Pope Francis, Nonpartisan Warrior

But are they really listening?

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Partisans looking for brickbats to lob at the other side surely found them in Pope Francis' historic address to Congress on Thursday. And why wouldn't they? They find fodder for partisanship everywhere else.

QuickTake Pope Francis

The pope's call to honor the sanctity of human life "at every stage of its development" cheered Republicans currently engaged in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood. And his plea that public officials listen when "the stranger in our midst appeals to us" was interpreted by some Democrats as support for immigration reform.

One way to judge whether a member of Congress has any sense at all is to see if he or she refrains from partisan exploitation of the pontiff's remarks. Yes, the pope had a case to make -- on immigration, poverty, abortion and more. But his relevant message to Congress was both more general and more pointed.

Politics, he said, is "an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good."

Political differences arise from varied interpretations of the common good and how best to achieve it. But the way to reach democratic consensus on a course of action is through dialogue -- "a conversation which includes everyone," in Francis' words.

This process is not unknown in the Capitol. Part of the pope's point, however, is that no single politician or party has all the answers. Conviction must be laced with humility, especially in Washington, where neither party has been immune to policy and political mistakes in recent years.

In a divided government and a polarized political environment, the need for dialogue and compromise should be obvious. But sometimes it's useful to be reminded that no one in Washington can claim infallibility.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.