Gosar to skip Pope Francis’ address, to protest likely policy positions

A spring 2015 file photo of Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, who announced that he would not attend Pope Francis’ history-making speech to a joint session of Congress. (Photo by Jessica Boehm)

WASHINGTON – When Pope Francis delivers a history-making address to a joint session of Congress next week, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, won’t be there.

Gosar, a Catholic, said it was a tough decision to make, but he has decided to stay away from the address because he is “ashamed” of the pope’s position on the “false science” of climate change and what Gosar sees as a failure to speak out against radical Islam and Planned Parenthood.

“I don’t need to be lectured by the pope in regards to science or false science,” Gosar said Thursday, calling the pope “hardly a scholar with regards to the climate.”

While some reports have suggested what the pope may include in his speech, Gosar said he is “mortified and ashamed” by what could be absent from the address.

“The foremost authority on religion – one of the recognized leaders in the world – is coming to one of the greatest stages in the world, and his comments aren’t going to be directed on religious tolerance and the sanctity of life,” Gosar said. “If there’s anybody that can call out the Islamic faith, it’s the pope.”

Gosar appears to be the only member of the House or Senate planning to skip the address, which will be the first time a pope has ever addressed Congress.

Robert DeFrancesco, a spokesman with Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, said it would not be appropriate for him to comment on Gosar’s decision. He said only that the church is excited that the “Holy Father” is coming to America as a “shepherd,” not a politician.

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, said he was surprised by Gosar’s announcement.

Speckhardt does not disagree with the decision: His organization does not think it’s appropriate for one of the world’s religious leaders to address a secular Congress. But Speckhardt had said earlier this week that it would be a “public relations disaster” for a lawmaker to stay away, a move that could be seen as “disrespectful” to millions of Americans.

Gosar admitted the decision was not easy.

“This was a hard decision for me, being a Catholic,” he said Thursday during a break from a congressional hearing.

Ultimately, Gosar said he was swayed by what he sees as the pope straying away from his religion and not seizing the opportunity next week to speak about the refugee crisis.

“Shame on him,” Gosar said of the pope.

The announcement also surprised Robert Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who said you would think “members of Congress would be used to hearing a variety of opinions by now.”

Speckhardt said Gosar is “essentially recognizing that it’s inappropriate for a religious leader who doesn’t have expertise on legislative issues to address Congress about those legislative issues.”

He said the decision could have a domino effect, allowing other lawmakers “who didn’t feel like they had political coverage” to now feel comfortable skipping it.

“Once word gets out that he’s doing this, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some folks joined him,” Speckhardt said.