On a stage set for a blockbuster papal endorsement of the American bishops’ religious liberty battle, Pope Francis didn’t deliver. He side-stepped the bishops’ most burning religious freedom issue — marriage — and spent more time greeting immigrants…

Still, at a moment in the Philadelphia speech Saturday when it appeared the pope was about to land a strong point related to the American debate over conscience protections for religious objectors, he pivoted to other matters, condemning the use of “religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality” and urging interfaith cooperation for peace.

Vince Miller, professor of theology at University of Dayton in Ohio, said Francis, employed “exquisite political skill,” in his speech, which Miller saw as the pope’s attempt to balance conflicting worldviews that prioritize one issue over another.

“He’s very clearly stitching these sides together,” Miller said. “He’s challenging people get out of the defensive ruts they’re stuck in.”