Pope Francis has been brushing up on his English ahead of his arrival in Washington in September, and tickets to his U.S. events are already a hot commodity. But anyone expecting his message to be simply one of mercy and love could be in for a distinct surprise.
In his speech to a joint meeting of Congress, the pope of the poor could well deliver a harsh message for the world’s richest nation. For all the genuine warmth of his smile, his track record suggests he sees it as his job not just to comfort the afflicted, but also to afflict the comfortable. And however delicately he fine-tunes his language, the hard fact is that he believes the United States is as much a part of the problem as the solution.
For more than a century, popes have made nuanced criticisms of the free-market capitalism that drives the American dream. But Pope Francis, with an unprecedented vigor, is locking horns with much that Washington and Wall Street hold dear. Why does he take such a hard line?
In the two-plus years since his election, he has enchanted and bewildered the world in equal measure with his compassion and his contradictions. But he has also proved himself a wily and sophisticated politician. Understanding this side of Francis—capable of crafty maneuvering, unafraid of confrontation, ready to seek out unlikely allies—is essential for understanding the complicated effect he is having on American politics.