Pope and Change 

You know the answer to these questions, but just play along.

click to enlarge Pope Francis
  • Pope Francis

Name the biggest 2015 event on Capitol Hill — the one event it was near impossible to get a ticket to attend. 

It is not close: the pope's visit.

Who said: "If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" 

If you said the pope, you win again.

Speaking to a Congress that is 31.7 percent Catholic, and within earshot of a Supreme Court with six Catholics on the bench, who said this:

"Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money, money that is drenched in blood. It is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade."

Did you answer, the pope? Right once again. Those words came from a leader with a higher approval than any American politician — a 59 percent favorable rating among the population at large.

And who called for Congress to make a courageous effort to halt "environmental deterioration caused by human activity"?

Some wild, lefty tree hugger? Well, if you consider the pope a tree hugger, yes.

On issues ranging from climate change to gun control to gay rights, the liberals in Congress found a surprising ally in 79-year-old Pope Francis.

The pope's visit was a mind-bender for the GOP, given the party's reliance on opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights, two key elements of Catholic doctrine. Those wedge social issues have stirred the Republican base since President Nixon adopted a "silent majority" strategy to defeat Democrats on issues of sexuality and race.

Pope Francis is changing the religion-politics dynamic in a way that is sure to ripple through the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.

"The contemporary world, with its open wounds, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps," the pope said to a Congress paralyzed by division.

Instead of politicians taking advantage of fear, anxiety, and anger, the pope called for Congress to engage with a "renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good."

The pope's willingness to step into Congress' big political fight over immigration reform really stung the "deport them all" caucus among Republicans.

Standing next to President Obama at the White House, who, in the face of Congressional inaction, issued an executive order shielding 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, the pope said he is "the son of an immigrant family," and was pleased to be visiting a nation "which was largely built by such families." Francis said the members Congress have to reject a "mindset of hostility" toward refugees and undocumented immigrants.

And later, speaking to America's bishops, he added: "Perhaps you will be challenged by their diversity. But know that [immigrants] also possess resources meant to be shared. So do not be afraid to welcome them."

The pope's blessing of compassionate immigration policies came as the front-runner for the Republican nomination won standing ovations for calling Mexican illegal immigrants "rapists" and later proposed a halt to the flow of refugees from war-torn Syria and a block on all Muslim immigrants.

Congressional Republicans did not publicly criticize the pope. But conservative talk radio did not hold back. Rush Limbaugh, the top-rated talk radio host, trashed the pope as a Marxist.

"We have a president and a pope who speak down to us," radio host Mark Levin said. "Whether it is immigration, whether it is poverty, frankly they do not appreciate American history."

Among the Republican presidential contenders, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic, also turned thumbs down to the pope. "I just think the pope is wrong. His infallibility is on religious matters, not political ones." 

Another GOP contender, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, said he "doesn't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope."

Republican candidates in 2016 will try their best to close their ears to what Pope Francis is saying. But Democrats have found a surprising voice to counter the conservative tendencies of churchgoers, especially evangelical Christians.

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.

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