What the GOP Can Learn from Pope Francis

by Bob Schwartz

Pope Francis
Pope Francis has turned out to be everything his most idealistic supporters hoped for, and then some. For a bonus trick, he may be able to save the Republican Party—politically speaking.

If you’ve only seen the top-line coverage of his interview with the magazine America, or read some quotes, do read the whole thing. It is a multi-dimensional view of a simultaneously simple and complex leader of an enormous—and enormously controversial—enterprise. We are apparently just beginning to see his skills.

For one thing, he is trying to navigate a sea of reformist and conservative elements, a dynamic that has left the Church in turmoil. He is doing this by something outrageously unlike most of what we see in the “sophisticated” twenty-first century. He is leading by staying true to a bedrock of belief, in word and action, but doing it in a way that is learned, thoughtful, humble and realistic. He is stripping away an accretion of institutional and self-interest extras, genuinely trying to get back to the core that made him a priest and a Pope, that brought so many to the Church, and that so many now see forgotten and hypocritized away.

This is a near miracle, and he may be on his way to doing just that. As a bonus, if the Republican Party is paying attention, it can learn something too. It turns out that unalloyed, unconditioned ideals can be both appealing and moral, including love, compassion, humility, tolerance (see the Beatitudes for a complete list). It isn’t easy to make this work in the real world, and it will be controversial and unpleasing to some, particularly those with extreme views.

The Republican Party is in the same position as the Church. There are some core beliefs that are eminently worthy but are being lost and forgotten in layers of maneuvering, narrow-mindedness, arrogance and hypocrisy. Catholics didn’t like that in the Church, and citizens, including some Republicans, don’t like it in the party.

Right at this moment, there is no Pope Francis on the horizon for the Republicans. This may become more apparent in the next few weeks, as some Republicans continue to exhibit a thoughtless, heartless and unproductive stubbornness that flies in the face of everything the party once stood for. Then again, nobody saw Pope Francis coming either. Let’s hope, for the sake of the nation as an economic, political and moral enterprise, that the Republican Pope Francis comes along very soon.