House Speaker John Boehner on Thursday extended an open invitation to Pope Francis to address a joint meeting of Congress, saying the head of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church "has inspired millions of Americans."
The Ohio Republican said the pope's "pastoral manner and servant leadership" is "challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity and humble service."
"His social teachings, rooted in 'the joy of the gospel,' have prompted careful reflection and vigorous dialogue among people of all ideologies and religious views in the United States and throughout a rapidly changing world, particularly among those who champion human dignity, freedom and social justice," Boehner said.
"These principles are among the fundamentals of the American Idea."
The Ohio Republican said a congressional address by Pope Francis — who serves as the head of state of Vatican City — would "honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions."
"It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full," he said.
Not all conservatives have spoken in such glowing terms about the pontiff. Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh called the pope's critique of unchecked capitalism and consumerism "pure Marxism." And FoxNews.com Editor Adam Shaw said the pope's position was "embarrassing."
But the speaker said Americans have embraced Pope Francis' teachings that "we cannot meet our responsibility to the poor with a welfare mentality based on business calculations. We can meet it only with personal charity on the one hand and sound, inclusive policies on the other."
Boehner's invitation comes a year to the day after the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina became Pope Francis.
The pope reportedly is interested in visiting the United States in September 2015.
If Pope Francis accepts the speaker's offer, he likely would be the first pope to address Congress, Boehner's office said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised Boehner for the his invitation to Pope Francis, saying he would "welcome the chance to hear his message of optimism and hope here in the U.S. Capitol."