TIME Pope Francis

What Pope Francis’ Abortion Announcement Really Means

It fits his pastoral approach to the papacy

Pope Francis announced Tuesday that all priests will have the authority to absolve the Catholic sin of abortion during the upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will begin Dec. 8.

It is a bold move, and a spiritual one. Pope Francis is not addressing politicians. He is providing guidance to his Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization as he prepares the Catholic Church for a year of intentional mercy designed to foster spiritual renewal.

Pope Francis’ offer is also not new — it widens a common Catholic practice. Traditionally bishops are the ones who have the authority to grant forgiveness for certain grave sins like abortion, and they have in the past also shared that power with priests. As the top bishop, the Bishop of Rome, Francis is making that practice as wide as possible during the Jubilee Year.

Forgiving abortion is not the same as saying abortion is now acceptable: forgiveness implies a turning of heart, with the goal of change. Pope Francis made this clear in his papal bull announcing the Jubilee Year in April. “This is the opportune moment to change our lives! This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched! When faced with evil deeds, even in the face of serious crimes, it is the time to listen to the cry of innocent people who are deprived of their property, their dignity, their feelings, and even their very lives,” he wrote. “To stick to the way of evil will only leave one deluded and sad. True life is something entirely different. God never tires of reaching out to us. He is always ready to listen, as I am too, along with my brother bishops and priests.”

The Vatican made this clear again Tuesday after the Pope’s letter was announced. “Forgiveness of the sin of abortion does not condone abortion nor minimize its grave effects,” Father Thomas Rosica, the Vatican’s English-language press assistant, explained to reporters in an email. “The fact that this statement is coming from the Pope and in such a moving, pastoral way, is more evidence of the great pastoral approach and concern of Pope Francis.”

While the news spread quickly Tuesday, focusing solely on abortion misses the bigger picture of what Pope Francis is trying to do. Before he even mentioned indulgences for abortion in his letter, Pope Francis specifically addressed groups of people that can be easy to overlook — the sick, the elderly, the deceased, and the incarcerated — and directed special care be given to them during the Jubilee Year. His attention to those in prison is particularly noteworthy, as he imagines ways for them experience entering a church symbolically. “May the gesture of directing their thought and prayer to the Father each time they cross the threshold of their cell signify for them their passage through the Holy Door, because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts, and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom,” Pope Francis writes.

The move is also about the importance of the act of confession itself, and creating an environment of openness and safety in the church for people to confess. Abortion divides — it divides families, partners, communities, politics. In the Catholic Church, it also keeps people from experiencing the full communion of the church and being able to participate with others in church life. Confession for Catholics can be an opportunity for healing in a way that mere punishment prevents. The Pope’s goal is to bring people together, and confession is a way to experience reunion.

Confession itself is an act of utmost spiritual importance for Pope Francis. Francis has made confession central to his personal pastoral style from a young age, and even not in church contexts. Austen Ivereigh, one of Pope Francis’ biographers, tells the story in his book The Great Reformer about how Francis, then Jorge Bergoglio, disciplined one of his students when he taught secondary school decades ago. The student, Roberto Poggio, had slapped a younger boy during a sports game. “Bergoglio asked him to come to a classroom at a particular time,” Ivereigh recounts. “When he got there, he saw ten of the his friends sitting in a circle and Bergoglio sitting off to one side. ‘He told me I should tell my friends in detail what happened, and it became something that stuck with me for life. They were understanding, they gave advice, and somehow I felt as if a load been lifted from me — I felt no reproach or criticism from them,’ Poggio recounted.”

It is another reminder that Francis is a Pope with a purpose. He is structuring his mission to be pastoral and healing for all people, and especially those that the Church and society marginalize.

Read next: The Top 4 Misconceptions About Pope Francis

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TIME ted cruz

Controversial Award Moved From Ted Cruz Event in Arkansas

Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) shakes hands with supporters as he emerges from the Cruz campaign bus for a rally in a field behind Sprayberry's BBQ in Newnan, Ga., on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015.
Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call,Inc. Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) shakes hands with supporters as he emerges from the Cruz campaign bus for a rally in a field behind Sprayberry's BBQ in Newnan, Ga., on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015.

A Republican lawmaker in Arkansas will no longer be given a “Power of Courage” award at an event headlined by presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz Wednesday after a controversy arose because he re-homed two adopted girls to a man now serving a 40-year sentence for crimes against children.

State representative Justin Harris, also the owner and founder of Growing God’s Kingdom Preschool, and his wife adopted two girls in 2013 but then gave them to another family, where one of the children was sexually abused. The case has been investigated by the Arkansas Times, which first reported the re-homing in March.

Harris, the Times reported, “said that the girls, then ages 3 and 5, were dangerously violent and had posed a threat to his biological sons.” The Times‘ report also says that “the legislator and his wife believed their adopted daughters were demonically possessed and enacted harsh punitive measures within their home in an attempt to combat this supposed supernatural influence.”

The award is one of twelve Courage Awards that the Family Council is presenting this summer, each going to a lawmaker who sponsored a bill that the group championed during the recent legislative session. Harris will receive an award for legislation to tighten parental consent laws for minors who seek an abortion.

Harris will still receive the award but not at the event Cruz will attend. “We will present the awards at a venue chosen by the recipients at a later date,” says Jerry Cox, president of the Family Council Action Committee, the nonprofit advocacy group presenting the award. “The organizers at the event asked us if we would not present the awards at the event. They felt that they did not want any necessary distractions.”

Cox says the decision to move the award came after it began to be connected with re-homing story. “The two don’t have anything to do with each other,” Cox says.

The Family Council is not related to the similarly named Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., led by Tony Perkins and until recently Josh Duggar, but Cox described them as “fellow travelers on the same road.” Cox’s Family Council focuses on issue advocacy and does not endorse political candidates.

TIME jeb bush

Hillary Clinton Criticizes Jeb Bush Remarks on Women’s Health

Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks to workers at Thumbtack on July 16, 2015 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush speaks to workers at Thumbtack on July 16, 2015 in San Francisco, California.

He later said he misspoke

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was trying to defuse Democratic criticism of defunding Planned Parenthood Tuesday when he accidentally opened up a new line of attack.

During an interview at a conference of Southern Baptists, Bush called for defunding Planned Parenthood, then tried to counter the expected Democratic arguments against it by suggesting the money could be redirected to other community health organizations.

But mid-thought, he stopped to muse that the federal government might not need to spend as much as it does.

“The argument against this is … it is a war on women and you are attacking women’s health issues,” he said. “You could take dollar for dollar—although I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues—but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinarily fine organizations, community health organizations that exist.”

That parenthetical thought bounced around on Twitter, where Clinton responded.

Some conservatives also criticized Bush for giving Democrats an easy opening.

On Monday, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican proposal to defund Planned Parenthood, although some GOP senators have vowed to find other ways to strip the organization of the more than $500 million in federal funding it receives to help run around 700 health clinics. Some have even suggested a government shutdown to force the issue.

Bush did not say whether he’d back a shutdown, instead saying he prefers “regular order.”

“I don’t know how many times we have had government shutdowns and budgets not passed,” he said. “If I am president we are going to respect the Constitution and get back to regular order way where democracy works again, where you submit a budget and you work with Congress, you pass a budget, and in that budget I can promise you there will not be $500 million going to Planned Parenthood.”

The debate has come after a series of undercover videos released by a group of anti-abortion activists showed Planned Parenthood officials and others who work with the organization discussing fetal tissue donation. Republicans argue that the videos show the organization breaking federal law, while Planned Parenthood says they are deceptively edited and merely show officials discussing legally permissible reimbursements for minor costs.

The Bush campaign issued a clarification early Tuesday evening which said that he “misspoke” and that he supports fully funding the “countless community health centers, rural clinics and other women’s health organizations” that serve low-income women.

“I was referring to the hard-to-fathom $500 million in federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood – an organization that was callously participating in the unthinkable practice of selling fetal organs,” Bush said in the statement.

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio Face an Evangelical Test

2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush addresses central Florida pastors at a meet-and-greet hosted by the Centro Internacional de la Familia church in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, July 27, 2015.
Orlando Sentinel—TNS via Getty Images 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush addresses central Florida pastors at a meet-and-greet hosted by the Centro Internacional de la Familia church in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, July 27, 2015.

Two days before the first Republican presidential debate, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio face a different popularity test: 13,000 evangelicals in Nashville.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm, will interview Bush on stage Tuesday afternoon at the Send North America conference, one of the country’s largest summer church gatherings. Moore will also show a video of an interview he pre-taped with Rubio. Other leading presidential candidates, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were invited to participate, Moore’s team says, but only Bush and Rubio accepted the invite.

The Send North America Conference is not a political event. It is a missions conference, hosted by the Southern Baptist Convention’s mission boards, and a forum for evangelicals and Baptists to deepen the ways they evangelize, even if they are not pastors or professional missionaries. Most presentations have nothing to do with politics. Keynote speaker pastor J.D. Greear of The Summit Church in North Carolina, for example, gave a keynote speech exploring how his church aims to start 1,000 new churches by 2050. Only 10% of conference participants are pastors, and more than two-thirds are male.

Moore, who has been an advocate in the recent push to defund Planned Parenthood, is hosting the interview at a missions conference so evangelicals can decide how to make presidential politics part of their own personal Christian mission.

“These candidates are not coming as speakers on Christian theology or mission, but our mission as Christians includes both personal evangelism and also public justice,” Moore wrote on his blog. “We are Americans, yes, but we are not Americans first. We are citizens too of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, and we wait not for a president but for a King.”

It is a more indirect approach to evangelical engagement from both Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s Response Rally in January, which more overtly blended his political and spiritual goals, and from the Values Voter Conference hosted by the Family Research Council in September. Instead it echoes, on a smaller scale, evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren’s 2008 debate between Sen. John McCain and then-Sen. Barack Obama, hosted at his Saddleback Church.

Bush, a Catholic, has been wooing Christian conservatives behind the scenes for months. He sat down with Moore more than 15 months ago in Miami to talk about evangelical concerns. In April he spoke to Hispanic evangelicals about immigration at the invitation of pastor Samuel Rodriguez Jr., the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, whose board Moore recently joined. Rodriguez also called Rubio’s candidacy “a testimony of God-fearing, hard-working, family-loving, freedom-advancing Americans of Hispanic descent” when he announced his White House run, but later questioned his conviction on immigration.

Despite the candidates’ focus on reaching evangelical leaders, one group of evangelicals may less accessible, if only because there are fewer of them present for the conversation they want to have—women. Just 30% of the Send conference participants are women, and only two of the event’s 37 featured speakers are women. The day after Send, Moore is hosting a one-day conference on evangelical political engagement, and there again are only two women in the lineup of 17 keynote spots, Jennifer Marshall, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation, and Karen Sallow Prior, an English professor at the evangelical Liberty University.

Demographically, the divide makes sense, as only men can hold top pastoral positions in the Southern Baptist Convention tradition, but it could make the conversation over hot-button issues such as abortion more charged.

TIME Pope Francis

What the Pope’s Left Hook in Bolivia Means

Pope Francis’ speech in Bolivia on Thursday will likely go down as one of the most significant moments of his July trip to Latin America. In a poetic, 55-minute manifesto, Pope Francis called for economic justice for the poor in some of his strongest language yet.

“You are social poets: creators of work, builders of housing, producers of food, above all for people left behind by the world market,” he told a crowd of Bolivian indigenous workers, farmers, and social activists. “You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three “L’s” (labor, lodging, land) and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels. Don’t lose heart!”

From afar, the words make it sound like Pope Francis is rallying at the barricades from the stage of Les Misérables. Throw in the fact that Bolivian President Evo Morales presented the Pope with a hammer-and-sickle crucifix, and it seems even socialist.

But context matters. Pope Francis did not give this speech while talking to the U.S. Congress or even in front of the United Nations. He was speaking in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America. He was also standing in front of Morales, an Aymara Indian who was wearing a jacket with a picture of Ernesto “Che” Guevara who is the country’s first president to come from its indigenous majority. And he was doing it on his first visit to a country that has had a troubled relationship with the Catholic Church of late.

Under Morales’ administration, relations with church officials have been strained. Nearly 90% of Bolivians were raised Catholic, according to the Pew Research Center, and yet Morales’ government has sought to limit the Church’s power. Bibles and crosses were removed from the presidential palace when he took office in 2006, and a new constitution later declared the country a secular state. Meanwhile 60% of current Protestants in Bolivia say they were raised Catholic, also according to Pew, highlighting Catholic concerns of an evangelical exodus from the faith in the region.

Francis’ apology for Church oppression of indigenous people in the colonial period has particular meaning in this political context. Francis went off script in his apology, making very clear his efforts at reconciliation to set a stage for a future reconciliation. “I also want for us to remember the thousands and thousands of priests who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the cross,” he said. “There was sin, and it was plentiful. But we never apologized, so I now ask for forgiveness. But where there was sin, and there was plenty of sin, there was also an abundant grace increased by the men who defended indigenous peoples.”

For his part, Morales was happy to use the occasion of the Pope’s visit to score a few political points of his own. He used the visit to say on Thursday that he has been seeking a meeting with President Obama, whom he called an imperialist at the U.N. in November. Bolivia’s diplomatic ties with the U.S. broke in 2008 when the country expelled both the U.S. ambassador and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Bolivia is one of the world’s largest producers of cocaine. The Pope’s role in brokering the U.S.-Cuba détente was clearly on his mind, and he tellingly gave credit only to the Pope and Cuba. “It is no concession of Obama’s, but the triumph of the Cuban people and the world as a whole,” he said. For him, then, Pope Francis could be a valuable link between Bolivia and the United States.

In the end, the speech is a reminder that Pope Francis is increasingly a political player in a multi-level game of chess. His power and sway holds particular importance for countries in Latin America, who champion him as the first pope who is actually theirs. The push and pull with Morales tests just how much of a free agent Francis really is.

That outcome also carries particular weight as the world waits to see how Pope Francis will handle his first trip to the U.S., the world’s capitalist superpower, especially looking ahead to his address to a joint session of Congress. There, conservatives continue to raise questions over how close the Pope’s ties to socialism actually are, and whether they approve of his critique of capitalism.

Former ambassador Otto Reich, President George W. Bush’s Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, says Pope Francis’ economic and political agenda in his trip to Latin America has gone too far. “This pope grew up in a third world country that frankly is an example of what happens when you don’t have capitalism and democracy,” Reich says. “I was very optimistic when he was named and I have been extremely disappointed in the political and economic aspects of his papacy. … He’s a victim of third world education, and Argentina is a particularly sad example.”

With reporting by Massimo Calabresi.

TIME Dalai Lama

Exclusive: The Dalai Lama Talks About Pope Francis, Aging and Heartbreak With TIME

Britain Dalai Lama
Matt Dunham—AP The Dalai Lama stands on stage before making a speech to an audience at the ESS Stadium in Aldershot, England, on June 29, 2015

On the morning of his 80th birthday

On Monday, the morning of his 80th birthday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sat down with TIME in Anaheim, Calif. The Tibetan spiritual leader shared his advice on growing old and mending a broken heart and talked about maybe meeting Pope Francis. Below are excerpts from the conversation, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The gap between the Tibet cause in exile and the situation on the plateau is widening. Some say that your message — which is so cheerful, hopeful, and, as we see here in Anaheim, appeals to upper-middle-class Westerners — is so counter to the situation on the ground in Tibet, where some feel that the exile government isn’t doing enough for Tibetan Buddhists themselves. How do you see that tension, and its future?
It seems that regardless of how much censorship they impose, the people in Tibet do seem to be able to get the news … Inside Tibet, is physically distant … but there’s a few who get some information, then that spreads … There are organizations, their main responsibility is to look after the Tibetan refugee community, their education, and also the way for preservation of our own culture, mainly, and monastic institutions, to carry our tradition and culture — I think quite sophisticated knowledge about the tradition. So then we are not representing, directly, inside Tibet. We have no direct responsibility like that, so by the way, say in our last, I think, 30 years, many Tibetans have the opportunity to come to India and join our school. … So then after they get some education level, they return, they carry [that] inside Tibet … Then these people now carry the main responsibility for teaching … More of these connections are taking place on the personal, individual level, organic process, not so much through the centralized institution.

You have not yet met Pope Francis, correct? If you could have a meeting with Pope Francis, what would you want to talk with him about?
Yes, not yet … Recently he also has been showing genuine concern about the environment. Wonderful. A spiritual leader should speak — these are global issues. So I admire [him].

MORE: Pope Francis Urges Climate-Change Action in Encyclical

How do you find sense of purpose as you age, especially if you live in a Western society that values youth?
I believe in also telling people, when you are young is its own special beauty, doing active things. Then, getting older, its own beauty, more experience to share with other people. One time in Sweden, I noticed, one small group of people, they have some kind of program, those retired people should take more active role taking care of young children. I think that is very good. Old people play, mixing with young children, the old people themselves feel something fresh. Sometimes, children see more love with grandparent rather than parent, that also happens. So I think children may do not attraction external beauty, old people, no longer any beauty, but smile, play, make joke, some sort of short stories, then children looked at. So if you age but then still feel bitter because you are not able to lots of things you could do when you were young, that is total, silly, unrealistic. Of course, the wider experience, the young people, youth, cannot do that — not yet.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in love, but I’m wondering — how do you heal a broken heart?
Actually, you see, practice celibacy … If you look at the nature of strong attachment, underlying that strong attachment is a clinging, grasping, and if you look at other reactive emotions that arise, actually it is strong attachment that underpins hatred, anger, jealousy, and so on, so if you somehow are able to look at this and recognize that a large part of the reception is perception, that could lose some of this strong grasping. I always remember, in a dream, if … a beautiful woman or something like that, I remember I am a monk. It is very helpful.

And if you aren’t a monk?
I think the desire for sex goes extreme, always creates some trouble. So that I think, in Western culture, there is a lot of emphasis on sensuality, and sexuality is part of that.

TIME faith

Inside Pope Francis’ U.S. Trip Schedule

Vatican Pope Francis'
Massimo Valicchia—NurPhoto/AP Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican City, on June 24, 2015.

The schedule says a lot about Pope Francis' focus

Pope Francis’ schedule is almost always a political document. Everyone wants a piece of it, especially when it comes to his upcoming September trip to the U.S. The White House and Congress, not to mention outside groups, have been lobbying for months to try to influence his agenda. On Tuesday morning, the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released the official schedule for the trip. Predictably, it is packed. Pope Francis will visit Cuba and the U.S. from Sept. 19-28—four days in Cuba, five in the U.S—and give a total of 26 addresses, 18 of them in the U.S.

The world has known the big-ticket items for months—a meeting with President Obama, an address to the U.S. Congress, a talk at the United Nations, and a mass in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. But the other events hold just as powerful a message. The logistics are often the key to understanding the entire agenda—where Pope Francis is, who he is with, where he is coming from and where he is going next say as much about his message as his words themselves.

This schedule shows the Pope’s diplomatic acumen from the start. Pope Francis comes to Washington only after giving first dibs to Cuba, an island that the U.S. had blackballed economically until he intervened in December. And, Pope Francis will fly directly from there to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington DC, symbolizing the new link he helped to forge between the two nations.

Once he has arrived in the U.S., Pope Francis establishes a pattern—he links political events with pastoral ones. His first full day in Washington, the Pope will meet with Obama at the White House, and then leave to hold midday prayer with the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. It is tradition for the pope to gather the bishops when he visits, and leaving the White House for a church shows the value Francis places on the work of the church and its leaders.

The next day, immediately after speaking to the U.S. Congress, he will visit Catholic Charities, the social outreach ministry of the Archdiocese of Washington, which does extensive work to serve the area’s poor, homeless and immigrant communities. The juxtaposition is a not-so-subtle hint about who Pope Francis hopes political leaders will be—politicians who serve the poor, instead of staying isolated in the halls of power.

The pattern continues in New York, where Pope Francis will begin his time with an evening prayer service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral before addressing the U.N. the next morning. From there, he will—again—go directly to an interfaith service at the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center. It is another statement about the importance of solidarity, especially between Christians and Muslims in the face of global extremism. Pope Benedict visited Ground Zero to pray in 2008, but Francis is taking it to another level with an interfaith focus. He will then visit a Catholic elementary school in East Harlem, and celebrate mass in Madison Square Garden.

When Pope Francis goes to Philadelphia, the pattern shifts, but only slightly. The World Meeting of Families, a Catholic gathering of families every three years hosted this time in Philadelphia, was from the start the reason for his trip to the U.S. Here, Francis adds specifically political moments to a primarily pastoral visit. In addition to celebrating mass at the Cathedral Basilica, visiting the Festival of Families, and meeting the bishops at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia’s largest prison, the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. What Pope Francis will do there remains to be seen, but his mere presence will both highlight high incarceration rates in the U.S. and make it hard to ignore the Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty.

The whole trip concludes with an outdoor mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where Pope John Paul II celebrated mass in 1979.

Francis’ schedule is like a liturgy. It is a roadmap to guide the desired focus of, and communal participation in, his message. And the places he has chosen—Catholic Charities in Washington, a school in Harlem, an interfaith service at Ground Zero, a prison in Philadelphia—will likely end up saying as much about what Francis’ focus is as anything else.

TIME faith

John Kerry Praises Pope Francis’ Climate Change Encyclical

Secretary of State John Kerry called Pope Francis’ encyclical a “powerful” statement on the threat of climate change Thursday.

Kerry, who is Catholic, told TIME in a statement that religious engagement on the issue will help spur agreement at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

The Pope’s powerful encyclical calls for a common response to the critical threat climate change poses to our common home. His plea for all religions to work together reflects the urgency of the challenge. The faith community – in the United States and abroad – has a long history of environmental stewardship and aiding the poor, and Pope Francis has thoughtfully applied those same values to the very real threat our planet is facing today. The devastating impacts of climate change – like heat waves, damaging floods, coastal sea level rise and historic droughts – are already taking place, threatening the habitat all humans and other creatures depend on to survive. We have a responsibility to meet this challenge and prevent the worst impacts. As stewards of our planet, we can all work together to manage our resources sustainably and ensure that the poorest among us are resilient to climate change. We have the overwhelming body of peer-reviewed science to show us what is causing this problem, and we are equipped with the tools and resources to begin solving it. Engagement on this issue from a wide range of voices is all the more important as we strive to reach a global climate agreement this December in Paris.

Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Sheba Crocker met with Vatican officials, including the Holy See’s Undersecretary for Relations with States Antoine Camilleri, on May 26 at the Holy See to discuss climate change and Pope Francis’ 2015 Development goals.

“When he speaks on issues—whether it’s on climate change, alleviating poverty, or peace and security issues—it just has a real resonance and that’s something that we find incredibly useful,” Crocker says. “It’s so important for Pope Francis to be speaking in the way that he is—with such a clear voice. He brings such a moral authority to these questions, and his voice resonates in a way throughout the world, which we think provides him with crucial impetus—both political and moral—to help us reach an agreement in Paris at the end of the year.”

It’s another sign that the Obama administration is hoping to leverage Pope Francis’ efforts on shared commitments, especially in advance of his upcoming trip to the U.S. In September. “We have really renewed energy—strong leadership from the United States, but also countries from around the world, and I think real dedication and commitment to try to reach a durable agreement in Paris, which is the historic step, obviously, at the end of this year,” Crocker tells TIME. “It’s a top priority for the administration.”

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Ken Hackett was at the Vatican press conference Thursday morning for the encyclical’s release.

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