NEW YORK – The Catholic Church is catching flak from conservative believers after Pope Francis’ controversial views offended investors set to help fund the restoration of a major New York cathedral.
But the pope is also coming to learn that when he appears to withdraw a compassionate message to apply the dictates of Church doctrine, ideologues on the political left are equally quick to object.
This week, Francis found himself at the center of two controversies, one involving a wealthy Catholic donor and another over a rebuke he issued a Catholic bishop on an issue of morals.
Can the rich attain heaven?
The dust-up over money involved Ken Langone, a wealthy Catholic self-made man and billionaire investor that Forbes pegs with a $2.1 billion net worth, perhaps best known for having founded Home Depot.
Langone took umbrage at the 84-page apostolic exhortation titled “Evangelii Gaudium,” or in English, “The Joy of the Gospel,” which Pope Francis published in November.
As WND reported, Francis urged income redistribution with an enthusiasm that critics contend would make most socialists proud.
This message turns out to be inconvenient for Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is currently counting on Langone to spearhead the effort to raise $180 million for the restoration of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in New York City.
Last week, Langone told CNBC that at least one potential seven-figure donor expressed concern about statements from the pope criticizing market economies as “exclusionary” while suggesting “a culture of prosperity” leads some wealthy individuals to become “incapable of feeling compassion for the poor.”
Langone told CNBC he brought the issue up with Cardinal Dolan at a breakfast earlier this month.
“I told the cardinal, ‘Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don’t have to deal with,’” Langone explained. “You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country.”
Dolan went on camera with CNBC apparently in an attempt to smooth the waters.
In a televised interview, Dolan said he talked with Langone and conveyed the following: “‘Well, Ken, that would be a misunderstanding of the Holy Father’s message. The pope loves poor people. He also loves rich people.’ … So I said, ‘Ken, thanks for bringing it to my attention. We’ve gotta correct to make sure this gentleman understands the Holy Father’s message properly.’ And then I think he’s gonna say, ‘Oh, OK. If that’s the case, count me in for St. Patrick’s Cathedral.’”
Neither Dolan nor Langone revealed the identity of the donor involved.
The problem traces back to language in the apostolic exhortation in which Pope Francis castigates unfettered capitalism as an ideology that worships “the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation,” leading to “a new tyranny” that results in the earnings of the already rich “growing exponentially” while the poor suffer an income gap “separating the majority form the prosperity enjoyed by the happy few.”
Urging Christians to say “no,” to what he characterizes as “the new idolatry of money,” Pope Francis 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,’” Pope Francis wrote.
WND has also reported that in an exchange aimed at refuting criticism from radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, Pope Francis insisted, “I am not a Marxist,” a denial the pope wouldn’t have felt compelled to make had not the language of “The Joy of the Gospel” not contained what many perceived as a direct attack on free-market capitalism.”
‘Shocked’ by same-sex adoption?
The second story emerged from a meeting at the Vatican between Pope Francis and Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna and from a news story in the Sunday Times of Malta in which the bishop explained that Francis was “shocked” by Malta’s civil unions bill allowing same-sex couples to adopt children.
When pushed by reporters to defend his decision to use his Christmas homily to teach that a family must be centered around a man and a woman, Scicluna explained he had aired these concerns with the pope during their Dec. 12 meeting in the Vatican.
“We discussed many aspects,” Bishop Scicluna explained to the newspaper. “And when I raised the issue that’s worrying me as a bishop [the right for same-sex couples to adopt], he encouraged me to speak out.”
As WND previously reported, the shock to traditional Catholic thinking began when Pope Francis decided to go to the back of the airplane and give an interview to news reporters on the return home from Brazil during his first international trip as pope.
Instead of saying homosexuality is “an intrinsic moral evil,” as did his predecessor Benedict XVI, Francis responded to a reporter’s question by saying: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Almost immediately, questions were raised as to whether the pope’s rejection of same-sex marriage would cause Time magazine to withdraw its decision to name Francis its “Person of the Year 2013.”
In reporting the controversy, Time noted that in 2010, Pope Francis, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, said homosexual adoption is a form of discrimination against children, according to a profile published by the National Catholic Reporter.
The Time article concluded by suggesting Pope Francis may yet end up being more sympathetic to adoption by same-sex unions than Bishop Scicluna’s account of his meeting with the pope might have suggested.
In naming the current pope its “Person of the Year,” Time wrote: “‘Francis signals great changes while giving the same answers to uncomfortable questions.”