For sometime now, this question has been bandied about in the media, especially after the Pope’s historic visit to the United States. Many argue that he clearly is. The problem with this question is that it politicizes the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. And while it is not a distinctly American question, it does highlight one of the issues that many American Catholics seem to struggle with, that is, conflating their political beliefs with their Catholicism.
Catholicism, especially the social teaching of the Church, transcends myopic political categories. During his visit to the United States, and particularly in his speech to Congress, Pope Francis gave a beautiful summary of the Church’s social teaching. He highlighted the dignity of every human life at all stages; he spoke about the importance of economic development for the common good; he emphasized the need to welcome immigrants; and he challenged us to protect God’s creation. All of these issues are clearly contained in the Church’s social teaching and are very consistent with the teachings of Pope Francis’s predecessors.
The question, then, is not whether Pope Francis is a liberal or a conservative on particular issues. The question that needs to be asked is what is the Holy Spirit saying to us through Pope Francis? Maybe the very issues that Pope Francis has been emphasizing, particularly service to the poor, are the issues that Catholics in the United States have too often neglected.