Do you hug a pope?

U.S. lawmakers seek etiquette tips for visit
(Credit: photo appeared in January 2015 Independent article)

(Credit: photo appeared in January 2015 Independent article)

The following comes from a Chicago Tribune article by Billy House:

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers are used to a slew of rules about how to conduct themselves, and now they’re anxiously awaiting edicts of another type: how to behave around the pope.

Pope Francis will visit the nation’s Capitol September 24 as part of his three-day stop in Washington, becoming the first pontiff to address the Senate and House.

Questions abound. Is it out of line to hug the pope when he enters the House chamber, or shake his hand, or touch him at all? Is applause allowed when he speaks, or perhaps an “amen?”

“I’m told that directives are going to go out about that,” said Patrick Conroy, a Jesuit priest who as U.S. House chaplain coordinates the appearances of guest pastors who give the chamber’s opening prayers.

The worry is understandable. Joint meetings of Congress in the House chamber — including the annual State of the Union address by the president — can be full of ceremony, yet also indecorous.

Perhaps the most notorious moment in recent years was when Representative Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouted “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s September 2009 speech to Congress after the president said his health-care plan wouldn’t cover undocumented immigrants.

No one is expecting that kind of outburst directed to the pope. But he won’t exactly be preaching to the choir, either. The Pew Research Center estimates that about one-third of members of the 114th Congress identify as Catholics.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, a Catholic, extended the invitation to Pope Francis to speak at the Capitol. The pontiff also will appear at a White House welcoming ceremony, and he will celebrate Mass at the Catholic basilica in Washington.

Given the need for protocol tips, Conroy met last week with Boehner’s chief of staff, Michael Sommers, and said he was assured that guidance for lawmakers will be sent out soon.

“For a lot of members — they’re Americans, you know, and appropriate courtesy is not necessarily their cup of tea,” said Representative Alcee Hastings, D-Florida. He noted that some lawmakers arrive in the House chamber hours before presidential speeches to grab aisle seats so they can be spotted for a few seconds with the commander in chief.

So then what is proper behavior for a lawmaker? Based on the advice of Catholic church experts and past State Department protocol guidance, here is some advice to lawmakers about the pope’s visit.

_ Appropriate dress. The rules are basic: Wear dark colors. For women, sleeves should cover the shoulders and elbows, and hems should fall below the knees.

_ Touching the pope. Is it allowed? No one is supposed to approach him without an invitational gesture. But experts say it’s unlikely he’ll enter the center aisle without reaching out to some lawmakers.

_ What to do if the pope approaches you? Previous State Department advice suggests that when greeted by the pope, one should either shake his hand, or if you are Catholic and want to do so, kiss the pope’s ring — worn on his right hand.

_ What to call the pope. This is pretty clear: He should be addressed as “Your Holiness,” or “Holy Father.” President George W. Bush was criticized during a visit to the Vatican in 2007 for calling Pope Benedict XVI “sir” several times.

_ Standing ovations. These are a staple of State of the Union addresses. Still, for the pope’s speech, standing and clapping would be viewed as tacky.
“If I were asked, my advice would be to please sit respectfully, as if you were in church — and as if you were in Catholic church. We in the Catholic tradition don’t go ‘Amen brother!’ We don’t do that,” Conroy said.

_ Expressing displeasure with the speech. Not a good idea. Booing, shouting or waving a banner is discouraged. Lawmakers should sit still and keep quiet during the speech.
Representative David Schweikert, R-Arizona, a Catholic, said he is optimistic that the pope’s visit to Congress will be incident-free.

“The House may be an inherently cantankerous institution,” said Schweikert, yet he added that “when it’s time to step up and follow protocol, for the most part, we do a pretty good job.”


  1. Anonymous says:

    Not sure I agree with all this. If Congress people went to the Vatican for, say, the funeral Mass of Saint John Paul II, they should be expected to observe the decorum in place at the place and time they were invited to.

    The Pope should not expect to be treated any differently than any other head of state, when he comes to our seat of Government.

    If a member of Congress thinks it is appropriate to shout out “Liar!” to our own head of state, why should that not be just as appropriate, or not, for a foreign head of state in the same chamber??

    We don’t know what the Pope will say. But if he says, for example, that priests never molseted children ( I doubt he would say that!), he should expect to be greeted with shouts of “Liar!”.

  2. Elizabeth says:



  3. The Senate and the House are political bodies. What does the Pope hope to gain by speaking there? Is he going to praise efforts to control climate change? Is he going to praise the Obama regime’s policy of not controlling our borders? Is he going to praise our billion $ support of Planned Parenthood? Is he going to laud Obama’s lighting the White House with the rainbow colors when SCOTUS legalized homosexual “marriage?” Will Catholic Nancy Pelosi escort him down the aisle?

  4. Jim McCrea says:

    Touch the pope? HUG the pope!!
    This world and church are going to hades in a handbasket!!!

  5. My concern is that when the Pope comes to the USA he will publically speak his personal opinions, rather than needed Faith and Morals. And this will merely cause more confusion about the Catholic Faith in the media and with others.
    People will wrongly assume his personal opinions are Catholic Church teaching.
    His personal opinions include: Climate Change; One World Government – with law making, policing and enforcing, and taxing powers;
    Redistribution of Wealth; and Liberation Theology.
    And most of these violate the Catholic Faith.

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