With his stirring, progressive pronouncements upsetting those conservatives with money and power across the globe, Pope Francis has already become a transformational world leader. And he continues to cast his net of influence as widely as possible, angling to bend societies more toward social justice, toward religious tolerance, toward anti-corporatism, toward a sense that governments must care for the poor.
The United States, with the fourth largest Catholic population in the world, is one of those countries Pope Francis is angling to transform. And he will do so - a transformation that will place progressive politics in a position of unprecedented influence.
Not only is Catholicism the largest religious denomination in the U.S., making up over 25 percent of the population at 78.2 million, but critical states which are currently Republican strongholds have significant Catholic populations.
The largest and most important among them: Texas. Among states, Texas has the eighth largest Catholic population, with 32 percent of Texans self-identifying, many of whom are Latino residents straddling the political line. Pope Francis, with his progressive social messages and anti-corporatist stances, will do one of two things: a) push millions to the left, transforming them into Democrats, or b) push GOP politicians to the left in order to save their electoral lives.
And it's not just Texas where this will happen. A look across the board shows a bevy of U.S. states, either GOP strongholds or critical to their electoral survival on a national level, which have significant Catholic populations. For example:
- 9. Arizona (31%)
- 10. Louisiana & North Dakota (30%)
- 13. Wisconsin & Pennsylvania (29%)
- 15. Nebraska (28%)
- 16. Florida & New Mexico (26%)
These are states - and they are just the tip of the iceberg - in which Pope Francis is going to have increasing influence as his currently-radical social and political pronouncements become normative. These are critical states where his progressive political messages will become internalized and absorbed by church communities representing tens of millions of Americans.
This shift will mean one thing: progressive political positions will become more normalized and centralized in America, transforming its very social fabric.
A transformation which will lean toward social justice, toward religious tolerance, toward anti-corporatism, toward greater responsibility for politicians to care for the least of these.
In other words, a shift toward progressive Democrats. And progressivism in general.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.