Why didn't the Pope invoke the name of Jesus?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 24, 2015

After the Pope’s official reception at the White House on Wednesday, I tweeted:

Notice something missing from Pope's talk at White House? The name of Jesus.

Some friendly critics protested that I was being too critical. The White House reception was a diplomatic function, they said: not an appropriate time to mention the Lord’s name. We’ve heard that message before: "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name." [Acts 5:28] St. Peter didn’t obey the restriction then; why should his successor now? Especially when religious freedom is one of the subjects of the day?

Other critics remarked that Pope Benedict XVI had not mentioned Jesus when he appeared at the White House. OK, so then my concern applies to his appearance as well.

For about 17 centuries the Catholic Church has been wrestling with questions about her relations with secular states. Should the Bishop of Rome address other world leaders as a colleague—another head of state—or as someone with a different sort of authority?

Now Pope Francis has delivered his address to Congress, and again the name of Jesus does not appear in the text.

The Holy Father was introduced to Congress formally as “the Pope of the Holy See.” That title is awkward, unfamiliar—in fact, nonsensical.

If Francis is nothing more than the sovereign of a little enclave inside Rome, why should we care what he thinks about international affairs—to say nothing about our own domestic politics, of which he knows little or nothing?

A friend of mine, a veteran lobbyist who had worked on Capitol Hill, and dealt with the same legislators that the Pope addressed today, told me how he would begin a conversation with a legislator. He would shake the lawmaker’s hand, then slap down on his desk a list of the people he represented who were voters in the Congressman’s district—or, better, contributors to his campaign fund. That list showed the lobbyist’s bona fides; it was a demonstration that the politician should pay attention.

When the Bishop of Rome travels abroad, he might explain why people should listen to his message: because he speaks in the name of Jesus.

If the Pope is not the Vicar of Christ, who is he?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 25, 2015 9:23 PM ET USA

    I wouldn't think that Pope Francis was afraid to say the name of Jesus. In a culture that changed Christmas into Happy Holidays for fear of offending, the Pope's presence alone should be able to trigger a good deal of reflection on the need to respond to God's great love for humanity. Remembering the fact that his truly great predecessor resigned under the weight of the burden helps me to love, accept and support Pope Francis even more.

  • Posted by: Mike in Toronto - Sep. 25, 2015 8:22 PM ET USA

    He should have been introduced to Congress as "His Holiness Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome". Simple and correct.

  • Posted by: howland5905 - Sep. 25, 2015 7:13 PM ET USA

    Phil, Let me suggest another way of looking at it. Pope Francis doesn't have to speak the name of Jesus because Francis bears witness to Christ with his every word and action, with his humility and his gentle spirit. Look at the profound effect our Holy Father had on John Boehner.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Sep. 25, 2015 6:39 PM ET USA

    Minnesota Mary, I, for one, would fully expect a Moslem or Buddhist to mention Mohammed or the Buddha and wouldn't be bothered by it in the least.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Sep. 25, 2015 4:10 PM ET USA

    If Obama had hosted a world wide religious leader of Islam or Buddhism or any of the other world religions, would we be happy if they invoked Allah or Buddah in a speech at the White House?

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Sep. 25, 2015 11:04 AM ET USA

    This is the same Pope who in his first interview as Pope said "“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing..." So between March 2013 and September 2015, something has changed.

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Sep. 25, 2015 9:50 AM ET USA

    Mother Theresa was not a respecter of persons, she told it like it was, even scolding President Clinton and his wife about abortion back at the national prayer meeting in the 90's.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Sep. 25, 2015 8:13 AM ET USA

    Of particular note was the Holy Father's reference to nations and men working together to bring about peace. He referenced many of the challenges to peace and the violence and bloodshed, but no direct reference to the Prince of Peace. Is there really any hope that nations can create peace without Christ? Your concern is legitimate Phil. "nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house." New Amer Standard Matt 5:15.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 25, 2015 7:37 AM ET USA

    It should be obvious to the most casual observer that the mere mention of the name of Jesus in a "diverse" gathering would surely be construed as "harsh and divisive language." We can't have that. No, better to tip toe, not offend, speak in generalities. "Who am I to judge?" Surely a nonjudgmental string of addresses. Until, of course, one gets to the PC themes: capital punishment, lauding of contemporary "saints," environmental calamity. These are safe. Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Sep. 24, 2015 11:15 PM ET USA

    Phil, Am saddened what you mention here and what you pointed out in your other piece today "why does the Pope back..." It seems like His Holiness is missing a golden opportunity to proclaim a prophetic message in a nation/world sorely in need. We'll see how he wraps up his visit. PLEASE, Your Holiness, tell it like it is!