Pope Francis invited to address a joint session of Congress

This story has been updated.

Congressional leaders have invited Pope Francis to address a joint session of Congress during his expected visit to the United States next year.


File: Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Jan. 15. (Vincento Pintovincenzo /AFP/Getty Images)

Francis, who marked his first anniversary as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics today, is reportedly planning to visit the U.S. next year in order to attend a global conference on families scheduled for late September in Philadelphia. The Holy See has not confirmed the trip.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), as the constitutional officer of Congress, made the formal invitation on behalf of House and Senate leaders, according to House and Senate aides. The House speaker is the officer who formally invites the president each year to give a State of the Union address. All joint sessions of Congress occur in the House Chamber because it is the larger of the two chambers.

Aides to Boehner said he sent the invitation Thursday to officials in Vatican City. If Francis accepts the invitation, he would be the first pontiff to ever address American lawmakers from the U.S. Capitol, according to Boehner aides.

In his formal invitation, Boehner noted that Francis's ascension to the papacy and his social teachings over the past year "have prompted careful reflection and vigorous dialogue among people of all ideologies and religious views in the United States and throughout a rapidly changing world, particularly among those who champion human dignity, freedom, and social justice."

Francis's principles "are among the fundamentals of the American Idea," Boehner wrote. "And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good."

Seeking to tie Francis's statements to his own political beliefs -- as many American politicians have in the past year -- Boehner said that many of the principles Francis espouses "are undermined by ‘crony capitalism’ and the ongoing centralization of political power in the institutions of our federal government, which threaten to disrupt the delicate balance between the twin virtues of subsidiarity and solidarity. They have embraced Pope Francis’ reminder that we cannot meet our responsibility to the poor with a welfare mentality based on business calculations.  We can meet it only with personal charity on the one hand and sound, inclusive policies on the other."

Many liberals similarly claimed Francis’ words when the pope criticized those who rely on unfettered markets and believe in “trickle-down” economic theory .. which has never been confirmed by the facts.”

In a separate statement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she was pleased to join Boehner in making the invitation, adding that she has been inspired “by his message of peace, compassion, and brotherhood.”

"Whether inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, who cared for all of God's creation, or by St. Joseph, protector of the church, Pope Francis has lived his values and upheld his promise to be a moral force, to protect the poor and the needy, to serve as a champion of the less fortunate, and to promote love and understanding among faiths and nations,” Pelosi said.

Boehner and Pelosi are both Roman Catholic.

Washington Catholic Archbishop Donald Wuerl said Thursday he was “grateful” that lawmakers extended their invitation.

“This is, indeed, a high honor, one that recognizes the importance of the qualities the Holy Father embodies – a desire for peace, care for the poor, an ability to bring people together to address the needs of the suffering and marginalized,” Wuerl said in a statement. “These are values that our broken world is so in need of at this moment in history.”

Boehner is not the first political leader to invite Francis to make a stop during his U.S. tour. Already the mayor of Green Bay, Wis. has invited the pontiff to visit his city, in part because it is located near the only approved Marian apparition site in the country.

Ahead of Francis's reported trip to the U.S., President Obama is scheduled to pay him a visit in Vatican City in about two weeks.

A copy of Boehner's formal invitation appears below:

“It is with reverence and admiration that I have invited Pope Francis, as head of state of the Holy See and the first Pope to hail from the Americas, to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.

“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service.

“His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us—the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn—has awakened hearts on every continent.

“His social teachings, rooted in ‘the joy of the gospel,’ have prompted careful reflection and vigorous dialogue among people of all ideologies and religious views in the United States and throughout a rapidly changing world, particularly among those who champion human dignity, freedom, and social justice.

"These principles are among the fundamentals of the American Idea.  And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good.  Many in the United States believe these principles are undermined by ‘crony capitalism’ and the ongoing centralization of political power in the institutions of our federal government, which threaten to disrupt the delicate balance between the twin virtues of subsidiarity and solidarity.  They have embraced Pope Francis’ reminder that we cannot meet our responsibility to the poor with a welfare mentality based on business calculations.  We can meet it only with personal charity on the one hand and sound, inclusive policies on the other.

“The Holy Father’s pastoral message challenges people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties.  His address as a visiting head of state before a joint meeting of the House and Senate would honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions.  It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.

“It is with deep gratitude that I have asked Pope Francis to consider this open invitation on behalf of the Congress and the millions of citizens of the United States we serve.”

 

Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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