To Rush Limbaugh this smacks of socialism, but Republicans could learn many lessons from Pope Francis. Here are three: political flexibility, public communications, and personal humility.
Flexibility: Despite the church’s rigid orthodoxy, Francis has jump-started the conversation on a host of issues—without instituting doctrinal changes. For starters, he initiated an inter-church discussion of whether divorced Catholics can receive Holy Communion. “The Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect,” he said, “but a powerful medicine for the nourishment of the weak.”
He simultaneously underscored the church’s opposition to abortion (linking it directly to his concern for the weakest members of society), while downplaying the church’s opposition to gay rights. “If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” He’s made similar gestures toward atheists and Muslims.
Communications: Paul Vallely, the pope’s best biographer , notes that when asked about gay marriage or divorce—or even legalized abortion—Francis tells interviewers that they are not asking the right question. “Some interviewers will be like a terrier with a bone and stick with it,” Vallely notes. “But some will say, ‘Okay, what is the right question?’ and Francis’ reply is that the overwhelming message of the Gospel is love and compassion and including people—and that in the past, the Catholic Church has been excluding people.”
Humility: Pope Francis eschewed bright colors for white robes, and wears a simple metal cross and tells time with a plastic Swatch. He doesn’t take “selfies,” a la Barack Obama, but he does let teenagers he meets take such pictures of them together.