and asserted that "the greatness of a society is found in the ways it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty." He has described how, in his view, inequality fuels violence49 and how the poor are often disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation.50 He has written and stated:

Just as the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say "thou shalt not" to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills (ph. 53).51

Pope Francis has not urged countries to adopt state-led, socialist solutions as a means to combat poverty and inequality. He has written about the corrosive corruption that many governments have exhibited.52 He has acknowledged, however, that he has not spoken as much about the challenges facing societies with significant middle class populations (such as the United States) as he has about countries with higher income inequality and proportionately larger poor populations.53

Pope Francis also has advocated for people to be given the opportunity to work, another element of Catholic social teaching. He, like other pontiffs, has urged all governments and societies to create dignified jobs that pay just wages and benefits, rather than jobs that leave individuals and their families in poverty. While meeting in Bolivia with popular movements, he said that a just economy should "guarantee the three "L's" of land, lodging, and labor." 54 In his view, "a just economy…[would enable everyone] to enjoy a childhood without want, to develop their talents when young, to work with full rights…and to enjoy a dignified retirement."55

Peace and Diplomacy

The Holy See's unique status as a recognized international entity conducting diplomatic relations with countries and international institutions has given the Catholic Church a unique position among global religions. As described by Vatican scholars, "promoting justice and peace as articulated in Catholic social teaching" is one key component of the Holy See's global agenda.56 Pope Francis has described war in general as "madness…[and] irrational."57 He has signaled, however, that at times limited force must be used in order to achieve certain aims (such as preventing large-scale human rights violations).58

Throughout history, popes have had differing degrees of success in using what they see as the Church's moral authority, impartiality, and influence over elites and public opinion to facilitate humanitarian actions and/or hasten the end of conflicts. Pope Francis, like Pope John Paul II, appears to be making diplomacy and peace-building more of a focus of his papacy than did Pope Benedict (an expert on Church doctrine who published extensively on internal Church matters). He has also stressed the importance of justice to peace, stating that "no amount of 'peace-building' will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself."59

Pope Francis' efforts have thus far met with mixed success. For example, his public use of the term "genocide" in connection with the World War I-era actions by the Ottoman Empire (Turkey's predecessor state) against hundreds of thousands of Armenians prompted a diplomatic dispute with Turkey at a time in April 2015 when Armenians were commemorating the centennial of those events.60 Some of his other forays into international peace and diplomacy issues include:

Trafficking in Persons70

The abolition of trafficking in persons, or human trafficking, has emerged as a key issue for Pope Francis. Human trafficking refers generally to the subjection of men, women, and children to compelled service for the purposes of exploitation. Under his leadership, the Catholic Church has built upon years of commitment to victim protection and anti-trafficking advocacy to engage other international faith-based communities as well as governments.

Pope Francis has repeatedly called human trafficking a "crime against humanity" and advocated for including efforts to combat human trafficking among the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. The pope has also drawn connections between human trafficking and the global plight of migrants and refugees. Some have raised questions over how Pope Francis may seek to reconcile his current anti-trafficking campaign with the historical positions of prominent Catholic figures on slavery and forced labor—an issue that has resurfaced in the context of the pope's plans to canonize Rev. Junipero Serra, founder of the Franciscan missions in California, during his upcoming visit to the United States.71

Prior to his papacy, then-Cardinal Bergoglio addressed the issue, including forced labor and sex trafficking of women and girls, in homilies.72 During his first Easter message, Pope Francis noted that "human trafficking is the most extensive form of slavery in this twenty-first century!"73 More recently, Pope Francis called on businesses to prevent human trafficking in their supply chains and consumers to avoid purchasing items "produced by exploiting others."74

At the pope's request, the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences (PAS/PASS), in conjunctions with other organizations, have hosted several conferences on human trafficking. The first of these sessions was held in early November 2013 and concluded with a statement calling for the abolition of human trafficking and identifying 42 policy recommendations.75 Other sessions have focused on topics such as child trafficking, sex trafficking, and "issues beyond criminalization."76 In July 2015, the PAS/PASS convened a meeting to address the topic of "modern slavery and climate change" with more than 50 mayors of large cities worldwide..

The Vatican has sought to address the human trafficking issue, not only through Catholic Church doctrine, resources, teachings, and charitable service organizations, but also through the establishment of interfaith networks and diplomatic channels, including through the U.S. Department of State.77 At the Vatican in March 2014, representatives of Pope Francis, Grand Imam of Al Azhar, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Holy See, and the Walk Free Foundation signed a memorandum of agreement and joint statement committing to ending human trafficking worldwide by 2020.78 Since the establishment of the Global Freedom Network, 12 leaders of major world religions, including Pope Francis, committed to the Universal Declaration Against Slavery, which reiterates the goal of eradicating human trafficking by 2020.

Pope Francis has also highlighted the issue of human trafficking as part of his official outreach through diplomatic channels. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry met Pope Francis in March 2014 and reportedly discussed human trafficking, among other issues.79 Kerry wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe about his visit to the Vatican and publicly expressed the U.S. government's commitment to working with the Holy See to address human trafficking, specifically on how "modern slavery entangles with economic and environmental concerns."80

Logistics and Security for the Papal Visit81

Congressional Logistics

The expectation of a significant number of attendees, both to the speech in the Hall of the House of Representatives and to events scheduled for the West Front of the U.S. Capitol Building, has resulted in logistical decisions not typically associated with an address by a foreign head of state to a joint meeting of Congress. Change for Pope Francis' speech has occurred in two ways: authorizing the use of the Capitol grounds, rotunda, and Emancipation Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center for events; and restricting access to the House floor during the speech.

Access to Capitol Grounds, Rotunda, and Emancipation Hall

During Pope Francis' visit to the Capitol, television screens will be set up on the West lawn of the Capitol to allow the general public to watch the speech, and the Cannon Caucus Room will be used as an auxiliary watching area for ticketed individuals.82 Tickets to watch the pope's address on the West Front steps of the Capitol and in the Cannon Caucus Room will be available through individual House Member offices.83 The Senate has not yet announced if it will provide an indoor viewing area on the Senate side of the Capitol.

In order to authorize the use of the West lawn to allow the public to watch the pope's address, the House and Senate must pass a concurrent resolution authorizing the use of the Capitol grounds.84 On May 18, 2015, the House and Senate agreed to such a resolution and authorized the use of the Capitol Grounds, the rotunda of the Capitol, and Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center for events surrounding Pope Francis' visit.85 Included in this resolution was an authorization for the Architect of the Capitol and the Capitol Police Board to "utilize appropriate equipment and services of appropriate personnel of departments and agencies of the Federal Government, under such arrangements as each may enter into with the heads of those departments and agencies."86

Access to the Hall of the House

Traditionally, when a foreign head of state addresses a joint meeting of Congress, all current and former Members of Congress, the Delegates and the Resident Commissioner, certain congressional staff, elected officers of the House and Senate, the President and the Vice-President, Supreme Court justices, and executive branch agencies heads are able to use existing access to the Hall of the House—granted by House Rules—to attend the speech.87 Attendance in the Hall of the House for Pope Francis' address, however, is anticipated to "exceed the capacity of the chamber to hold a safe and dignified event."88 As a result, on July 28, 2015, the House passed a resolution to limit the persons who will be admitted to the Hall of the House for the pope's address.89 These include:

(a) Members of Congress and Members-elect.

(b) The Delegates and the Resident Commissioner.

(c) The President and Vice President of the United States.

(d) Justices of the Supreme Court.

(e) Elected officers of the House.

(f) The Parliamentarian.

(g) The Architect of the Capitol.

(h) The Librarian of Congress.

(i) The Secretary and Sergeant-at-Arms of the Senate.

(j) Heads of departments.

(k) Other persons as designated by the Speaker.90

All other individuals who typically have access to the Hall of the House will not be admitted for this event, unless they have received appropriate credentials.

At this time, it is unknown whether President Barack Obama will attend Pope Francis' address to the joint meeting of Congress. Traditionally, the President has not attended addresses by foreign heads of state to a joint meeting of Congress, even though he has floor privileges to do so. The White House announced on March 26, 2015, that Pope Francis will visit the White House on Wednesday, September 23.91


The U.S. Secret Service (USSS), specifically the USSS's Dignitary Protection Division (DPD) within the USSS's Protection Division, is responsible for planning, coordinating, and supervising the security of the pope's address and his other two events in the United States (New York and Philadelphia). P.L. 106-544 designated the USSS as the lead federal agency responsible for NSSEs.

The USSS has stated that Pope Francis' address to Congress will follow the security protocols employed for the President's State of the Union addresses. At this time, it is unknown if President Obama will attend the address, but if he does, the USSS has stated that the only difference in security operations would be that the President's security detail will be integrated into the security detail.92

NSSE Designation

Prior to the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in January 2003, the President determined what events of national significance were designated as NSSEs. Since the establishment of the department, the DHS Secretary—as the President's representative—has had the responsibility to designate NSSEs. NSSE designation factors include the following:

NSSE Security

When an event is designated an NSSE, USSS becomes the lead federal agency in developing, exercising, and implementing security operations. The goal of these security operations is to "develop and implement a seamless security plan that will create a safe and secure environment for the general public, event participants, Secret Service protectees, and other dignitaries."96

The USSS's Dignitary Protective Division (DPD) is responsible for NSSE planning and coordinates with other USSS headquarters and field offices. Some of the coordination includes advance planning and liaison for venue and air space security, training, communications, and security credentialing.97 Additionally, DPD coordinates and conducts liaisons with other federal, state, and local agencies—primarily law enforcement entities.

Specific Security Issues Associated with Pope's Address

The USSS has stated that three back-to-back NSSEs (New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC) associated with the pope's visit to the United States has presented significant challenges. One is the increased, but as yet undetermined, cost of fencing. Typically, one fence is used for an NSSE and if there is enough time in the case of multiple NSSEs, fencing is moved from one NSSE to another. This is the case with presidential nominating conventions, when the USSS uses one fence and then transports it to the next convention. The short duration, however, between the pope's NSSEs has resulted in the USSS procuring two individual sets of fencing.98 Additionally, another factor affected by the pope's three NSSEs (and the United Nations' General Assembly in September) has resulted in the USSS relying on the increased participation of other federal law enforcement agencies and entities.99

Frequently Asked Questions on "Laudato Si' On Care For Our Common Home"100

Pope Francis published an encyclical letter on June 18, 2015, entitled Laudato Si' On Care For Our Common Home.101

Q.What is an encyclical?

A.According to the Modern Catholic Dictionary, an encyclical is a "papal document treating of matters related to the general welfare of the Church, sent by the Pope to the bishops. Used especially in modern times to express the mind of the Pope to the people." 102 The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops characterized an encyclical as "a teaching letter," 103 and noted that this one was addressed to "every person living on the planet...to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home."104

Q.Some have suggested this encyclical is about climate change. Is Laudato Si focused on climate change, or does it address other issues?

A.Climate change is discussed, but it is one of many issues addressed in the encyclical. The issues addressed in this encyclical include social justice, spirituality, the rights, dignity and responsibilities of individuals, the sanctity of life, economics, and environmental pollution included in 200,000 words, with 172 endnotes, six chapters and 248 paragraphs. While some media accounts have focused on the climate change discussion, the terms "climate" or "global warming" are mentioned 18 times in the text limited to four paragraphs of the encyclical. As one commentator recently summarized, "Reading Laudato Si' as if it were a climate-change encyclical, period, is somewhat akin to reading Moby Dick as if it were a treatise on the 19th-century New England whaling industry."105 Some observers have offered this excerpt from the encyclical as an apt summary: "What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?" (ph. 160).

Q.What did the encyclical say about climate change?

A.Excerpting portions of the encyclical risks selections that may not be representative of the breadth and depth of the document. The encyclical emphasizes the need to consider "integral ecology" and that "the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, and of how individuals relate to themselves" (ph. 141). Nonetheless, climate change is a significant issue for many in Congress106 and therefore warrants some summary here. Here are a few excerpts related to climate change and energy:

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth's orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases..." (ph. 23)

Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain. If present trends continue, this century may well witness…an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us." (ph. 24)

Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change...There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. (ph. 26)

Q.What precedent, if any, exists for Roman Catholic popes to issue encyclicals or other statements on environmental issues in particular?

A.Depending on how one defines "environmental" issues, one may observe that virtually every pope for more than a century has addressed these issues, including care for nature and natural resources as an element of church theology and doctrine. In 1963 John XXIII similarly addressed a wide range of issues in his encyclical, Pacem in Terris, but has been widely characterized as focused on nuclear arms control and natural resource conservation.107 In 1971, Paul VI referred to ecological concerns as "a tragic consequence" of unchecked human activity: "Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation."108

Author Contact Information

[author name scrubbed], Coordinator, Specialist in Latin American Affairs ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])
[author name scrubbed], Analyst in Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])
[author name scrubbed], Analyst on the Congress ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])
[author name scrubbed], Section Research Manager ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])
[author name scrubbed], Analyst in European Affairs ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])
[author name scrubbed], Specialist in International Crime and Narcotics ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])



Letter from John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, to His Holiness, Pope Francis, March 12, 2014, http://www.speaker.gov/sites/speaker.house.gov/files/UploadedFiles/3-13-14%20Speaker%20Invitation%20to%20Pope%20Francis%20-%20Joint%20Meeting.pdf.


Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, "Speaker Boehner Invites Pope Francis to Address Joint Meeting of Congress," March 13, 2014, http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/speaker-boehner-invites-pope-francis-address-joint-meeting-congress#sthash.8ImSCiVi.dpuf.


Speaker of the House of Representatives, "Pope Francis to Address a Joint Meeting of Congress," press release, February 5, 2015, http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/pope-francis-address-joint-meeting-congress.


The three other heads of state who addressed a joint meeting of Congress were Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Israel; March 3, 2015), President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani (Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; March 25, 2015), and Prime Minster Shinzō Abe (Japan; April 29, 2015). For more information on a foreign head of state addressing a joint meeting of Congress, see CRS In Focus IF10211, Foreign Heads of State Addressing Congress, by [author name scrubbed].


For more detailed information on National Special Security Events, see CRS Report R43522, National Special Security Events: Fact Sheet, by [author name scrubbed].


For more on Vatican reform, see Robert Draper, "Pope Francis Remakes the Vatican," National Geographic, August 2015; Gary Wills, The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis (New York: Viking Penguin, 2015). For an analysis of the Catholic Church and its role in global affairs, see Robert Calderisi, Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development (Great Britain: TJ International, 2013).


This section was drafted by Derek Mix, Analyst in European Affairs.


U.S. Department of State, "U.S. Relations with the Holy See," April 16, 2015.


The principles of "just war" have been addressed in Catholic theology ever since St. Augustine's writings in the fourth century CE. As outlined in a 1983 U.S. Catholic Bishops Letter and summarized in American Catholic, the theory has evolved into an effort to prevent war. Only if war cannot be rationally avoided does the teaching then seek to restrict and reduce its horrors. It does this by establishing a set of rigorous conditions that must be met if the decision to go to war is to be morally permissible in the view of the Church. See http://www.americancatholic.org/News/JustWar/justwar.asp.


Draper, op. cit.


This draws from Austin Iverleigh, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014).


Iverleigh, p. 137.


This strain of Catholic theology developed after the Latin American bishops met in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968 to adopt the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), which called the Church to be in service to the "people of God," to a Latin American context. The document that emerged from that meeting encouraged some priests to see the Catholic Church's call to serve the poor through a political lens. Many adherents of liberation theology remained peaceful even as they adopted apparently Marxist worldviews, while some took up arms in support of guerrilla movements. See Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1988). For criticism of liberation theology, see Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1984.


Pope Francis discussed those tensions and lessons he learned here: Antonio Spadaro, "A Big Heart Open to God," America, September 30, 2013. In that article, he also discussed how he has been shaped by the Jesuit order. He described how his order trains its priests to be constantly "looking at the horizon toward which he must go," find God in ordinary things, and dialogue with different types of people. Paul Vallely, "Where Pope Francis Learned Humility," The Atlantic, August 23, 2015.


Iverleigh, p. 246.


Ernesto Cavasta, "On the Trail of Aparecida," America, October 30, 2013.


John L. Allen, Jr., The Francis Miracle: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church (New York: Time Books, 2015), p. 62.


For more information, see http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/principles/documents/.


Francis, "Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 101st World Day of Migrants and Refugees (2015): Church Without Frontiers, Mother to All," September 3, 2014, available at https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20140903_world-migrants-day-2015.html.


Francis, "Message of Pope Francis on the Occasion of the Mexico/Holy See Colloquim on Migration and Development," July 14, 2014, available at https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2014/documents/papa-francesco_20140711_messaggio-movilidad-humana.html.


Ann Schneible, "Pope: All European Churches to Welcome Refugees During Year of Mercy," Catholic News Service, September 6, 2015. For background, see CRS In Focus IF10259, Europe's Migration and Refugee Crisis, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed].


Tracy Wilkinson and Tom Kington, "Pope's New Direction," Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2015.


Joan Venocchi, "Pope Francis Knows How to Direct the Spotlight," Boston Globe, June 21, 2015.


Draper, op. cit. Walter Mayr, "Where Is the Pope Steering the Church?" Spiegel online, May 29, 2015.


For historical perspective, see John Frederick Schwaller, The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond (New York: New York University Press, 2011).


Francis, "Address at Expo Fair, World Meeting of Popular Movements," Santa Cruz, Bolivia, July 9, 2015, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/july/documents/papa-francesco_20150709_bolivia-movimenti-popolari.html. Hereinafter: Francis, Bolivia, July 2015.


Stephanie Kirchgaessner, "Pope Francis Urged to Take Tougher Stance Against Vladimir Putin," The Guardian, June 10, 2015.


George Weigel, "Has the Vatican Already Forgotten the Lessons of John Paul II?" National Review, July 13, 2015.


Allen, op. cit., p. 159. Terrence Keeley, "Family Counseling," Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 2015; U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations on the Second Periodic Report of the Holy See, February 25, 2014.


Jason Horowitz, "Pope Benedict XVI's Leaked Documents Show Fractured Vatican Full of Rivalries," Washington Post, February 16, 2013.


Allen, op. cit, p. 115. Miriam Duignan, "In His Thoughts and in His Words: Francis on Women," Conscience, vol. XXXV, No. 4, 2014.


Miroff, op. cit.


In the United States, some 70% of all Americans and 90% of Catholics rated Pope Francis favorably in March 2015. David Masci, "Pope Francis' Popularity Extends Beyond Catholics," Pew Research Center, March 13, 2015.


Samuel Gregg, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina: Pope Francis and Economic Populism," The Stream, July 13, 2015.


Leo XIII, Inscrutabili Dei Consilio, Encyclical of Pope Leo Xiii on the Evils of Society (April 1878).


Thomas Reese, "Pope Francis: 'Facts Are More Important Than Ideas,' Faith and Justice," National Catholic Reporter, July 30, 2015.


Michael Gerrard, "Pope Francis on Environmental Law," Columbia Law School Sabin Center for Climate Change Law Climate Change Blog, June 22, 2015.


Francis (2015 June 18) Encyclical Letter; Laudato Si' Of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home [Encyclical letter]. Retrieved from the Holy See website: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html. Hereinafter: Laudato Si, June 2015.


Press release by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, "Inhofe Statement on Pope Francis' Encyclical on Climate Change," June 18, 2015. See http://www.epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2015/6/inhofe-statement-on-pope-francis-encyclical-on-climate-change.


S.Res. 244, "A resolution expressing the sense of the Senate regarding the 'Laudato Si' encyclical of Pope Francis, and global climate change."


Laudato Si, June 2015.


George Weigel, "The Pope's Encyclical, at Heart, Is About Us, Not Trees and Snail Darters," National Review, June 18, 2015.


The report adopts the convention of citing the paragraph source from the encyclical in parentheses, because of the lack of consistent pagination in the various versions of the document.


Living the Catholic Social Tradition: Cases and Commentary, ed. Kathleen Maas Weigert and Alexia K. Kelley (MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2005).


John Paul II, Encyclical Letter, Centesimus Annus on the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, May 1, 1991, available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_01051991_centesimus-annus.html.


Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter; Caritas in Veritate of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, June 29, 2009, available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate.html.


Catholics for Choice, Truth and Consequence, A Look Behind the Vatican's Ban on Contraception, 2008.


Francis, "Address of Pope Francis to the New Non-Resident Ambassadors to the Holy See," May 16, 2013, available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2013/may/documents/papa-francesco_20130516_nuovi-ambasciatori.html.


Joy of the Gospel, 2013, (ph. 59).


Laudato Si, 2015, (ph. 48).


Joy of the Gospel, 2013, (ph. 53).


Joy of the Gospel, 2013, (ph. 60).


James Martin, "The Pope of Mistakes," America, July 14, 2015.


Francis, Bolivia, July 2015.




The other priorities include supporting local churches and promoting religious freedom, as well as protecting and promoting the Vatican's position and interests. See Thomas Reese, Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church (New York: Woodstock Theological Center, 1996), Chapter 9.


Francis, Homily at Military Monument of Redipuglia, Gorizia, Italy, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, September 13, 2014.


During a press conference on his trip back from South Korea in 2014, the Pope said that in cases "where there is unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb "stop"; I don't say bomb, make war -- stop him." Francis, "In-Flight Press Conference of His Holiness Pope Francis from Korea to Rome," August 18, 2014, available at https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2014/august/documents/papa-francesco_20140818_corea-conferenza-stampa.html.


"Pope Francis: The Humblest Offer the World a Lesson in Solidarity," Vatican Radio, July 7, 2013.


Pope Francis, who had used the word previously while an Argentinian Cardinal, is reportedly the first pope to publicly use the word "genocide" in connection with the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. Pope John Paul II had used the word in 2001 in a joint written statement with the head (supreme) of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Steve Sherer, "Pope Sparks Row with Turkey by Calling Armenian Massacre Genocide," Reuters, April 13, 2015. For context, see CRS Report R41368, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations, by [author name scrubbed].


See CRS Report R43926, Cuba: Issues for the 114th Congress, by [author name scrubbed]; CRS In Focus IF10045, Cuba: President Obama's New Policy Approach, by [author name scrubbed].


Zeke J. Miller and Elizabeth Dias, "How Pope Francis Helped Broker Cuba Deal," Time, December 17, 2014.


For background, see CRS Report RL33476, Israel: Background and U.S. Relations, by [author name scrubbed]; CRS Report RL34074, The Palestinians: Background and U.S. Relations, by [author name scrubbed].


As a Cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio maintained close relations with Argentina's Jewish community, while also promoting religious dialogue with the country's Muslim community. During a visit to the Holy Land in May 2014, Pope Francis was accompanied by an Argentine rabbi with whom he had published a book and the head of the council of Islamic leaders in Argentina. The book is Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka, On Heaven and Earth: On Faith, Family, and the Church in the 21st Century (New York: Image, 2013). Pope Francis invited the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to pray together for peace during a visit to Rome in June 2014.


"Vatican Signs Treaty with Palestinians," VOA News, June 26, 2015. The Vatican has functionally dealt with "Palestine" as a state since the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in November 2012 changing the observer status of Palestine at the United Nations from an entity to a "non-member state." Jodi Rudoren and Diaa Hadid, "Vatican to Recognize Palestinian State in a New Treaty," New York Times, May 13, 2015.


The most recent round of U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations ended unsuccessfully in the spring of 2014.


Allen, op. cit, p.


For background, see Thomas Reese, "Why Pope Francis Supports Limited Action Against Islamic State," National Catholic Reporter, August 22, 2014; Cindy Wooden, "Time to Act: Church Teaches Duty to Intervene to Prevent Genocide," Catholic News Service, August 13, 2014.


Deborah Ball and Jonathan Cheng, "Pope Francis Reaches Out to China During South Korea Trip," Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2014.


This section was authored by Liana Rosen, Specialist in International Crime and Narcotics.


Supporters of Serra's canonization assert that he helped spread the Catholic faith to Native Americans in California, while opponents maintain that he participated in Spain's exploitation of that population. Carol Pogash, "To Some in California, Founder of Church Missions Is Far from Saint," New York Times, January 1, 2015; Thomas Reese, "Junipero Serra: Saint or Not? National Catholic Reporter, May 15, 2015.


See for example homilies from September 7, 2008, September 4, 2009, September 23, 2011.


Pope Francis, "Urbi et Orbi," March 31, 2013, https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/urbi/documents/papa-francesco_20130331_urbi-et-orbi-pasqua.html.


Pope Francis, "No Longer Slaves, But Brothers and Sisters," January 2015, https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20141208_messaggio-xlviii-giornata-mondiale-pace-2015.html.


Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences and the Federation Internationale des Associations de Medecins Catholiques, Statement on Trafficking in Human Beings, November 2013.


See for example Pontifical Academy of Sciences, "Young People Against Prostitution and Human Trafficking: The Greatest Violence Against Women," November 2014, http://www.casinapioiv.va/content/accademia/en/events/2014/youngpeople.html; Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, "Human Trafficking: Issues Beyond Criminalization," April 2015, www.pass.va/content/scienzesociali/en/events/2014-18/humantrafficking.html.


The U.S. Department of State has voiced enthusiasm for partnering with the Catholic Church on anti-trafficking efforts. It has also clarified in its most recent July 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report, however, that it does not view the pope's use of the term "crime against humanity" as implicating particular international criminal or human rights legal meanings.


James Mackenzie, "Christians and Muslims Join Forces to Combat Modern Slavery," Reuters, March 17, 2014.


"Vatican Calls Anti-Trafficking Conference," Agence France Presse, April 4, 2014.


John Kerry, Secretary of the U.S. Department of State, "Working with the Vatican Against Modern Slavery," Boston Globe, opinion, April 20, 2014.


This Appendix was co-authored by Jacob Straus, Analyst on the Congress, and [author name scrubbed], Analyst in Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy.


Dear Colleague letter from Speaker of the House John Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, July 29, 2015, at https://housenet.house.gov/sites/housenet.house.gov/files/documents/DearColleagueJointMeetingTicketAllotment.pdf.


Speaker of the House of Representatives, "Announcement on Pope Francis' Visit to the U.S. Capitol," July 8, 2015, at http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/announcement-pope-francis-visit-us-capitol.


For more information on events held on Capitol Grounds, in the rotunda, and in Emancipation Hall, see CRS Report RL34619, Use of the Capitol Rotunda, Capitol Grounds, and Emancipation Hall: Concurrent Resolutions, 101st to 113th Congress, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed].


H.Con.Res. 43 (114th Congress), agreed to May 18, 2015.


H.Con.Res. 43, §4.


House Rule IV, clause 2. See U.S. Congress, House, Constitution, Jefferson's Manual, and the Rules of the House of Representatives of the United States One Hundred Fourteenth Congress, 113th Cong., 2nd sess., H.Doc. 113-181 (Washington: GPO, 2015), §678, pp. 383-386.


U.S. Congress, House Committee on Rules, Providing for Consideration of the Bill (H.R. 427) to Amend Chapter 8 of Title 5, United States Code, to Provide that Major Rules of the Executive Branch Shall Have No Force or Effect Unless a Joint Resolution of Approval is Enacted into Law; Providing for Proceedings ruing the Period from July 30, 2015, Through September 7, 2015; and for Other Purposes, 114th Cong., 1st sess., July 26, 2015, H.Rept. 114-230 (Washington: GPO, 2015), p. 2.


H.Res. 380, §8 (114th Congress), agreed to July 28, 2015.




White House, "Statement by the Press Secretary on the Visit on His Holiness Pope Francis," press release, March 26, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/03/26/statement-press-secretary-visit-his-holiness-pope-francis.


Conversation between CRS and USSS congressional affairs on August 13, 2015.


Events attended by U.S. Government officials and foreign dignitaries may require federal interest in ensuring that the event is executed without incident and that sufficient resources are available in case of an incident.


A large number of attendees and participants increases security requirements. Additionally, larger events could possibly make the event increasingly attractive to would-be terrorists.


Some events have historical, political, and symbolic significance that may heighten the possibility of terrorist attacks. http://www.secretservice.gov/nsse.shtml.


U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, Office of Legislative Affairs, "National Special Security Events: Meeting the Counter-Terrorism Challenge" (Washington: 2006), p. 1. This document is only available by contacting the U.S. Secret Service's Office of Legislative Affairs.


Ibid., p. 2.


Conversation between CRS and USSS congressional affairs on August 13, 2015.


Ibid. For example, other federal law enforcement agencies include the U.S. Park Service Police, the U.S. Capitol Police, and the Transportation Security Agency.


This section was authored by James Werner, Section Research Manager.


Francis, Encyclical Letter; Laudato Si' Of The Holy Father Francis On Care For Our Common Home, June 18, 2015, available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html


John A Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary (Vatican: Inter Mirifica, 1999).


U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si' On Care For Our Common Home: Congressional Briefing, June 18, 2015.


Laudato Si, June 2015.


George Weigel, "The Pope's Encyclical, at Heart, Is About Us, Not Trees and Snail Darters," National Review, June 18, 2015.


Congressional interest in climate change is documented, among other places, in the following CRS reports: CRS Report R43572, [email address scrubbed], by [author name scrubbed] et al.; and CRS Report R41212, [email address scrubbed], by [author name scrubbed].


John XXIII, Pacem In Terris, Encyclical Of Pope John XXIII, On Establishing Universal Peace In Truth, Justice, Charity, And Liberty (April 11, 1963).


Apostolic Letter [email address scrubbed] (14 May 1971), 21: AAS 63 (1971), 416-417.