It was inevitable. With the election of a new man to the Chair of Peter, we’ve already seen an effort to portray him as “socially conservative” yet “economically progressive.” This seems to be the way virtually every pope has been presented since Leo XIII’s long reign. And it’s a profound illustration of the limits of applying secular political categories to something like the Catholic Church.
No one in their right mind would describe Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., as an ecclesiastical Milton Friedman or a closet free marketer. Plainly, he’s not. But Francis does have two particular concerns with regard to economic issues. One is the naked materialism and consumerism that disfigures so many peoples’ lives. No Catholic is going to affirm people seeking their salvation in the endless acquisition of stuff. Francis’s asceticism is a clear repudiation of that mindset.
Francis’s second concern regarding economic issues is the materially poor. Again, that’s precisely what you would expect from any orthodox Catholic. As Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia (who’s no social liberal) once memorably wrote: “Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period.”
Over the centuries, however, Catholics have actually disagreed among themselves about how best to help the needy. Indeed, the Church teaches that (1) these issues fall largely into the area of what it calls prudential judgment and (2) it is primarily the responsibility of lay Catholics. No Catholic can be a Communist. Nor can they be an anarcho-capitalist. But there is a lot of room between these extremes.
And how Catholics cash out that “in-between” is heavily influenced by the circumstances in which they find themselves. And in Pope Francis’s case, it’s the conditions of the economic basket-case otherwise known as modern Argentina.
Argentina is a once-prosperous nation that experienced a rapid spiral into seemingly perpetual economic dysfunction throughout the 20th century. Over and over again, Argentina has been brought to its knees by the populist politics of Peronism, which dominates Argentina’s Right and Left. “Kirchnerism,” as peddled by Argentina’s present and immediate past president, is simply the latest version of that.
In concrete terms, this pathology translates into big government, high taxes, hostility to business and foreign investment, heavy debt, and a level of corruption that defies imagination. That adds up to a strange mixture of unsophisticated Keynesianism and naked crony capitalism. And it doesn’t benefit the poor. It benefits the powerful and well-connected. In Argentina, you don’t get ahead through being economically entrepreneurial; you get ahead through political power and as many privileges from the state as you can.
This is the disaster that Pope Francis’s limited commentary on economic matters has sought to address since he became Argentina’s leading churchman in 1998. And Francis has made it abundantly clear that liberation theology is not the solution. One of the reasons he’s not so popular with some of his fellow Jesuits is that he stopped the Jesuits in Argentina from going down that path in the 1970s and 80s. Liberation theology’s Marxist components, he knew, were plainly incompatible with Catholicism. Father Bergoglio also foresaw that it would turn much of the Church into nothing more than just another utopian-revolutionary movement, as occurred in other parts of Latin America.
My suspicion is that Pope Francis is not going to invest enormous intellectual energy in proposing various schemes for economic reform. He will certainly continue to champion the interests of the poor against those who want to maintain the corrupt status quo prevailing throughout many developing nations. There is such a thing as economic justice and the Catholic Church has a definite view of what that looks like. But inferring that the new pope is going to bring Occupy Wall Street to the Vatican takes more than a stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s a form of Kirchneristic wishful thinking that simply doesn’t do justice to the wisdom and sanctity of the man.
2.) Pope Francis Blasts ‘Cult of Money’ That Harms the Poor: ‘Money Has to Serve, Not to Rule!’
The Blaze / May. 16, 2013 2:50pm Billy Hallowell
During a speech Thursday, Pope Francis blasted the “cult of money” that he says is tyrannizing the poor and turning humans into expendable consumer goods. These comments were particularly important, because they marked the first time the pontiff has spoken out about the subject (as pope, that is).
It’s no secret that Pope Francis is frugal. Stories about his penchant for a simple life are now widely-known since he rose to the top of the Catholic Church. While many of the questions surrounding the faith leader’s views on poverty and finances have dissipated, his denunciation on Thursday of the global financial system is capturing quite a bit of attention.
—Pope Francis, Juan Martin del Potro. In this photo provided Thursday, May 16, 2013 by the Vatican newspaper l’Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis is greeted by Argentine tennis player Juan Martin del Potro, who gave him his tennis racket, at the end of the pontiff’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 15, 2013. (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano, ho)
In addition to decrying the overall obsession with money, Francis demanded Thursday that financial and political leaders reform the global financial system to make it more ethical and concerned for the common good. He said: “Money has to serve, not to rule!”
It’s a message Francis delivered on many occasions when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, and it’s one that was frequently stressed by retired Pope Benedict XVI. Francis, who has made clear the poor are his priority, made the comments as he greeted his first group of new ambassadors accredited to the Holy See.
Pope Francis kisses a child from the Popemobile at the end of a canonisation mass in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican on May 12, 2013. The Pope led a mass on Sunday for candidates to sainthood Antonio Primaldo, Mother Laura Montoya and Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
Previously, TheBlaze explored Francis’ views on the poor in detail, tackling a question some critics have posed and feared: Is Pope Francis (formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio) a socialist who will allow liberation theology to infiltrate the Catholic Church?
As we noted back in March, while it is true that poverty is close to Francis’ heart, there’s no indication that he’s a socialist and it’s on record that he combated liberation theology as a result of its Marxist roots.
It will be interesting to see how Francis will continue to speak about the issue of poverty in the coming months and years.
For a full analysis of the pope’s past and present views on morality and the economy, read our previous coverage.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
[For more on Pope Francis, please see my posts:
[Please also see the brand new ebook “Pope Francis: From the End of the Earth to Rome” at http://harper.hc.com/popefrancis?utm_source=wsj&utm_medium=online&utm_campaign=wsj_pf_hda for “a detailed, timely and original biography of the new Pope Francis.”]