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Why does Pope Francis back liberal causes directly, conservative causes subtly?

Pope background

Pope Francis challenged Americans of both liberal and conservative political sympathies in his historic address to Congress on September 24. But his objections to conservative stands were clear and direct, while his criticism of liberals subtle and oblique. Why?

The Holy Father made no bones about his opposition to the death penalty, his support for immigration, and his concern about climate change. His strong statements on those topics will headline news coverage of the speech. Since it was, after all, a speech to a political audience—there’s nothing more political than a gathering of Congressmen—it is not unfair to consider the political impact of the Pope’s remarks.

On the whole, judging from the early responses, it seems that Catholic liberals were pleased with the Pope’s speech; Catholic conservatives were frustrated. Both groups, I submit, have reason to reconsider their initial reactions.

While the “money quotes” were about immigration and the death penalty, the general tenor of the Pope’s remarks should have been unsettling to liberal listeners. The Pontiff himself said that concern for the family would be a “recurrent theme” of his visit to the US, and when he lamented that “the very basis of marriage and the family” is being called into question, he was obviously referring to (among other things) the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

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