Opinion: Congress shouldn’t honor the pope — or anyone else

President Obama meets with Pope Francis on March 27 at the Vatican.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

Liberals sure love Pope Francis, and now they’re faulting House Republicans for not seconding their emotion. The GOP is providing only minimal support for a congressional resolution congratulating the pope on his election and offering a litany of his “inspirational statements and actions.”

The resolution was proposed by Reps. John Larson (D-Conn.) and Pete King (R-N.Y). It praises the pope for “his commitment to economic justice and improving the lives of the poor” and says that “his emphasis on humanitarian efforts to alleviate suffering serves as an inspiration to Congress and all Americans.”

Of the resolutions’ 221 cosponsors, only 19 are Republicans. An unnamed Republican supporter of the resolution told the Hill newspaper that the shaky GOP support could be traced to perceptions that Francis was “too liberal.” After all, the pope last year denounced “trickle-down economics.”


“Republicans Sink to a New Low by Stalling a Well-Deserved Resolution Honoring Pope Francis” was the headline of a column on the Huffington Post by H.A. Goodman. Goodman urged Republicans to “put their childish partisanship aside” and “honor a man who has done a great deal for the image of not only the church, but of Christianity in the world today.”

Hmm. If it’s partisanship that explains the Republicans’ lack of enthusiasm for the resolution, that suggests the pope has espoused views that are inconsistent with their political philosophy. If that’s the case, why should they heap praise on him? To curry favor with Roman Catholic voters?

Actually, the best argument against the resolution has nothing to do with whether Francis is or is not an inspiring figure. (I think he is.) It is that Congress should concentrate on passing bills that actually accomplish something, as opposed to throwing bouquets.

Nonbinding congressional resolutions have a long history, and though they aren’t explicitly authorized in the Constitution, an expert on the separation of powers told me that they can be teased out of the speech and debate clause of Article I, Section 6.

But these resolutions are a waste of time — and there are a lot of them. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is pretty typical of her colleagues in using resolutions to salute constituents and nonconstituents alike. Along with substantive legislation, the California Democrat has sponsored resolutions to honor cancer researchers, charities that serve children, Oracle Team USA for winning the 34th America’s Cup and Drug Enforcement Administration agents on the 40th anniversary of the DEA.

Nonbinding resolutions are the congressional equivalent of a “Like” on Facebook, although some are also designed to influence policy. That was the case with a resolution expressing support for Israel passed by the Senate on July 17, the same day Israel launched a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. (Whether that resolution undermined the president’s authority to conduct foreign policy is another matter.)


But even resolutions about serious issues stretch the notion of Congress as a legislative body. We elect members of Congress to pass laws, not to endorse good causes or bestow the thanks of a grateful nation on worthy citizens, scientists, sports figures and spiritual leaders. (If that’s anyone’s job, it’s the president’s. Don’t worry — Barack Obama is on the case.)

I suspect the last thing Francis is concerned about is whether he receives the blessing of the U.S. Congress. Maybe, in the spirit of the man who has downsized the papacy, members of Congress should exhibit some humility and concentrate on making productive use of the “legislative powers” vested in them by the Constitution.

Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3