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.

TIME faith

Pope Francis Urges Climate-Change Action in Encyclical

He echoes his namesake, the patron saint of the environment

Pope Francis rocked the international community Thursday with the long-anticipated release of his climate encyclical, an authoritative church teaching poised to reshape the international conversation on climate change.

The letter—named Laudato Si’ or “Praise Be to You,” quoting a song to nature that Saint Francis wrote 800 years ago—is a powerful, prophetic, and personal plea for governments, religions, businesses and individuals to work together to address climate change, much of which Francis says is caused by humans.

Technically this is Pope Francis’ second encyclical—he completed Pope Benedict XVI’s Lumen Fidei, “The Light of Faith,” in June 2013 not long after he was elected. But it is the first one that is solely his, and its significance as a window into Francis’ thoughts and where he hopes to take the Catholic Church cannot be overstated.

Of all of Francis’ careful moves, this one is particularly calculated. It is difficult to imagine the topic was not in his long-term vision the moment he stepped onto the papal balcony to greet the world for the first time in 2013 and announced his name. His chosen namesake, Saint Francis, is not just the protector of the poor—he is also the patron saint of the environment. That foresight continued as the nearly 200-page encyclical was drafted over the past year. Now, the letter launches in time to frame his September visit to the United Nations, and it sets a moral framework for the U.N’s Conference on Climate Change in Paris, which begins in November.

Francis’ vision for change is comprehensive. He addresses the challenges of food production due to uncontrolled fishing. He reminds readers that migrants are forced to flee poverty induced by environmental degradation but are not recognized internationally as refugees. He offers a corrective to past theological interpretations that say that God gave humanity dominion over the earth and challenges the idea that humanity should be the center of concern when it comes to the Earth’s future. He calls out the failures big business, politicians, and international summits.

“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been,” he writes. “Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”

Francis demands more.

At every point the encyclical gives insight into the kind of leader Francis has chosen to be. Its first sentence connects the Earth with feminine imagery—“Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us”—an effort to elevate the place of women in church life. He takes care to build his argument from the work of Catholic bishops in nearly two dozen countries, most in the global South and developing nations, including references to bishops in the Philippines, Bolivia, Argentina, Japan and Southern Africa, which covers Botswana, South Africa and Swaziland.

Francis builds his theological argument from the ground up, not just relying on historic church teachings, but also naming practical realities like the challenges of small farmers who, when forced out by large GMO-producers, often turn to poverty-stricken urban areas. He is tuned to detail—everything from the importance of urban planning to improve quality of life to addressing the pollution that arises from traffic congestion. Protecting the least of these for Francis is about more than protecting poor or marginalized humans—as he explains, it includes protecting plankton in the ocean’s food chain and worms in threatened ecosystems.

Through it all Francis, yet again, shows himself to be a personal leader. His writing is simple and clear. He frequently uses the pronoun “me.” He speaks directly, using images that everyday people can understand—he speaks of carpooling, recycling, and turning off lights; of excessive air-conditioning use and waste of discarded food while others starve. He begins with a personal plea, “My Appeal,” as he puts it, for change—“Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest,” he writes. “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.” And, he concludes with two prayers—one for Christians and another that believers of all faiths can share.

MORE: Here Are Pope Francis’ Two Prayers on Climate Change

His vision is not just Catholic, but global, ecumenical and interfaith. The Vatican made the encyclical available online in Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and—for the first time on an encyclical release day—Arabic. A Vatican press conference on the formal encyclical release Thursday morning featured world leaders, including Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church; John Schellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany; and Carolyn Woo, president of Catholic Relief Services and formerly of the University of Notre Dame. It is also the first time that a representative of the Orthodox Church—which first splintered from the Catholic Church in the fifth century—will be participating in such a high-profile way for an encyclical release.

Openness to conversation is a hallmark of Francis’ Jesuit training—being open to growth and listening to other points of view—and it is a model of leadership he showed during the Extraordinary Synod on the family last October, where he stressed that openness in dialogue was key to moving any issue forward. Part of the wisdom in Francis’ leadership is that he is not afraid that people will disagree with him. Instead, he turns that to an advantage.

“Here are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus,” he writes. “Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”

MORE: Read Pope Francis’ Personal Appeal on Climate Change

Francis is also not afraid to call out the powerful and hold them to account. While he does not directly address specific countries and their role in pollution or destruction of resources, his generalities are pointed. Developed countries, he writes, ought to help “by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development.”

He even hints that the United States has more moral responsibility because of its global wealth and power. “We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities,” he writes. “As the United States bishops have said, greater attention must be given to ‘the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests.’”

All of this is an open attempt to model the leadership he wants from other governmental and business leaders. Francis is speaking from experience. If anyone knows the challenges of changing entrenched bureaucratic systems, it would be Francis, who is now two years into life in the Roman Curia after a lifetime in the slums of Buenos Aires. “To take up these responsibilities and the costs they entail, politicians will inevitably clash with the mindset of short-term gain and results which dominates present-day economics and politics,” Francis writes in Laudato Si’. “But if they are courageous, they will attest to their God-given dignity and leave behind a testimony of selfless responsibility. A healthy politics is sorely needed, capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia.”

The encyclical is a clear signpost that confirms the direction of the Francis papacy. It is a one that leads from the margins, requires response and hopes for something better for all people. Against overwhelming odds, Francis chooses hope.

“All is not lost,” he writes. “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom.”

He adds, “No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.”

TIME faith

Labor Movement Hopes to Get a Bump From Pope Francis Visit

Cardinal Donald Wuerl speaks at an AFL-CIO event in Washington on June 15, 2015.
Elizabeth Dias—TIME Cardinal Donald Wuerl speaks at an AFL-CIO event in Washington on June 15, 2015.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl spoke in front of a sparkling mosaic on Monday morning, and he was not in a church. The backdrop was not even Biblical, at least not technically. Instead the mosaic was a wall-sized portrait honoring workers at the AFL-CIO headquarters, where Wuerl, Catholic archbishop of Washington, was speaking alongside the labor organization’s president, Richard Trumka. Together, the two men championed care for workers.

Wuerl and Trumka are less odd couple than one might think. Both are Catholic, both are in “exile from western Pennsylvania,” as Trumka put it, and both make it a priority to advocate for workers who are poor and immigrants. Both are also hoping that Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S. in September will be an opportunity to build momentum toward around supporting workers and immigrants. “Just the fact that he is coming here, not even that he has arrived yet, has brought renewed hope to the people all through the labor movement,” Trumka said later at a small press conference about the event. “He is coming here in a moment of renewal,” Wuerl added. “His focus will be to energize the faithful and through that, give new hope to the whole community.”

Catholic support for labor is far from new—it goes back decades—but Monday’s event marked a new moment for both the labor movement and the Catholic Church in the U.S. The event was sponsored by both the Catholic University of America, the national university of the Catholic Church in the U.S., and the AFL-CIO, which represents more than 50 unions and 12.5 million workers. The conference, titled, “Erroneous Autonomy: A Conversation on Solidarity and Faith,” was the first time in recent years that a lineup of high-profile Catholic leaders, featuring a Cardinal, spoke at the AFL-CIO. Intentional conversation between the two groups picked up last year when the CUA hosted a similar event on the Catholic case against libertarianism and Trumka introduced Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, another of Pope Francis’ top advisors.

This year the theme was the Catholic concept of “solidarity,” the idea that humanity is called to stand together across divisions and to advance social justice. Pope Francis, Wuerl noted, often speaks of solidarity as a way to counter what he calls the “globalization of indifference” and a “throwaway culture.” Heavy hitters from both the Catholic and labor fields filled the room, including Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, Reverend Clete Kiley of CUA, and a dozen other bishops and priests. Former AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, the son of Irish Catholic immigrants and a longtime Catholic labor champion, sat in the front row. It was hard to tell whose standing ovation came faster, Trumka’s or Wuerl’s.

Monday’s event stressed a shared theological and moral foundation for protecting and supporting laborers, and Wuerl’s and Trumka’s language was at times interchangeable. “That phrase—raising wages—expresses a moral vision, because when we fight for a living wage, for earned sick days and paid family leave, we are not just seeking economic gains,” Trumka said. “We are seeking the material foundations of a good life that makes it possible for us to care for each other, for families to raise children and care for the elderly and for us to be part of the faith life of our community.”

“We are not bystanders,” Wuerl said, referring twice to Trumka as “our president.” “We are supposed to be active agents in the transformation of this society.”

It is another sign that the labor movement sees Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. as an opportunity to advance its message. Last week, the grassroots faith organization PICO and the Service Employees International Union visited the Vatican to lobby the Holy See to address income inequality, race relations, and immigration reform when he visits in September. Some Catholic groups, including the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the NETWORK Lobby, also pushed for Congress earlier this year to oppose fast-track trade promotion authority, citing concerns that it would promote corporate power instead at the expense of protecting individuals.

Specific political steps going forward remain open-ended—neither Wuerl nor Trumka elaborated on details of a specific partnership or programming. Instead, their message is to create a new tone that can guide new political realities. “We have to see how the issue of human solidarity impacts immigration, labor—how it impacts other moral issues in terms of how we look at the death penalty, the defense of human life for the unborn, or the elderly,” Cupich told TIME during a session break. “So this is just one other way in which in fits in to our whole understanding of what human solidarity is about, which the Holy Father is doing.”

That baseline conversation is also important as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops revises key documents about citizenship formation. “We’re going to be considering all of these issues as we issue a new version of our ‘Faithful Citizenship’ document on political responsibility,” Cupich says. “So my hope would be that I would be able—and the other bishops who are here—to take from what we learned here today and give consideration to how the importance of organized labor and what it tries to achieve.”

Labor and faith groups are working together before Pope Francis’ trip to raise awareness of issues such as the environment, civil rights, immigration reform and inequality, says AFL-CIO press secretary Gonzalo Salvador. “There are plans of doing polls on attitudes toward economic and moral issues, as well as possible summits and roundtable discussions on these issues,” he says.

The AFL-CIO is awaiting that moment with open arms. “The American labor movement is at the disposal of the Pope,” Trumka said. “We will do anything that he needs to be done to make his visit a total success.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Vladimir Putin Tests the Limits of Pope Francis’ Powers

The two are scheduled to meet Wednesday

Vladimir Putin is no longer welcome at the G7, thanks to his government’s continued incursions into Ukraine’s territory. But two days after the meeting of Western powers in Germany, the Russian leader has a meeting with another world leader: Pope Francis.

The Bishop of Rome may not represent the United States or Germany, but he is increasingly a superpower in his own right, and the Wednesday meeting is a diplomatic test of how Francis will use his influence.

The meeting is the second between Putin and the pontiff. When Francis first met Putin in November 2013, Russia was still five months away from annexing Crimea. Since the conflict began, some 1.2 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, according to the United Nations humanitarian office. Russia continues to deny that it is sending troops across the border or arming Russian-backed separatists, and international pressure mounts to address the crisis. “Russian aggression” against Ukraine, Obama said this week, topped the G7’s recent agenda, and Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with the Ukrainian prime minister Wednesday as well. “[Putin’s] got to make a decision: Does he continue to wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to re-create the glories of the Soviet empire?” Obama said this week.

The Holy See, meanwhile, is working to build diplomatic relations with Russia. The two have only had full diplomatic relations for six years, and those relations took years to build after half a century during which the Soviet Union was an officially atheist state. No pope has ever visited Russia, and even when Putin first met Francis in November 2013, he did not invite Francis to become the first to do so.

Pope Francis has been working to carefully move the relationship forward, especially to advance some of the Vatican’s other diplomatic interests. He wrote to Putin when he was hosting the G-20 summit in 2013 and urged world leaders there to oppose military intervention in Syria. The Vatican has been strengthening ties with Orthodox Christian leaders via ecumenical efforts and Pope Francis’ friendship with Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the Orthodox Christian Church, whose leadership is at times at odds with the Russian Orthodox Church closely tied to Putin’s government. Russia has also been a partner for Francis’ efforts to protect Middle East Christians, especially because of the shared Orthodox Christian experience in Russia and much of the Middle East. In March, the Holy See issued a joint statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council with Russia and Lebanon, “Supporting the Human Rights of Christians and Other Communities, particularly in the Middle East.”

Francis also has interests of his flock in Ukraine to consider. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, has urged Pope Francis to take a tougher stance against Putin. “As sons, we always expect more from the Holy Father … we respect his freedom to use the words that will help him mediate in the peace process.” Shevchuk said in February, according to the Catholic news site Crux.

Shevchuk has previously touted Francis’ own familiarity with the church in Ukraine—as a student in Buenos Aires, then-Jorge Bergoglio would go to Divine Liturgy with Ukrainian Father Stepan Chmil, Shevchuk has said, and as an archbishop, Bergoglio served as the ordinary for Eastern Christians without their own priests.

So far Pope Francis has expressed concern over the Ukraine issue, but only up to a point. When Shevchuk and other Ukranian bishops met with him in February, Francis called on all parties to “apply the agreements reached by mutual accord” and “to be respectful to the principle of international legality.” He also called the Ukranian bishops “full citizens” and assured them that “the Holy See is at your side, even in international forums, to ensure your rights, your concerns, and the just evangelical values that animate you are understood.”

What that protection looks like in practical terms is still an open question, and they and the world will be watching the Wednesday face-off. In recent months, Pope Francis has earned praise for helping broker a new relationship between the United States and Cuba, but that was a situation where both sides wanted to pursue peace.

The Russian conflict is very different. Even if Francis chooses to take a tougher line with Putin, there are limits to his influence. Putin has not been persuaded by the actions of the G7, after all, and the Vatican’s primary superpower is a moral one.

TIME Health Care

Why Obama Is Reaching Out to Catholics on Health Care

Pope Francis (R) speaks with President Barack Obama during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.
SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis (R) speaks with President Barack Obama during a private audience on March 27, 2014 at the Vatican.

President Obama’s decision to speak before the Catholic Health Association on Tuesday about the morality of caring for society’s vulnerable is politically strategic. Coming not long before an expected Supreme Court ruling on national subsidies in his signature health care reform, the speech highlights key supporters in the Catholic community for Obama’s agenda ahead of Pope Francis’ September visit to the U.S.

While the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed the Affordable Care Act over its contraception and abortion coverage, the Catholic Health Association broke rank and consistently supported the law for making practical progress on helping working-class families and the poor. Obama even gave CHA president Sister Carol Keehan one of the 21 pens he used to sign the bill into law in 2010.

More recently, the CHA filed an amicus brief defending the law in the pending Supreme Court case, King v. Burwell, that could invalidate federal subsidies for more than 6 million people if it strikes down provisions of the law. “Our nation took a giant step forward [with the Affordable Care Act],” Keehan said in a statement in January. “And now if this case is decided wrongly, we’ll take a giant step back.”

Last month, Obama stressed his shared interests with Pope Francis in addressing poverty at Georgetown University conference sponsored by leading Catholic and evangelical groups. Obama’s speech to the CHA this week followed a keynote by Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, who addressed the conference on Monday, and whose appointment as archbishop has been considered telling of the direction Pope Francis hopes to point the U.S. Catholic Church. Cupich did not address politics or the Affordable Care Act specifically, but his broader tone was clear. The words “abortion,” “contraception,” and “birth control” did not appear in his talk, but the word “poor” occurred 18 times. Cupich also drew attention instead to the work of Catholic women, especially nuns, who have long been the backbone of the Church’s health care operation.

That’s good news for a president who continues to defend the Affordable Care Act on similar grounds. The current Supreme Court case “probably shouldn’t even have been taken up,” he said at a press briefing after the G7 Summit on Monday. “There is no reason why the existing exchanges should be overturned through a court case,” Obama said. “It means that millions of people who are obtaining insurance currently with subsidies suddenly aren’t getting those subsidies; many of them can’t afford it; they pull out; and the assumptions that the insurance companies made when they priced their insurance suddenly gets thrown out the window. And it would be disruptive—not just, by the way, for folks in the exchanges, but for those insurance markets in those states, generally.”

But the very fact that Obama is championing the law to the CHA instead of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reveals his remaining obstacles. Dozens of lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act, many from Catholic organizations, are not going away, even after this Supreme Court case is decided. The bishops are preparing to host the annual “Fortnight of Freedom” that will coincide with July 4 and celebrates martyrs who suffered for their faith against political opposition—this year there’s a special emphasis on religious freedom.

“The President realizes that ahead of Pope Francis’s visit later this year, he needs to shore up support for his signature health care reform law in the Catholic community, particularly in light of the bishops’ concerns about how the law protects the Church’s religious liberty,” Christopher Hale, executive director of the public policy nonprofit Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, says.

Hale adds: “The Catholic Church in the United States supports a universal health care law that both protects the poor and the Church’s right to practice its faith without undue interference from the federal government. The President needs to convince the Catholic Church that’s exactly what Obamacare does.”

TIME 2016 Election

Why Josh Duggar’s Past Will Hurt Social Conservatives

Many movement leaders have been close to the reality star now accused of child molestation

As a reality-TV star famous for being part of a large conservative family, Josh Duggar had a public visibility that made him attractive to advocacy groups hoping he could spotlight their shared opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Now, as he responds to accusations of child molestation as a teenager, that same visibility could hurt the cause.

A police report detailed grim accusations against Duggar, one of the stars of TLC’s series 19 Kids and Counting. According to the newly released report, Duggar, the oldest child, allegedly sexually molested five minors, when he was 15. Jim Bob Duggar, his father, did not report the incidents to police for more than a year.

The political reaction was swift. Duggar, now 27, resigned from his role at the Family Research Council on Thursday, the same day the report was released owing to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, hired Duggar to lead Family Research Council Action, the group’s lobbying arm, in 2013. Duggar was 25, a young, popular TV star who poised to help advance the conservative evangelical political platform. “Josh and his wife Anna have been an inspiration to millions of Americans who regularly tune in to see the Duggar family’s show, and all of us at Family Research Council and FRC Action have long appreciated their commitment to the profamily movement,” Perkins said at the time.

But Duggar worked to be more than a pop-culture icon, he was a favored son in social-conservative politics. He served on two presidential campaigns, Mike Huckabee’s in 2008 and Rick Santorum’s in 2012, and during the recent midterms he campaigned for Senate candidates in Kansas, Mississippi and Virginia. Politics were also part of his upbringing. His father Jim Bob served two terms in the Arkansas house of representatives (1998–2002) and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2002, around the time of the allegations against his son.

Josh Duggar focused his work at FRC Action on grassroots outreach, frequently fighting to keep the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. He was at the Supreme Court for arguments on same-sex marriage in April and helped to lead the March for Marriage rally in Washington that week. In December he campaigned, successfully, against an LGBT nondiscrimination measure in Arkansas that he said put children at risk. He tweeted that Islam attacked women. He said his family was the “epitome of conservative values.”

Conservative GOP candidates valued Duggar as a way to advance their agenda and leverage his constituents. He has tweeted photos of him with nearly all the 2016 GOP White House hopefuls — Huckabee, Santorum, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, to name just some in his timeline — and countless representatives, Senators, governors and operatives, from Senator James Lankford to Sarah Palin to GOP head Reince Priebus. He retweeted politicians who promoted FRC Action’s agenda, and challenged others who stood against it. Just last week he pushed hard on social media to promote the U.S. House’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and tweeted at Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, “Sorry, but you’re the one lacking compassion.”

But what was Duggar’s political value for Family Research Council, his moral example, has now become a cost. The group has looked to the 2016 elections as an opportunity to advance their cause, especially since there are so many candidates with similar values on family and marriage. Perkins also currently leads the Council for National Policy, a group that quietly seeks to vet candidates. Plus, everyone is bracing for the Supreme Court to decide a landmark gay-marriage case in late June, and the Family Research Council has been at the forefront of working to stop the spread of gay marriage.

That entire agenda is now compromised, and the Family Research Council has to pick up the pieces. Perkins issued a statement Thursday night, saying that the group was previously unaware of Duggar’s past, and that Duggar himself made the decision to resign because he realized “that the situation will make it difficult for him to be effective in his current work.” In the statement, Perkins agreed: “We believe this is the best decision for Josh and his family at this time.”

The Family Research Council will have to find a new executive director for its lobbying arm, and attempt to recover the ground lost from this setback. FRC Action has also removed Duggar’s information from its website. (His bio on FRC Action’s website stated: “Drawing from his unique experiences in family, entertainment, politics and business, Josh seeks to use his God-given platform to encourage others to be engaged in the political process.”)

Reactions from the conservative side still remain to be seen. Huckabee became one of the first politicians to back Duggar on Friday morning. “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are, as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,’” he wrote on Facebook. “He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.”

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TIME ted cruz

Ted Cruz Courts Conservative Pastors at Private Gathering

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz greets supporters at the Georgia Republican Convention in Athens, Ga. on May 15, 2015.
David Goldman—AP Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz greets supporters at the Georgia Republican Convention in Athens, Ga. on May 15, 2015.

In a bid for the support of the evangelical wing of the Republican Party, Sen. Ted Cruz spoke to a private gathering of 600 conservative pastors and their wives Thursday morning in Washington.

The Texas Republican was the only 2016 presidential hopeful to speak at the annual “Watchmen on the Wall” conference, held at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. His remarks focused almost exclusively on the idea that religious liberty is under attack.

“The modern Democratic Party has become so radical, so extreme, that they have determined that their devotion to mandatory gay marriage in all 50 states trumps any allegiance to religious liberty under the First Amendment,” Cruz told the ballroom. “We’ve got an obligation, as this conference recognizes, to be watchmen on the wall.”

The Watchmen on the Wall briefing is sponsored by the Family Research Council to connect pastors with policy and legislation. The group has more than doubled in size since the last year—there are now more the 38,000 Watchmen pastors in the U.S., up from 16,000 in 2014, according to the Family Research Council. Last year, the group told TIME it wanted to grow the Watchmen to 40,000 pastors by 2015 in advance of the 2016 election.

Cruz’s father Rafael, a pastor with strong conservative evangelical ties, introduced him—“hopefully the next president of the United States”—to the group after joking to Family Research Council leadership that he expects “to be sleeping the Lincoln bedroom.” Last year, Rafael Cruz gave a speech to the Watchmen on the five principles of whom the Bible tells them to vote for. “My son will not compromise his principles in Washington,” he reminded the crowd on Thursday.

In his remarks, Ted Cruz portrayed religion in America as under “assault” and referenced “heartbreaking” religious freedom battles in Indiana and Arkansas, where state lawmakers backed down from laws that critics said would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.

He also used the moment to set himself apart as a candidate for president. “Let me tell you something that was even sadder, was just how many Republicans ran for the hills,” he said. “I’ll point out some of the Republicans running in 2016 were nowhere to be found when Indiana was being fought. I will tell you this—I will always, always, always stand and fight for religious liberty of every American.”

The audience erupted in applause. Cruz clapped along with them. Someone started blowing a shofar, a traditionally Jewish liturgical instrument often made from the horn of a ram.

 

Cruz also touted his experience as solicitor general in Texas fighting against atheists at the Supreme Court and defending a veterans’ cross memorial in the Mojave Desert. And he attacked the White House’s response to ISIS—“They are crucifying Christians….They are beheading children. You cannot win a war on radical Islamic terrorism with a president who is unwilling to utter the words, radical Islamic terrorism”—and aligned himself instead with Pope Francis, who has called for these Christians to be protected.

Cruz received at least three standing ovations during his 24-minute talk. He urged the pastors to influence their churches and networks to vote. He claimed that 45 million evangelical Christians do not vote, and that their votes are needed to get America back on track. “God isn’t done with America yet,” Cruz said. “You are warriors spreading the truth. The truth will set us free.”

Cruz took the stage after Wayne Grudem, a theology professor at the evangelical Phoenix Seminary known for his teachings that men have spiritual leadership over women. Grudem compared Family Research Council president Tony Perkins to Martin Luther King Jr., saying Perkins is a modern day King for standing up for Christian beliefs against the government. Earlier in the morning, the Family Research Council’s vice president of church ministries, Kenyn Cureton, spoke against gay marriage and led the crowd in a rousing chant of “I am a soldier of the cross. Here I stand!”

Republican Majority Whip Steve Scalise was scheduled to follow Cruz, but was delayed to votes. Other speakers at the three-day event include Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler.

TIME Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ Poverty Agenda Draws President Obama

Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican on April 22, 2015.
Vandeville Eric—Sipa USA/AP Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on April 22, 2015

Poverty in the United States is a topic that is often avoided. But on Monday in Washington, a diverse group of 120 political, religious and civic leaders including President Obama will gather at Georgetown University for a three-day Catholic-Evangelical leadership summit on the issue, in large part thanks to Pope Francis.

Organized by Georgetown’s Initiative of Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and the National Association of Evangelicals, the summit is a “direct response” to Pope Francis’ “challenge to place the lives and dignity of the poor at the center of religious and public life,” according to John Carr, who heads the Georgetown Initiative.

The event has two main goals: Making overcoming poverty a national priority and moral imperative and breaking down the walls between people who focus almost entirely on family life and people who focus almost completely on economic life. “Anyone who is poor or works with the poor knows that a child’s prospects are affected both by the choices of her parents and the policies of her government,” Carr says.

The effort is already gaining national attention. Obama will join the summit on Tuesday, notably not by giving a speech about poverty but instead by participating in a discussion about it with Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard University, and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. The conversation will be moderated by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.

While Summit organizers did not ask the Pope Francis to participate, his continued emphasis on the poor has helped to shift the national tone on the issue. “We think he already has sent a very clear message,” Carr says. “I think Pope Francis’ first miracle is getting both Democrats and Republicans to talk about poverty in a real way.”

The political and ideological range of the Summit is perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the event. Its bipartisan character is stark: Sen. Cory Booker, a progressive Democrat from New Jersey, and Sen. Tim Scott, a conservative Republican from South Carolina, are participating, as are former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Elizabeth Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. The evangelical participation spans from organizations like Focus on the Family to Sojourners, and the Catholic side from a ministry of Opus Dei to the Nuns on the Bus.

The gathering mixes together public and private sessions so that participants can talk openly about more controversial political challenges and issues like immigration, race, family planning, and incarceration. “Ironically there is more consensus, more bipartisan cooperation, in some ways more unity in the religious community about global poverty than poverty in our own country and we are hoping to address that,” Carr says. “The polarization is real, and the religious community has a unique opportunity, particularly Catholics and evangelicals, to challenge people’s conscience and also to bridge some of the ideological and political division.”

Poverty in the United States has long struggled to survive on the national policy scene. President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty more than 50 years ago, and the recent statistics show the extent of the problem today. According to U.S. Census Bureau, one in five children in the U.S. lives in poverty, and nearly 50 million people lived below the poverty line in 2013. The earned income tax credit and the child tax credit during the Clinton and both Bush presidencies raised the conversation in the policy arena, Carr says, “but in terms of a national debate it has been way too long.”

The Georgetown effort is not to build a new organization, but to build greater urgency and new alliances across the ideological and partisan divide to make poverty a national priority. “We think there is a lot of lip service to this issue but very little action,” Carr says. “The Washington mantra is the forgotten middle class, and the middle class are having a tough time, but the moral measure of our society is how we treat the least of these, and those are not the priorities of Washington.”

Summit organizers hope conversations this week are a launch pad for lasting policy change. The Circle of Protection, an alliance of Christian leaders represented at the Summit, is challenging all of the 2016 presidential candidates to create three-minute videos sharing what they would do as president to overcome poverty in the U.S. The clips would be shown both online and in churches and other settings in coming months.

Their timing, and the timing of the Summit more broadly, is strategic. Pope Francis will visit the U.S. in September in the middle of the heated presidential primary contest. His name and presence will almost certainly give poverty a major boost in the national conversation.

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