Pope Francis is coming to Washington soon, and he's been invited by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to address a joint session of Congress. Just as Mr. Boehner had invited the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. That's where a big difference comes in.
Unlike the conservative Mr. Netanyahu who has been an outspoken opponent of the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama Administration (largely the reason the GOP against all diplomatic protocol invited him to speak), Pope Francis has come out publicly in favor of it.
“We hope that the full implementation of [the nuclear deal] will ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme under the [treaty] and will be a definitive step toward greater stability and security in the region,” the Pope's foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, said in a statement given to the International Atomic Energy Association in Vienna. “The way to resolve disputes and difficulties should always be that of dialogue and negotiation,” he said, a possible allusion to opponents of the nuclear agreement who have called for military strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites."
The other big difference between Mr. Netanyahu and Pope Francis is that Benjamin Netanyahu is head of a foreign nation of eight million people, while Pope Francis is considered by many to be...well, infallible. He's also the titular head of 1.2 billion people, 78 million of whom are in the U.S., a fourth of the nation. Or as so many of his followers here try to describe it, "a Christian nation."
As I noted here the other day, the more liberal statements made recently by Pope Francis have caused some conservatives in the Vatican to dance around the whole "infallibility" issue and suggest that the Pope isn't infallible in all areas but that it's more a limited infallibility. But on this matter of the Iran deal, they're all united, making potential Republican criticism of the Supreme Pontiff a bit more dicey.
At the very least, even if not infallible but merely just incredibly holy, it makes it far more dicey to disagree with a Pope who's the spiritual guide for followers of Jesus Christ rather than disagreeing with the head of a foreign country trying to dictate U.S. policy.
I'm sure they'll find a way to disagree with the Pope. It's just that it'll be sort of really awkward for them. Not that there'll be any threat to them of excommunication or anything, but at the core of the Pope's curriculum vitae, right there at the top is the concept of being the foremost advocate of world peace. And of course the whole "Your Holiness" thing.
It's not clear whether Pope Francis will bring up the Iran deal in his speech before congress. I suspect he might touch on it -- after all, why travel all that way from Rome and blow the opportunity to speak on behalf of one of the really big things in your job description? -- but even if he doesn't, it's still going to be a topic of conversation during his visit across the U.S.. A big topic of conversation.
Of course, if Pope Francis doesn't talk about being in favor of the nuclear deal, it'll leave him a lot of empty time in his speech to vamp, so he might fill it instead by talking about Climate Change, which he's been outspoken about as a real and serious issue. But hey, who knows?, maybe he'll talk about both!
And who knows? Maybe excommunication is on the table...