Occupy Vatican

Lighten up, Francis.

Most observers, Catholic or not, recognized the sea-change brought about by Pope Francis I.  An Argentinian Cardinal, Francis supposed a move left for the Catholic Church from the days of Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II.  While Francis hasn’t shocked many with his bending on social issues, his most boisterous attacks have been on economic issues – a move leftward he restated by declaring “unfettered capitalism” a “new tyranny.”

The move isn’t exactly unprecedented.  Pope Benedict XVI voiced deep reservations about modern capitalism. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict reiterated “progressive” stances in areas of public unions and economic redistribution; areas often overshadowed within the media by Benedict’s undoubted commitment to baroque liturgies and traditional moral norms.  The election of Pope Francis caused everyone from full-time Vaticanologists to the average Catholic in the pew to recognize a shift, a change of emphasis and style, and a laser-like focus on poverty from the new pope. 

The shift was evident from Francis’ first act – a choosing of his new name.  By declaring himself “Francis,” Jorge Mario Bergoglio indicated that he wished to associate himself with the saint who is most identified with the poor.  Francis stated he wanted “a Church that is poor and for the poor.” Upon first visiting the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis reportedly commented that “three hundred people could live here,” and indicated he would not be among them, choosing to reside in a two-room suite in a nearby hotel used by visitors to the Vatican.  He still wears the worn black shoes he brought with him from Buenos Aires.

Francis also brought with him a virulent strain of socialist Catholicism, as he demonstrated early in his papacy denouncing “savage capitalism” at a soup kitchen.  The comment, as with many others, stands out against especially American Catholic bishops who speak for the benefits of the free market, rather than simply decry it’s excesses.

Francis’ foray into economic edicts likely leaves traditional, conservative Catholics in something of a bind. For years, they have denounced “cafeteria Catholics” on the left, those who differ with the Church on issues such as same-sex marriage or abortion rights. Now, Francis seems to suggest that conservatives either change their public policy positions – supporting economic policies that afflict rather than relieve the plight of those in poverty – or stand in the cafeteria line.

To be fair, Catholic economic conservatives like George Weigel and Robert Sirico (author of the excellent book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy) have largely existed on the periphery of Catholic teachings.  Pope Benedict XVI was not shy about voicing his criticisms of capitalism. In his last World Day of Peace message, issued on January 1, Benedict condemned “a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.”  Pope Francis’ defenders can claim (not completely incorrectly) that Francis is building on what was said by his predecessors going all the way back to Pope Leo XIII in the late 19th Century.

So is all that is different about Francis not substance but merely style?  Only if one uses a revisionist lens.  As Pius XI said of Leo XIII:

Leo XIII’s whole endeavor was to adjust this economic regime to the standards of true order; whence it follows that the system itself is not to be condemned. And surely it is not vicious of its very nature; but it violates right order whenever capital so employs the working or wage-earning classes as to divert business and economic activity entirely to its own arbitrary will and advantage, without any regard to the human dignity of the workers, the social character of economic life, social justice, and the common good.

In short, Catholicism’s social doctrine not only does not condemn capitalism, but falls just short of officially endorsing it.  Only the “excesses” of capitalism, however fleeting a definition that may be, are subject to criticism.  Is Francis’ attack on “unfettered capitalism” in keeping with this school of thought?  Not when Francis seems lacking any major difference between excesses and exact practice.

“[S]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

Given Francis’ background, some have suggested he embraces “Liberation Theology” or “Christianized Marxism.”  If so, the move represents a major historical departure from Vatican tradition by injecting Christ as a political figure.  The Vatican under Pope John Paul II took a hardline against any theology with even a hint of Marxist analysis.  Francis has even hosted liberation theory’s founder, Gustavo Gutierrez, while attempting to straddle the line between seemingly conciliatory and outright supportive.  With his recent rhetoric, it would appear the effort to straddle has tipped decisively against an apolitical Church.

While conservative and liberal Catholics might have been able to parse traditional Catholic social teaching in ways that suited either their defense or opposition of modern capitalism and globalization, Pope Francis’ words are so direct, they making parsing all but impossible.

When even conservative Catholics are desperately defending Francis and trying to distance him from his obvious move left, you know the debate over the direction of the Church has been lost and the defeated are merely trying to mitigate the coming ideological pains of a Church lifted off its sociopolitical moorings.

25 thoughts on “Occupy Vatican

  1. <tinfoil hat mode: on>

    Why, exactly, was Benedict the first pope in hundreds of years to resign, and not die “in office”? Why was he replaced by a new pope that is pushing soci@lism (or at the very least, soci@list tendencies)?

    NWO anyone?

    <tinfoil hat mode: off>

  2. Every Pope has his individual vision. Doesn’t mean the Church will – or even can – abruptly change direction, even if it wanted to, nor that governments would follow his exhortations to change theirs.

    And sometimes, Popes are plain wrong. The doctrine of infallability applies to select theological issues that lie within the Church’s purview.

    The debate about the relationship of Christ to material wealth and how Catholics should live, goes back at least 1,000 years.

    This, too, shall pass.

  3. You have to remember where Francis is from — Argentina. He grew up with Peronism and he’s not going to be immune from it. Having said that, Joe D. is correct; Catholic social teaching does tend to be pretty far to the left.

    Francis is giving the Church a course correction in some ways that matter; as Catholics, we should be concerned with the plight of the poor and it’s often very easy, especially in a comfortable, well-appointed suburban parish of the sort that I attend, to lose sight of that. Still, I believe that Francis is a transitional, not a transformational figure, in the Church. He’s nearly 80 years old, so the chances that he’ll be on the Throne of St. Peter for a long time are slim. JPII was Pope for nearly 30 years and the priests who came up in his time are now starting to arrive in the leadership of the Church. The next Pope will matter much, much more.

  4. The Pope has said absolutely nothing that doesn’t conform 100% to the Catholic catechism.

    But that hasn’t stopped the dirt worshipping left from assigning all sorts of hopey that the church is about to changey itself into another run what ya brung free-for all…Clue: ain’t gonna happen.

    I also note that widespread media coverage of his warning against progressivism doesn’t exist.


  5. The Pope has said absolutely nothing that doesn’t conform 100% to the Catholic catechism.


    I also note that widespread media coverage of his warning against progressivism doesn’t exist.

    Of course. Stories are one thing. Narratives are another.

  6. I recall in my reading about the Spanish Civil War that the Church in its message and aims wasn’t that far from the Socialists. It ended up on the Nationalist side because the Socialists and Communists, and especially the Anarchist elements, of the Popular Front wanted nothing to do with the Church. In fact, the Communists and Anarchists were pretty keen on burning monasteries and killing priests, nuns and seminarians as a warm-up before turning on the Socialists. The Church was allied with Franco because Franco wasn’t shooting priests (at least as long as he had Socialists, Communists and Anarchists to point his guns at).

    Ok, that was a 50-word summary of a very complicated (and still intense) story, but I think of this Church/Socialism dynamic often.

  7. Pope Francis has pulled off an interesting trick by being reasonable, and not a cartoonishly dogmatic ideologue like his two predecessors (ironic, given that he’s the Jesuit). By keeping the message on love, charity and forgiveness, he becomes difficult to dismiss. One has to delve much deeper to find the flaws in the Church’s arguments, and in doing so one is forced to acknowledge the inherent goodness in much of what they do. Francis talks a good game, but will his deeds match his words?

  8. Gawker and NBC? Seriously?
    I guess Gawker will be now giving away the IP writes to what they publish. Wouldn’t want to be hypocritical!
    “But beneath that love-everyone-even-the-godless-and-gay exterior, is he el papa del comunismo?”
    What the Hell does Weinstein think that church teaching was before Francis? Kill the fags and the atheists? This Gawker article can be ignored, the writer doesn’t have a clue what he is writing about, he is an idiot writing for other idiots.

  9. To be fair, it isn’t so much that the church is obsessed with sex, it’s more that society has changed its attitudes to sex so much in the last century and is obsessed with having the church accept those changes. The church would be perfectly happy if they didn’t have to talk so much about it; but they still don’t want to change. The Church establishment is still hoping we’ll decide it was all a bad idea and change back.

  10. “…and not a cartoonishly dogmatic ideologue like his two predecessors (ironic, given that he’s the Jesuit).”
    Is your interpretation of “irony” informed by the Alanis Morrissette song? Honestly. Just when I think Doggone can’t be topped for ignorance of a subject. Are you Catholic? Do you know or have you spent much time with Jesuits? I spent four years with them and dogmatic ideologue is about the last thing any Jesuit could ever be described as, in fact they beat the dogma out of them as part of the initiation.
    Back to the topic – Pope Francis has been sympathetic to Liberation Theology due to it’s emphasis on helping the poor and powerless in S America in his past, but has avoided embracing it due to it’s often political and ideological militancy. He has rightly called on all Catholics to focus on charity and service since being elevated to Pope. Some Catholics have been intently focused on same-sex marriage and other political issues to the detriment of other articles of the faith. It is good to have a leader who reminds us of our other obligations as Catholics, not just fighting the secular world. Jesuits have routinely challenged the comfort of their fellow Cathoilics (including this one) and are probably the last group in the world actually speaking truth to authority – sometimes in the church hierarchy and sometimes to we cafeteria Catholics.

  11. The Gawker writer seemed to think that it is revolutionary for a pontiff to express the idea that capitalism is not a moral code.
    Which religions express full-throated support for capitalism? I can’t think of any.
    I can think of a few capitalists who seem to honestly believe that the most important feature of other human beings is their ability to make the capitalist wealthy. Zuckerberg, for example.

  12. There have been papal encyclicals going back more than one-hundred years that could be described as (and were) ‘anti-capitalist’. The Pope isn’t breaking any new ground here. Perhaps because todays secular world requires stereotype in order to feel comfortable with its bigotry, it is shocked when a Pope doesn’t merely speak pleasantries with an accent. Due to its need for ‘authenticity’ it is much more comfortable with “Nuns on Bus” lecturing the unenlightened than a Pope.

  13. “they still don’t want to change”

    Thanks, Emery. I was going to opine about how clueless most dirt-worshipping leftists are about the Catholic church, and it’s always nice to have a fresh example to help illustrate my point.

    If they knew *anything* about the church, they’d know that before it accepts homosexuality, abortion, humanism or the power of pyramids it will cease to exist altogether. And Christ Himself promised that will never happen.

    The church has always preached “social justice”, but that exhortation is to us as human beings, not as wards of Caesar. We are instructed to gives alms to the poor, not to a government clearing house. We are instructed that sins are forgiven of those that ask forgiveness, not to accept sin as part of “who we are”.

    Smarter leftists hate the Catholic church because it alone stands in the way of an all out free-for-all; it harshes their buzz, disturbs their Wa….and they know there is nothing they can do to change that.

  14. “Which religions express full-throated support for capitalism?”

    All of them; when they pass the collection basket! 🙂

  15. “If one has the answers to all the questions, that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.”
    Pope Francis

    I am deeply impressed by the man, and I look forward to watching the waves he will create in the Catholic church. I also think I’d like to have him to dinner and share a bottle of wine.

    He’s saying that he wants his church to do good for the people, particularly the poor, the old, the young, and the downtrodden. His path to goodness is inspired by God and Jesus Christ. Nothing revolutionary there. The breach he makes with the past (JP2 and Benedict) is when he states that the desire to do good is more important than the path to goodness. JP2 and Benedict were all about the importance of following doctrine as the one path to truth and light. Francis is in effect saying it matters more whether and how you help the poor and needy, rather than whether or not you wear a condom when having sex, or who you’re having sex with. In other words, he’s not about to abandon orthodoxy on homosexuality, birth control, etc., but that following that orthodoxy is a secondary concern relative to doing good works. This deeply undermines the church heirarchy, which he states is full of narcissists, by telling them that their priorities should be focused on serving their fellow man rather than living strictly by the Catholic playbook. He also states that Vatican 2 was an important step forward, was left as unfinished business, and that he wants to push further in that direction again. Another complete about-face from JP2.

    It’s going to be a lot of fun watching Francis try to pull this off. Get him some good bodyguards.

  16. Is your interpretation of “irony” informed by the Alanis Morrissette song?

    Hey, Alanis did play G*D in a movie once!

    Bill, more to your tinfoil hat arguement: closing of the Vatican embassy. Mission accomplished?

  17. I thought about referencing that yesterday too, however I felt it wasn’t really germane to the topic of this post. But hey, I’m all about not giving the left any benefit of the doubt. Personally, I just see it as yet another in the miles-long laundry list of examples of who this president really is, as opposed to who he, and his administration, and the media, and academia want you to believe he is.

  18. Read “End The Fed” We don’t have to take things THAT far, but the reality is we have an abusive, regressive, oppressive system that ISN’T REAL CAPITALISM. Most people are getting hosed, and so they want to solve it with leftist politics and statism, which will just make everything worse.

    We just need a massive intelligent overhaul of monetary policy and finical regulation. It will never happen until the bond market collapses.

    We are doomed.

  19. Benedict XVI:

    It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. In addition to the varied forms of terrorism and international crime, peace is also endangered by those forms of fundamentalism and fanaticism which distort the true nature of religion, which is called to foster fellowship and reconciliation among people.


    It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.


    Don’t buy the spin.

  20. I’m waiting for him to step up, as my favorite pope did. Today is the 918th anniversary of Urban II preaching the First Crusade, urging his listeners to stop fighting among themselves and instead wrest the Middle East from “that wicked race” i.e. Muslim terrorists.

    Talk about your unfinished business.

  21. For sheer drama, and strict inperpretation of Canon Law, you have to respect Stephen VII:

    “Then Stephen, Pope and seventh of the name,
    “Cried out, in synod as he sat in state,
    “While choler quivered on his brow and beard,
    “‘Come into court, Formosus, thou lost wretch,
    “‘That claimedst to be late the Pope as I!’
    “And at the word, the great door of the church
    “Flew wide, and in they brought Formosus’ self,
    “The body of him, dead, even as embalmed
    “And buried duly in the Vatican
    “Eight months before, exhumed thus for the nonce.
    “They set it, that dead body of a Pope,
    “Clothed in pontific vesture now again,
    “Upright on Peter’s chair as if alive.
    “And Stephen, springing up, cried furiously
    “‘Bishop of Porto, wherefore didst presume
    “‘To leave that see and take this Roman see,
    “‘Exchange the lesser for the greater see,
    “‘— A thing against the canons of the Church?’”


  22. I can’t comment too much on the Catholicicity of the issue, but one thing that does come to mind is (just as with any religious issue) the perception becomes reality. So hopefully il Papa makes clear what Catholic doctrine on the matter really is.

  23. TFS; I happen to agree. Too many lemmings believe that just because the stock market is up, that all is right with the world and that Obumbler’s econ policy is right on. Apparently, none of them are familiar with the 1929 Crash.

    Adding to the conspiracy theories re: JFK, among the long list of suspects were people that have the most invested in the Fed. Supposedly, JFK saw that it was a cancer on our country, much like Andrew Jackson before him, and was signing legislation to abolish it when he returned from Dallas, so the people that had the most to lose on that action, can be added to the long list of real suspects.

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