As Pope Francis arrives for his first official visit to the United States, the pontiff has come under heavy criticism from conservatives for what some call his “liberal” agenda and what others decry as “Marxism.” The Pope has been very vocal about the interconnection between unfettered capitalism and the growing crisis of climate change, to the disgust of many far-right Americans. Those who were expecting only lip service on social issues like abortion and “religious freedom” are very disconcerted by his insistence on discussing truly significant issues, because as one of the world’s most influential religious leaders, the Pope’s progressive agenda highlights a stark contrast with the misguided priorities of the so-called evangelicals within the Republican Party.
On his flight to America, TIME sat down with the Pope to discuss that divide and address the attacks from rabid right-wingers. The Pope cleared the air and had some important words for his critics: “Some people might say some things sounded slightly more left-ish, but that would be a mistake of interpretation. It is I who follows the church … my doctrine on all this … on economic imperialism, is that of the social doctrine of the church.”
By declaring his progressive positions to be the social doctrine of the Catholic Church and thus by extension the doctrine preached by its founding prophet, he has put American conservatives, many of whom are self-declared devout Catholics, in a real bind. The outburst of fury on the side of the American Republican Party is a knee-jerk reaction to the existential threat posed by the patriarch of their religious creed; it illustrates the GOP’s false religiosity and their true devotion to the altar of hypercapitalism and the free market, their disdain for the poor and the needy, the constant catering to the rich and powerful. Watching the GOP squirm is an amusing moment for the rest of us, but we should collectively hold our breath and hope that his visit will provoke some kind of change in attitude towards the enormous threats posed by income inequality and climate change. At the present, the fierce partisanship of the right-wing stymies any hope for substantial progress until the next election, and we don’t have any more time to waste.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.