This Group Is Upset By The Pope's WH Guest List

by Chris Tognotti

As you may have heard, the leader of the Catholic Church is coming to town. Pope Francis will be touching down in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, following a visit to Cuba (he was reportedly an instrumental go-between in the normalization effort between America and the long-embargoed socialist state in 2014). And despite the fact that conservatives can be fond of their Christian icons (the religious right, and all that), Francis' somewhat progressive philosophies are causing angst — as is who'll be at the White House to greet him. Basically, some conservatives are riled by the Pope's guest list, although they're making a lot more noise about it than he or the Vatican seem to be.

It's important to remember that there's already some considerable friction between some right-wing Catholics and members of the American religious right and the Pope, by virtue of his conciliatory tone on some social issues. Tone and practice are very different things, of course, and in practice he's been fairly conventional. But that's still a big change from the traditionalist, staid trappings of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. As prime examples, Pope Francis has been out front on the urgency of climate change, which a staggering percentage of American conservatives don't even believe in, as well as being highly critical of the "idolatry of money."


If you had to bet hard money which of the Republican presidential nominees took to Twitter to blast the White House's choice of guests for the historic papal visit, who would you pick? Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, Jeb Bush Marco Rubio, or Bobby Jindal are all Catholics themselves, but you likely won't be surprised by one of the most pointed remarks. It's former Arkansas Governor and Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee, who's been effectively using faith as his entire campaign platform. He criticized the guest list as "classless" and "anti-Christian."

So what's the trouble? It's effectively outrage on behalf of the Pope and the Vatican, in spite of the fact that there have only been a couple anonymous sources voicing the former's displeasure. On the record, everything is fine. Basically, some people are upset that there will be guests at the White House whose personal views or endeavors run counter to some traditional Catholic norms — gay Catholics like Aaron Ledesma, for example, or nun and social justice advocate Susan Campbell. Eugene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in Catholic history, is also on the list, as are transgender activists Mateo Williams and Vivian Taylor (the former a Catholic and the latter an Episcopalian).


It's a new tack from America's religious right, which has had a rather fraught relationship with Francis throughout his brief tenure. When they're not defending him from the apparent horror of a few dissidents in the crowd, they're attacking him lustily over climate change, as well as a possible slackening of Catholic rules on divorce and communion. Some of it is pretty hysterical — far-right radio host Michael Savage hates Francis so much that he conspiratorially accused him of being "hand-selected by the New World Order," as Media Matters detailed.

In short, the simmering hostility around all this is kind of understandable. Many conservatives aren't just irked by the guest list so much as the fact that the new Pope seems so unfamiliar and unpredictable relative to the old guard. For what it's worth, considering that this is the guy with enough humility to wash prisoners' feet, a little dissent in a room probably isn't going to be a problem.