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What Sarah Palin (and the GOP) Can Learn from Pope Francis

11/13/2013 06:22 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Sarah Palin clearly needs to do her homework on many issues, but her comments yesterday that she is put off by Pope Francis' "liberal" comments proves she and many conservatives need to hit the books when it comes to the Catholic Church's bold social justice teachings. Here's Palin on CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper:"

Having read through media outlets, he's had some statements that to me sounded kind of liberal, has taken me aback, has kind of surprised me. But there again unless I really dig deep into what his messaging is, and do my own homework, I'm not going to just trust what I hear in the media.

I'm glad Palin recognizes the need for additional study. Let me get the Sunday school lesson started now. Many conservative pundits and members of Congress prefer to ignore or distort the Church's advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform, living wages for workers, defense of unions, environmental stewardship and a positive role for government in protecting the most vulnerable. In some ways, Palin can be forgiven for her puzzlement at Pope Francis' recent statements that the Church too often is "obsessed" with only a few hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage.

A vocal minority of U.S. Catholic bishops in recent years have emphasized a narrow culture war agenda and clashed with the Obama administration in ways that drowns out the bishops' broad "pro-life" advocacy to oppose the death penalty, ensure strong social safety nets and regulate toxic pollutants from power plants. Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, head of the U.S. bishops' Pro-Life Committee, spoke about this during a frank interview with the Boston Globe earlier this week:

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said American bishops should do more to highlight the church's work on poverty in response to Pope Francis's call to Catholics to be "a church for the poor." O'Malley, in an interview Monday during the annual gathering of US bishops, said the church is often seen as more engaged in "culture war" issues such as abortion and gay marriage than in caring for the impoverished. That perception -- which O'Malley said may be driven by those who want to distort the church's image -- must be corrected, he added.

The US bishops' conference is very engaged in all of these issues, in Catholic Relief Services, immigration [advocacy], Catholic Charities, but unfortunately those kinds of things fade into the background. And so I think it's very important for us to make them front and center in people's minds. Because that's what being a Catholic is all about.

As Rep. Paul Ryan found out when he tried to baptize his draconian budget proposals with Catholic holy water only to face pushback from the U.S. bishops' conference and theologians across the country, the Catholic Church can't be reduced to the Republican party at prayer. Pope Francis is not a liberal. He is a Catholic.

Traditional Catholic teaching stands in stark contrast to the GOP's blind faith in unfettered markets, anti-government extremism and reckless denial of climate change. "We have created new idols" where the "golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal," Pope Francis has said. Now you're not likely to hear that at any time soon from Republican leaders who demonize government and romanticize the free market in ways that are both naïve and dangerous.

Catholic teaching certainly doesn't let Democrats or progressives off the hook either. Pope Francis has critiqued a "throwaway culture" that includes indifference toward life in the womb, immigrants and the elderly. His vision is grounded in the Church's consistent ethic of life tradition that views myriad threats to life - war, poverty, torture and abortion - as an assault on human dignity and the common good.

So, it's complicated Sarah. I know nuances are hard for you and other ideologues. Pope Francis is making a lot of people uncomfortable. And that's a good thing for the right and the left.