FFRF calls on Congress to disinvite Pope Francis

The nation’s largest association of nonbelievers is calling on U.S. Reps. John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi to withdraw their invitation to Pope Francis to address Congress, in part over the pope’s actions to harbor a Vatican official accused of sexually preying on minors.

The Madison, Wis.-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national state/church watchdog with more than 21,500 atheist, agnostic or freethinking members, has previously contacted two mayors asking them to withdraw the red carpet to the pope based on the constitutional separation of religion from government. FFRF contacted Green Bay (Wis.) Mayor Jim Schmitt  after he invited the pope to make a “pilgrimage” in 2015 to a local Virgin Mary shrine, and St. Augustine Mayor Joseph Boles, who invited the pope to celebrate the “birthplace of Christianity in the New World, specifically Catholicism.”

Today FFRF sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Speaker of the House John Boehner, asking them to rescind their joint invitation to the pope, issued in March. If he accepts, Pope Francis would become the first pontiff to address U.S. lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol. 

FFRF Co-Presidents Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor objected on “compelling and cogent” grounds that such an event would blur the lines between religion and government. They quoted America’s first Roman Catholic president, as candidate, saying: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act.” They cited the “exorbitant price tag” such an event would incur for the American public, and the appearance of preference for Roman Catholicism over other religions, and religion over non-religion.

But they also lodged vigorous objections to the invitation, given Pope Francis’ decision to harbor papal nuncio Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, 66, who stands accused of using impoverished Dominican Republic minors for sex.

FFRF cited the New York Times’ expose revealing the Vatican’s protection of this personal envoy of the pope. The article by Laurie Goodstein, which appeared in the Aug. 23 edition, detailed criminal accusations against Wesolowski, who served as papal nuncio in the Dominican Republic beginning in 2008. The posting included access to a beach house.

“Despite Pope Francis’ assurances of ‘zero tolerance,’ and his vow that ‘There are no privileges’ for priests and bishops who violate children, actions speak louder than words,” said Gaylor, who, in 1988, wrote the first book calling attention to priest and minister predators of minors, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children

The Vatican moved swiftly and secretly to muzzle the scandal involving the papal nuncio, she charged. The leader of the Dominican Church, a cardinal, personally carried evidence of the allegations to Pope Francis, who secretly recalled Wesolowski. The Vatican and Dominican Republic church authorities failed to follow the church’s own policies requiring them to report suspected sexual abuse of minors to criminal authorities. The Vatican then provided diplomatic immunity when both the Dominican Republic and the nuncio’s native country of Poland sought extradition.

Only on Tuesday did the Vatican place Wesolowski under house arrest.

The specific allegations include preying on impoverished youths as young as 11. The papal envoy is accused of trading medication for sex with an epileptic boy in need of treatment, beginning when he was 13.

FFRF respectfully urged the Congressional pair to rescind the invitation and instead “call for hearings into severing ambassadorial ties to the Vatican, and investigating the Vatican Embassy’s alleged role in covering up systemic Catholic crimes against minors.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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