Pope Francis arrives in Washington today for his first ever visit to the US, in a trip that has been hotly anticipated for months by the country’s 70 million Catholics.
White House officials have said the Pope will be welcomed “warmly” by Barack Obama, as the President seeks to capitalise on Francis’s popularity and highlight their “shared values”.
Francis and Obama will meet for the first time when he touches down at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, just outside Washington.
There will also be a separate reception for the Pope, attended by thousands of people, on the White House’s South Lawn on Wednesday – and at least one more meeting between the two world leaders is also expected to take place in private.
Both Obama and Francis have been described as too left-wing by their detractors, but in areas such as gay marriage, abortion and the role of capitalism, their views can be worlds apart.
With all that time to talk, what chances are there that the pair will find areas of agreement?
“It is horrific even to think that there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day. Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as unnecessary.”
- “State of the World” address, Jan 2011
Francis has nonetheless angered conservative Catholics by suggesting the church shouldn’t be “obsessed” with issues like abortion. He also announced this month that, during the coming Holy Year, all priests will be granted the power to forgive those who receive and perform abortions.
“Government should not intrude on private family matters. I am committed to protecting this constitutional right. I also remain committed to policies, initiatives, and programs that help prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and mothers, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption.”
- Statement on anniversary of Roe vs Wade, 2011
“Whether you’re a teacher, or a small businesswoman, or a nurse, or a janitor, no woman’s health should depend on who she is or where she works or how much money she makes. Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period.”
- Speech on contraception and religious institutions, 2012
"The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”
- On a visit to the Philippines earlier this year
The comments were received as a criticism of liberal views on contraception, but he later added that practising “responsible” natural birth control was OK and Catholics did not have to breed “like rabbits”.
“[This ruling] is a victory for gay and lesbian couples who have fought so long for their basic civil rights. It’s a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognized as equal to any other. It’s a victory for the allies and friends and supporters who spent years, even decades, working and praying for change to come. And this ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal we are all more free.”
- Obama on supreme court’s landmark same-sex marriage ruling, June 2015
“A marriage (made up of man and woman) is not the same as the union of two people of the same sex. To distinguish is not to discriminate but to respect differences.”
- In the Philippines earlier in 2015
Francis nonetheless also said that efforts to redefine marriage were a form of “ideological colonisation” resulting from confusing presentations of sexuality and marriage, which threaten to “disfigure God’s plan for Creation”.
“Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
- Francis saying atheists go to heaven in 2013
“We believe in the inherent dignity of every human being, a dignity that no earthly power can take away. Central to that dignity is freedom of religion, the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith if they choose or to practice no faith at all, and to do this free of persecution and fear.”
- Obama in his National Prayer Breakfast speech, 2014
"We know that human activity is changing the climate. We know that human ingenuity can do something about it. We're even starting to see that we might actually have the political will to succeed. So the time to heed the critics and cynics is past. The time to plead ignorance is surely past. The deniers are increasingly alone, on their own shrinking island."
- Obama speaking in Anchorage, Alaska earlier this month
“This is our sin: exploiting the Earth and not allowing her to give us what she has within her.”
- Francis speaking at University of Molise, July 2014
Healthcare and religious freedoms
“[The Vatican is concerned about] the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection in the United States.”
Statement issued by Vatican in May, 2014 – prompting invitation for Francis to visit the US.
“I pledged to continue to dialogue with the U.S. Conference of (Catholic) Bishops to make sure that we can strike the right balance. His (Francis’s) job is a little more elevated. We're down on the ground dealing with the often profane, and he's dealing with higher powers. I do think that there is a potential convergence between what policymakers need to be thinking about and what he's talking about.”
Helping the poor
“A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.”
- Francis in his address to the Food and Agricultural Organization, 2013
“The stereotype is that you’ve got folks on the left who just want to pour more money into social programs, and don't care anything about culture or parenting or family structures, and that's one stereotype. And then you’ve got cold-hearted, free market, capitalist types who are reading Ayn Rand and -- (laughter) -- think everybody are moochers. And I think the truth is more complicated.”
- Obama on poverty at Georgetown University, May 2015
Wealth and capitalism
“My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost,”
- Francis tweet in May, 2013
He has also hit out at “unbridled capitalism” and called it “a new tyranny” that worships “an idol called money”.
“We believe in the idea that this country does best when everybody gets a fair shot, everybody is doing their fair share, everybody has to play by the same rules. Not top-down economics. Not trickle-down economics. If we were actually to look at the evidence, it’s pretty clear whose theory of how to grow the economy and make sure American people are prospering, which theory works. We know their ideas don’t work. We remember. Middle-class economics - that works. Expanding opportunity - that works.”
- Obama speaking in February 2015.
- More about:
- Pope Francis