Bringing Pope Francis into politics

Don't expect to see him showing up at the end of any political commercials telling you he "approved this message," but politicians are nonetheless claiming Pope Francis's endorsement in this political year.

"I quoted him in my state of the state" address, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) said in an interview with Washington Post reporters Saturday during the National Governors Association annual winter meeting.

Quinn also noted that the Illinois speaker of the House Michael J. Madigan, a Catholic, cited the pope when giving his rationale for voting in favor of same-sex marriage in the legislature this past November.

The church actually opposes same-sex marriage, but Quinn is among a growing number of politicians who say the pope's larger message of inclusiveness has the potential to resonate beyond the pews to the ballot box.

Influential figures such as Francis "kind of wake us all up about the fundamental values that really count, and that's what this election campaign will be," said Quinn, who is facing a difficult reelection battle this year. "I really feel that Pope Francis is changing the world, and he can help us carry out our mission of everybody in and nobody left out. We don't want to be a society of exclusion. That's what the pope is really saying."

Quinn has frequently clashed with Chicago's Cardinal Francis George, who has criticized the governor over his support for same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

Democrats are not the only ones to appropriate the pope in their political arguments this year.

“I think every Republican should embrace the pope’s core critique that you do not want to live on a planet with billionaires and people who do not have any food,” former House speaker Newt Gingrich told the New York Times in January. “I think the pope may, in fact, be starting a conversation at the exact moment the Republican Party itself needs to have that conversation.”

Karen Tumulty is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where she received the 2013 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.
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