NEW YORK – In an apostolic exhortation titled “Evangelii Gaudium,” or “The Joy of the Gospel,” widely praised in the mainstream media worldwide, Pope Francis has set an agenda to return the Catholic Church to the humility Christ showed in his devotion to the poor.
In his discourse, however, Francis sets a clearly anti-market tone that makes no attempt to hide his affinity with the anti-capitalist themes common to socialist manifestos of the past century.
Francis castigates unfettered capitalism as an ideology that worships “the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” to produce “a new tyranny” that results in the earnings of the already rich “growing exponentially” while the poor suffer an income gap “separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by the happy few.”
Urging Christians to reject to what he characterizes as “the new idolatry of money,” the pope believes income redistribution is essential to a moral theory of economics.
“I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: ‘Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs,’” he writes.
Clearly, Francis has embraced a vision in which the cruel reality of poverty takes on a moral imperative.
“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” he asks. “Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
He charges that capitalists and free-market advocates “end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
Francis is equally harsh on the Roman Catholic Church itself, returning to a theme he claims to have raised often with the priests and the faithful of Buenos Aires: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
In July, Francis issued his first papal encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”), a collaborative work begun by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The document is strong on the theological orthodoxy that Catholics came to associate with Benedict and short on the human feelings, the “joy of the Gospel,” that Catholics are beginning to associate with Francis.
In this first pastoral statement written in his own voice, Francis continues to support traditional Catholic views that women should not be admitted to the priesthood and abortion must be rejected on moral grounds.
“The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion,” he wrote.
“Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us,” he writes. “Precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations.’ It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”
Still, the pope wants the faithful to understand his dogmatic stands are not unfeeling, as he is compelled to add a note of sympathy not commonly expressed in the dogmatic natural-right articulations characteristic of his predecessor.
“On the other hand,” he is quick to add, “it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations, where abortion appears as a quick solution to their profound anguish, especially when the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation of extreme poverty. Who can remain unmoved before such painful situations?”
What remains to be determined is how the Vatican will react to challenges certain to come from the radical left in the U.S.
What will the Vatican do when same-sex couples begin to demand to be married within the Catholic Church in the U.S., asserting they have the same rights as traditional couples?
What will the Vatican do if the Supreme Court upholds as constitutional the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that Catholic Church employers in the U.S., including Catholic hospitals and charities, must provide their employees with health insurance that meets the requirement of Obamacare to provide coverage for contraception services and abortions?
It’s unlikely Francis will be convinced that his socialist sympathies and market antagonism have failed to reduce poverty in the U.S. despite the explicit and repeated statements by President Obama that income redistribution would be a guiding principle of his economic policies.
Francis continues to hint that he intends to reform the papacy to embrace other religions, and perhaps even nonbelievers, not in his role as infallible arbiter of Catholic dogma, but as an equal, one among many in the common human struggle to attain salvation.
“To give but one example,” he writes, “in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality. Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness.”
Establishment media worldwide has embraced the simplicity of Pope Francis and his determination to live as a simple priest in a hotel room rather than to enjoy the luxurious accommodations of the papal suite of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
Earlier this month, Francis set the stage for the issuance of “The Joy of the Gospel,” his first full statement of his personal faith, by firing German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst – commonly dubbed “bishop bling” or the “luxury bishop” in the media – for spending some $42.7 million on a renovation of his official residence adjoining the cathedral in Limburg, Germany.
After the public rebuke the Vatican and Francis ensured was widely reported, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst is residing more simply in a Benedictine Abbey in Germany.