May 1, 2015
When Pope Francis comes to the United States in late September, chances are good that he will arrive in the middle of a bitter, highly politicized national debate on same-sex marriage and religious liberty.
That suggests several large questions for the papal visit. Should the Pope say anything about these high-voltage issues? Given the circumstances, how could he responsibly fail to do that? But if he does say something, what should it be?
Note that this trip will take place just three months after a Supreme Court decision expected to expand the reach of same-sex marriage in the U.S. Although it would be rash to predict exactly what the court will say in late June, it’s likely to do what so far it has stopped short of doing—extend the mantle of constitutional protection to gay marriage everywhere in the country.
If so, conflict will intensify over whether individuals and groups with conscientious objections to cooperating with same-sex marriage will also receive legal protection. The blowback lately over a religious freedom measure in Indiana spotlighted the ugly fact that many Americans—by no means only self-identified civil libertarians and gay rights activists either—see no contradiction in advancing the new regime of gay marriage while trampling on the religious rights of objectors.