For GOP candidates, better to be with pope than against him

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WASHINGTON (AP) — To some Republican presidential candidates, it's better to be with the popular pope than against him.

Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz have deep policy differences with Pope Francis, but the senators will break off campaign travel to attend his address to Congress later this month, a centerpiece of his eagerly anticipated visit to the United States.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a devout Catholic, will attend Mass with Francis in Washington. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another Catholic candidate, plans to attend one of the pope's East Coast events.

"Regardless of what the pope says or emphasizes, the simple fact of being associated with his visit is still significant for a candidate," said David Campbell, a professor at the University of Notre Dame who studies religion and politics. "The images are very powerful."

Francis has become one of the world's most popular figures since his 2013 election to the papacy, drawing praise for his humility and efforts to refocus the church on the poor and needy. He also has become involved in numerous hot-button political issues, often staking out positions that put him at odds with Republicans.

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10 of Pope Francis’s Most Provocative Quotes
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For GOP candidates, better to be with pope than against him

"Hatred is not to be carried in the name of God! War is not to be waged in the name of God!"

October 8, 2014, St. Peter’s Square

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests."

June 28, 2013, on a flight to Rome

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"Some think, excuse me if I use the word, that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits — but no."

January 19, 2015, on a flight to Rome

(Photo credit should read GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images)

"I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful ... I see the church as a field hospital after battle."

September 30, 2013, interview, America magazine

 (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)

"I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation."

October 1, 2013, interview, La Repubblica newspaper

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"Men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the ‘culture of waste.’ If a computer breaks it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs and dramas of so many people end up being considered normal."

June 5, 2013, St. Peter’s Square

(Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

"Perhaps you were mad, perhaps plates flew, but please remember this: never let the sun go down without making peace! Never, never, never!"

February 14, 2014, St. Peter’s Square

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"Do you open your hearts to the memories that your grandparents pass on? Grandparents are like the wisdom of the family, they are the wisdom of a people."

October 26, 2013, St. Peter’s Square

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

"True love is both loving and letting oneself be loved. It is harder to let ourselves be loved than it is to love." 

January 18, 2015, Manila, Philippines

 (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

"Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads ... to those who have quit or are indifferent."

September 30, 2013, interview, America magazine

(AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
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The pope supports the Iran nuclear deal, which many GOP candidates pledge to tear up if they are elected president. As Republicans debate the place of immigrants in the U.S., the pope has urged countries to welcome those seeking refuge and has decried the "inhuman" conditions facing people crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Francis was also instrumental in secret talks to restore diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, a rapprochement the GOP views as a premature reward for the island's repressive government.

In a heated primary where any break from party orthodoxy is a political risk, Republican candidates have stepped gingerly around their differences with Francis.

When Francis issued an encyclical this year calling for aggressive international action to combat climate change, most Republicans made clear they had no problem with pope taking a position on the matter. But they suggested his stance would have little influence on their own views.

"He is a moral authority and as a moral authority is reminding us of our obligation to be good caretakers of the planet," Rubio, a practicing Catholic, said at the time. "I'm a political leader and my job as a policymaker is to act in the common good."

Bush, who was raised Episcopalian and converted to Catholicism as an adult, said it was best to leave climate change in the realm of politics, not religion.

During a campaign stop Thursday in New Hampshire, Bush called the pope an "amazing man" and welcomed his emphasis on mercy and compassion.

"I think he's going to lift people's spirits up," Bush said about the pope's visit to the U.S. "We're in a time where there's a lot of vulgarity and a lot of insults and a lot of just coarseness in our discourse. I'm not talking about politics, either. I'm talking about everyday life.

"And here's a man who comes with a gentle soul and I think it might be really healthy for our country to hear someone speak the way he does."

Not all GOP candidates plan to attend events with the pope. Among them are Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose spokeswoman said he didn't expect to be in Washington during Francis' visit, and Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and devout Catholic, who was scheduled to be on a campaign trip to Iowa.

American politicians have long struggled with how to balance their policy positions with the views of the Vatican.

48 PHOTOS
Pope Francis' visit to South America
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For GOP candidates, better to be with pope than against him
Pope Francis waves as he boards the plane back to Rome, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Sunday, July 12, 2015. Pope Francis departed after a week long trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. (AP Photo/Cesar Olmedo)
Pope Francis leaves aboard the popemobile after a meeting with the young in Asuncion, Paraguay, Sunday, July 12, 2015. The Pope addressed tens of thousands of young people waiting for him at a venue along the banks of the Paraguay River on one of the last events of his visit. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
People pray and sing before Pope Francis arrives to a meeting with the young in Asuncion, Paraguay, Sunday, July 12, 2015. Pope Francis addressed hundreds of thousands of young people at a venue along the banks of the Paraguay River in the final event of his three-country tour in South America.(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Pope Francis leaves aboard the popemobile after a meeting with the young in Asuncion, Paraguay, Sunday, July 12, 2015. The Pope addressed tens of thousands of young people waiting for him at a venue along the banks of the Paraguay River. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Pope Francis arrives aboard the popemobile to a meeting with the young in Asuncion, Paraguay, Sunday, July 12, 2015. The Pope addressed tens of thousands of young people waiting for him at a venue along the banks of the Paraguay River. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Pope Francis holds on to his skull cap during mass in Asuncion, Paraguay, Sunday, July 12, 2015. Hundreds of thousands have gathered on a huge swampy field called Nu Guazu inside a military base to attend the mass. At this very spot, Pope John Paull II in 1988 canonized Paraguay's first saint, Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz, a Jesuit priest that was a missionary to the Guarani people. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Pope Francis celebrates mass at the Nu Guazu field in Asuncion, Paraguay, Sunday, July 12, 2015. The stage for the Mass was a mosaic made out of thousands of ears of corn, coconuts, squash gourds and many, many dried beans. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Pope Francis waves as he rides in the popemobile through the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, on July 7, 2015. Pope Francis addressed 900,000 faithful who braved the cold and rain to hear him at an outdoor mass in Quito's Bicentennial Park. 'Fight for inclusion at all levels,' the pontiff said, pleading for 'dialogue' on the third day of a South American tour that will also take him to Bolivia and Paraguay. AFP PHOTO / JUAN CEVALLOS (Photo credit should read JUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Otavalenas Indians holding posters featuring Pope Francis arrive at Bicentennial Park to attend a Mass celebrated by the pontiff, in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. The pope's final Mass in Ecuador featured readings in Quichua, the native language most spoken in Ecuador. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
In this pool photo taken on July 7, 2015 and made available on Wednesday, July 8, 2015 Pope Francis, center, back to the camera, meets with bishops from Ecuador in Quito, Ecuador. Francis told those gathered for the Mass that in a world divide by wars, violence and individualism, Catholics should be "builders of unity," bringing together hopes and ideals of their people. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)
An elderly woman holds a posy of orange and pink flowers as she waits for the arrival of Pope Francis outside the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Presentation of El Quinche, in El Quinche, Ecuador, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. Francis wraps up the first leg of a three-nation South American pilgrimage Wednesday. Next stop on the pope’s South American tour is La Paz, Bolivia, where he will be welcomed by President Evo Morales. (AP Photo/Ana Buitron)
Faithful take pictures as others throw balloons from balconies as Pope Francis departs from the San Francisco Church aboard the popemobile, in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. On his final full day in Quito Pope Francis pressed his case for a new economic and environmental world order saying the goods of the Earth are meant for everyone and must not be exploited by the wealthy few for short-term profit at the expense of the poor.(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Pope Francis blesses the faithful as he arrives to San Francisco Square aboard the popemobile in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. On his final full day in Quito Pope Francis pressed his case for a new economic and environmental world order saying the goods of the Earth are meant for everyone and must not be exploited by the wealthy few for short-term profit at the expense of the poor. (AP Photo/Ana Buitron)
Nuns arrive at Independence square, invited to attend the meeting of Pope Francis and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa in Quito, Ecuador, Monday, July 6, 2015. After a Mass in the port city of Guayaquil where hundreds of thousands listened to Pope Francis while standing in the hot sun, he will return to the Capital of Quito. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. (AP Photo/Ana Buitron)
A street vendor sells a crucifix with the image of Pope Francis, at the Samanes Park where the Pope will give a mass in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which are beset by problems that concern him deeply, income inequality and environmental degradation. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
People raise their hands as Pope Francis blesses them at the end of Mass held in Bicentennial Park in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. Pope Francis told faithful in Ecuador that being model Catholics is the best form of evangelization. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Pope Francis waves as he rides in the popemobile through the Ecuadorean capital, Quito, on July 7, 2015. Pope Francis addressed 900,000 faithful who braved the cold and rain to hear him at an outdoor mass in Quito's Bicentennial Park. 'Fight for inclusion at all levels,' the pontiff said, pleading for 'dialogue' on the third day of a South American tour that will also take him to Bolivia and Paraguay. AFP PHOTO / JUAN CEVALLOS (Photo credit should read JUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Pilgrims hold up their hands to be blessed by Pope Francis during a Mass at the Samanes Park in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Monday, July 6, 2015. Latin America's first pope arrived in this port city on Monday for the first big event of a three-nation tour that includes Paraguay and Bolivia. Hundreds of thousands listened to the pope on the packed dirt park while standing in the hot sun. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Faithful wait for Pope Francis at the Marian National Shrine of 'El Quinche' in the outskirts of Quito on July 8, 2015. Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, heads Wednesday to Bolivia on the second leg of a three-nation tour of the continent's poorest countries, where he has been acclaimed by huge crowds. Francis will arrive in the Andean state from Ecuador, where he will wrap up his stay with a visit to a sanctuary of the Virgin of El Quinche outside the capital Quito. AFP PHOTO/JUAN CEVALLOS (Photo credit should read JUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Policemen are deployed waiting for Pope Francis at the Nursing Home of the Missionaries of Charity in Tumbaco, Ecuador on July 8, 2015. Pope Francis, the first Latin American pontiff, heads Wednesday to Bolivia on the second leg of a three-nation tour of the continent's poorest countries, where he has been acclaimed by huge crowds. Francis will arrive in the Andean state from Ecuador, where he will wrap up his stay with a visit to a sanctuary of the Virgin of El Quinche outside the capital Quito. AFP PHOTO/VLADIMIR RODAS (Photo credit should read VLADIMIR RODAS/AFP/Getty Images)
A girl waits for the arrival of Pope Francis before a meeting with the clergy, religious, and seminarians at the Marian National Shrine of 'El Quinche' in Quito on July 8, 2015. Pope Francis is in Ecuador as part of his first South American trip in two years that will also take him to Bolivia and Paraguay. AFP PHOTO /RODRIGO BUENDIA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis and a peasant smile during a meeting with political, economic and civil leaders at San Francisco Church in Quito, on July 7, 2015. Pope Francis addressed 900,000 faithful who braved the cold and rain to hear him at an outdoor mass in Quito's Bicentennial Park. 'Fight for inclusion at all levels,' the pontiff said, pleading for 'dialogue' on the third day of a South American tour that will also take him to Bolivia and Paraguay. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Nuns embrace at Independence square, while they wait for the Pope's arrival to the government palace in Quito, Ecuador, Monday, July 6, 2015. Pope Francis is making his first visit to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He travels to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. (AP Photo/Ana Buitron)
Faithful await for the arrival of Pope Francis at the church of San Francisco in Quito, Ecuador, on July 7, 2015. Pope Francis warned against the 'temptation' of 'single leaderships' on Tuesday in front of nearly one million people at an outdoor mass in Ecuador's capital, recently rocked by anti-government protests. AFP PHOTO/LUIS ROBAYO (Photo credit should read LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)
Faithful await for the arrival of Pope Francis to San Francisco Church for the meeting with civil society members in Quito, Ecuador, on July 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO / LUIS ROBAYO (Photo credit should read LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis is seen before celebrating an open-air mass at the Bicentennial Park in Quito, Ecuador, on July 7, 2015. The visit of the Argentine-born pontiff comes amid widespread unrest over the socialist policies of President Rafael Correa --who is expected to attend the mass. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis walks with his pastoral staff to celebrate Mass in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Monday, July 6, 2015. Latin America's first pope arrived in this port city on Monday for the first big event of a three-nation tour where he's set compassion for the weak and respect for the environment as central themes. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he makes his way to the main altar in the popemobile to celebrate Mass at Samanes Park in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Monday, July 6, 2015. The Pontiff is visiting Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay on the occasion of his Apostolic trip from July 5 to July 12. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he rides aboard the Popemobile in the streets of Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which are beset by problems that concern him deeply, income inequality and environmental degradation. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Pope Francis waves as he rides aboard the popemobile after arriving in Samanes Park to celebrate Mass, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Monday, July 6, 2015. A crowd estimated at 1 million people greeted Francis on the packed dirt of Samanes Park for a late-morning Mass. Many had spent the night and some had walked for miles to reach the park on the city’s northern outskirts. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
A woman holds a rosary and a wooden cross with an image of Pope Francis as she waits for the arrival of the Pontiff in San Francisco square, Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. Francis is scheduled to meet with members of Ecuador's civil society and give and address in San Francisco Church. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he rides aboard the Popemobile in streets of Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which are beset by problems that concern him deeply, income inequality and environmental degradation. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Thousands line the streets as Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he rides aboard the Popemobile in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which are beset by problems that concern him deeply, income inequality and environmental degradation. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Pope Francis greets several children upon his arrival to the Mariscal Sucre International airport in Quito Sunday July 5, 2015. History's first Latin American pope returns to Spanish-speaking South America for the first time on Sunday to visit Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.(AP Photo/
Pope Francis waves upon his arrival to the Mariscal Sucre International airport in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. History's first Latin American pope returns to Spanish-speaking South America for the first time on Sunday to visit Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Pope Francis greets a girl next to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa (R) upon arrival at the Mariscal Sucre international airport in Quito on July 5, 2015. Pope Francis arrived in Quito Sunday to begin his first South American trip in two years, for an eight-day tour of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay highlighting the plight of the poor on his home continent. AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd as he rides aboard the Popemobile in the streets of Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which are beset by problems that concern him deeply, income inequality and environmental degradation. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Pilgrims arrive to the Samanes Park where Pope Francis will give a mass in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which are beset by problems that concern him deeply, income inequality and environmental degradation. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Pope Francis waves to reporters at Rome's Fiumicino International airport, Sunday, July 5, 2015, as he boards his flight to Quito, Ecuador, where he will start a week-long trip to South America, including Bolivia and Paraguay. Francis is taking his "church for the poor" to three of South America's poorest and most peripheral countries, making a grueling, week-long trip that will showcase the pope at his unpredictable best: speaking his native Spanish on his home turf about issues closest to his heart. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)
Pope Francis alights from the aircraft upon his arrival in Quito on July 5, 2015. The pontiff will make a nine-day apostolic trip in South America and visit Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis disembarks from his plane upon his arrival to the Mariscal Sucre International airport in Quito Sunday July 5, 2015. History's first Latin American pope returns to Spanish-speaking South America for the first time on Sunday to visit Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, center, chats with Pope Francis upon his arrival to the Mariscal Sucre International airport in Quito Sunday July 5, 2015. History's first Latin American pope returns to Spanish-speaking South America for the first time on Sunday to visit Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay. (AP Photo/Fernando llano)
A man kisses Pope Francis's ring as he leaves aboard a small car the Mariscal Sucre international airport in Quito on July 5, 2015. Pope Francis arrived in Quito Sunday to begin his first South American trip in two years, for an eight-day tour of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay highlighting the plight of the poor on his home continent. AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)
An street seller offers images of Pope Francis for sale in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which are beset by problems that concern him deeply, income inequality and environmental degradation. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Images of Pope Francis are displayed for sale at the entrance of Samanes Park where he will give a mass in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which are beset by problems that concern him deeply, income inequality and environmental degradation. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Faithful await for arrival of Pope Francis on a street in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which are beset by problems that concern him deeply, income inequality and environmental degradation. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
Buttons with the image of Pope Francis are displayed for sale at the entrance of Samanes Park where Pope Francis will give a mass in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5, 2015. Francis is making his first visit as pope to his Spanish-speaking neighborhood. He'll travel to three South American nations, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, which are beset by problems that concern him deeply, income inequality and environmental degradation. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
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For Democrats, the focus has often been on the gulf between the party's support for abortion rights and the church's stern and contrary view. After John Kerry, a Catholic who backs abortion rights, captured the Democratic nomination in 2004, a top Vatican official issued a statement saying priests must deny Communion to politicians who hold that position.

Francis has taken a more conciliatory tone on abortion, as well as homosexuality, but hasn't changed church doctrine.

President George W. Bush found himself at odds with the Vatican over the Iraq war. Both Pope John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI vehemently opposed the war, yet each met Bush during their tenure.

Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University, said that in interactions between politicians and popes, "politics is put aside and there's respect shown."

Still, the timing of the pope's visit — in the heart of fall primary campaigning — and his own schedule will make politics difficult to avoid.

Francis will hold an Oval Office meeting Sept. 23 with President Barack Obama, who has highlighted areas where his agenda overlaps with the pope's priorities, including income inequality. The pope will speak the following day on Capitol Hill, where at least some of the focus will be on the reaction to his remarks from the presidential candidates sitting in the audience.

The pope's message in Washington is expected to touch on some of the issues that are sources of disagreement with Republicans, though it's unlikely he will insert himself directly into presidential politics.

Still, as Campbell, the Notre Dame professor, noted, "One thing we've learned about Pope Francis is that he's very unpredictable."

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