Pope Francis has Washington guessing before historic speech to Congress

President Obama and Pope Francis crack up.
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On Thursday, Pope Francis becomes the first pope ever to address a joint session of Congress. He is expected to promote efforts to address climate change, stand up for religious liberty, back more liberal immigration laws, plead the plight of the poor and disenfranchised, and perhaps touch on abortion, but the truth is, nobody knows what Francis will say. He will speak to a packed chamber, in halting English, standing in front of Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), both Catholic.

The pope isn't shy from voicing his opinion on controversial topics, but there's reason to believe he may be politic in Congress. On Wednesday night, Francis told a gathering of U.S. bishops that "harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor," warning that "although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing." He added that Catholic moral teaching could "fall like a house of cards" if the church focuses on abortion, marriage, and other hot-button social issues at the expense of love and mercy.

"There's a lot of interest in what the pope is saying, his outreach to the poor, the fact that he thinks people ought to be more religious," said Boehner. "He's got other positions that are a bit more controversial, but it's the pope."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.