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'The Australian' gangs up on Pope Francis


'Green-left Pope Francis endorses flawed view of progress' op-ed In a series of articles, The Australian newspaper has strongly criticised the new encyclical Laudato Si: On care for our common home by Pope Francis as being wrong about climate change and ignorant about economics. Editor-at-large, Paul Kelly, on 24 June charged that the Pope’s language was ‘almost hysterical. Profound intellectual ignorance is dressed up as honouring God’.

‘Page after page reveals Francis and his advisers as environmental populists and economic ideologues of a quasi-Marxist bent.’ He wrote that the Pope has ‘delegitimised as immoral’ pro-market economic forces. ‘Francis is blind to the liberating power of markets and technology’.

The Weekend Australian’s long editorial of 27-28 June reiterated these views and dismissed the Pope’s warnings of catastrophic climate change.

These are very serious allegations and, if true, would be very damaging for the Pope. Let me take up the Pope’s alleged attack on free-market principles and his critique of neoliberalism and inequality.

Pope Francis is not opposed to the free market in principle, but insists that it be well regulated to ensure social justice for all involved. He strongly supports socially responsible forms of capitalism which enhance social equity and cohesion. He has repeatedly appealed for investors and business people to help eradicate global hunger and severe poverty, lift living standards and opportunity, and restrain excessive consumption to secure a more equitable and sustainable future.

It is not socially responsible forms of capitalism that are the target of the Pope’s criticism, but the neoliberal versions of economics that have dominated conservative circles. This critique is not new in Catholic social thinking.

John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus called for markets to be adequately regulated to ensure just outcomes for everyone involved. He warned that after the collapse of communism ‘a radical capitalist ideology could spread’, blindly entrusting societies to unregulated free-market forces. He rejected ‘neoliberal’ capitalism, saying in 1993 that the Church had ‘always distanced itself from capitalist ideology, holding it responsible for grave social injustices’.

In 1998 John Paul again attacked ‘a certain capitalist neoliberalism that subordinates the human person to blind market forces’, placing ‘intolerable burdens’ on poorer countries. Later, Benedict XVI warned against growing inequality and ‘ruinous exploitation of the planet.’

Neoliberal thinkers, on the other hand, have tried to reduce regulation and constraints on business as much as possible, in the belief that markets will almost automatically produce the best outcomes. Yet as many economists attest, failures in neoliberal economics helped precipitate the global financial crisis and widening inequality in and between countries.

The Pope is speaking for millions of people in the developing world, protesting against the unfairness in economic outcomes, the despoliation of much of their resources and environment, and that their peoples will be hit hardest by the effects of global warming.

Francis was closely involved in writing this encyclical and is convinced that reform of capitalism, global warming and environmental sustainability are among the most urgent moral issues of our time.

In Buenos Aires, the future Pope witnessed Argentina’s economy collapse in 2001-02, following the largest financial default in history till then. Argentina had been a prosperous country with only 4 percent of people living in poverty in 1990, but in 2001 half the population fell below the poverty line. The global financial crisis was a replay of what Francis had seen in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America.

In preparing his new encyclical, Francis consulted widely with leading economists and academics; the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace which worked closely with specialists (including Joseph Stiglitz) in the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, until recently headed by the Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon; the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, with many Nobel laureates among its members; the Vatican Secretariat of State with its extensive diplomatic networks; and episcopal conferences around the world.

Francis personally met some of the leading specialists including Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate who was senior vice-president and chief economist at the World Bank from 1997 to 2000, and numerous world leaders including Barack Obama and the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, who have both welcomed the encyclical enthusiastically.

The Australian claims that ‘present debates about inequality within rich countries, while of academic interest, remain a footnote in the bigger story of falling global inequality and poverty.’ That claim would surprise many economists since it ignores the concentration of economic power in the global economy.

Stiglitz’s famous article in Vanity Fair in March 2011,Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”,demonstrated the increasing extent of inequality and sparked the Occupy Wall Street movement. Even in the United States most of the wealth has gone to the top income groups, and the incomes of the most people has hardly increased at all over recent decades. The top 1 percent had accumulated astronomical wealth, and with that came unprecedented political influence and power.

In his 2010 book Freefall Stiglitz deplored the ‘“moral deficit” that has been exposed [by the] unrelenting pursuit of profits and elevation of the pursuit of self-interest.’ (278) In The Price of Inequality (2012) he added that globalization had unsurprisingly left many behind,  given that largely it ‘has been managed by corporate and other special interests for their benefit.’ (277).

Stiglitz is not alone in thinking that the crisis is fundamentally an ethical one. Many eminent economists think the problem is systemic in neoliberal economics, resulting in growing inequality and economic instability.

Kelly alleges that the encyclical is ‘flouting science’, ‘which has smashed Christianity from the time of Darwin’. Yet the overwhelming opinion among scientists and governments of most developed countries, along with China, strongly supports the Pope’s alarm about the dangers of climate change and growing inequality, endorsing his calls to conscience and responsibility.

Bruce DuncanRedemptorist Fr Bruce Duncan is a lecturer in in history and social ethics in Melbourne’s University of Divinity and director of the Yarra Institute for Religion and Social Policy.

Topic tags: Bruce Duncan, Pope Francis, Laudato Si, encyclical, Paul Kelly, economics, environment



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Existing comments

Had Pope Francis not chosen (or rather was chosen for) his particular career/lifestyle then he would have made an excellent politician. He has charisma and integrity, two qualities many pollies can only dream of. The Australian calls Francis' language "vivid, almost hysterical". I prefer to think of it as deeply thoughtful and prescient. I can't help thinking that The Australian needs a reality check. A Green one!

Pam | 07 July 2015  

"Page after page reveals Francis and his advisers as environmental populists and economic ideologues of a quasi-Marxist bent." Well, Kelly can hardly claim to be original, the Wall Street Journal described Paul VI's Populorum Progressio, promulgated in 1967, as 'warmed over Marxism' but then, I suppose, that's just the sort of thing the Wall Street Journal would say about a pope's plea to the rich to share their table with the poor and marginalised.

Paul | 08 July 2015  

In his comments about capitalism the Pope is reinforcing the point that we live in a society and not an economy. The economy has become an idol

Barry | 08 July 2015  

Thank you Fr Bruce. I have been a keen reader of The Australian newspaper since its first issue in July 1964. Over time I have come to take its increasingly one sided opinions with a grain of salt. Your excellent analysis of its hysterical reaction to Laudato Si reassures me that I am wise to do so.

Brian | 08 July 2015  

Climate sceptics might note LS 188, which is a disclaimer indicating the church does not side with a particular scientific climate theory or political agenda: "188. There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus. Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good."

Father John George | 08 July 2015  

If I recall correctly another point made by Kelly in that or another opinion piece in The Australian, he likened the Pope's acceptance and position on climate change to the debate on Darwin's theory of evolution back in it's day, and questioned the consequences of the church jumping on that bandwagon at the time. If I understand his point correctly, this is actually an argument FOR jumping on the bandwagon, but it highlights the challenges of being progressive on any issue where the majority of the church membership/leadership is still at a different level of understanding.

AURELIUS | 08 July 2015  

Since society began those voices which have spoken up for justice, against oppression and exploitation, have been assaulted by the forces of greed and unjust power. If the faithful are NOT being attacked by these forces, we should worry.

Bilal | 09 July 2015  

Free market advocates Milton Friedman, Friedrich von Hayek and James Buchanan are also Nobel Laureates, who might have very different policy positions from Stiglitz. Granted, they are all deceased. But did the managers of Pope Francis conduct an impartial roundtable discussion, including input from the disciples of these thinkers? Or did the preparation for this encyclical simply excommunicate any opinions - even those of Nobel laureates - which deviated from the party line? Frankly, I'm sick of Stalinism, wherever it rears its ugly head.

HH | 09 July 2015  

Ever since it became clear to me that the Australian was but the popular media spin machine for the neoliberal political forces i have ceased reading it. I read my news and opinion from foreign sources as then, and only then, is it possible to escape the fishbowl of myopic journalism permitted in Australia.

GRAHAM WARREN | 09 July 2015  

The evidence that the "free trade" is not equitable and is corrupt is everywhere if you wish to look. Stieglitz is correct in his writings. Whether climate change is happening or not (and any credible scientist says it is) polluting our world for quick money and greed is not going to be a fair process and will definitely leave less for future generations. Pope Francis is so right when he says it is a sin to rape, pillage and destroy the earth with no regard for those less fortunate. The rich and powerful do have all the say and I don't think God would approve.

Cate | 09 July 2015  

Great and timely piece, Father Bruce. As for the oft repeated position of the neo-liberals: look at China - millions brought out of rural poverty.. At what cost: 40% of soils and 60% of water poisoned; air pollution killing/ affecting millions annually and into the future; poorer people unable to afford/get access to much of the health care... There had to be a better way.

Len Puglisi | 09 July 2015  

No one will be surprised at the vitriolic attack from that mouthpiece of Oz conservatism, The Australian. More surprising is that you feel the need to defend the Pope, Bruce. His eloquent plea for the environment (and many other things) is its own best defence, I think. Fun fact (I speak now as a reformed scientist): it's now 3 years since the last vestige of doubt left real scientists, concerning the cause of climate change. It's absolutely delicious hearing denialists decry others for 'flouting science'.

Chris | 09 July 2015  

Mr Kelly's article is what you'd expect from the Australian. I remember when President Clinton and Madeleine Albright were visiting Australia and making pronouncements about the importance of environmental issues. Mr Kelly's response was "the environment is not an issue". This level of denial can't be reasoned with. We can only acknowledge it's there and do the best we can to present the truth. Not easy when that clique - The Australian "commentariat" - relentlessly attack advocates of such causes and try to shout down them or destroy their reputations.
Seriously uncivil activities!

Philip Armit | 09 July 2015  

Bruce, thank you for an excellent analysis of Pope Francis's encyclical within the context of Catholic social teaching as articulated by former Popes. Kelly's attack on Francis demonstrates how bereft his position is of a moral and ethical filter.

Joe Cauchi | 09 July 2015  

Thanks Fr Bruce for an excellent commentary. We can be proud of Francis in his defence of the environment and the poor. The best way to diminish the influence of Kelly and other neo-liberal protagonists of extreme capitalism is simply not to purchase Murdoch papers and suggest this action to others.

Llewellyn Davies | 09 July 2015  

All Pope Francis want is a "fair go" for all, if this quintessentially Aussie virtue is to be branded by the Editor at Large as quasi Marxist, then Mr Kelly I suggest you leave this wonderful country if you don't like our values.

John Gallagher | 09 July 2015  

"Frankly, I'm sick of Stalinism, wherever it rears its ugly head." and we are glad that you are, HH. However spare a thought for poor Mr Kelly, no not Ned, who would lose his job if he took a line other than that of Murdoctrine. But Jesus like Francis was a sign of contradiction so perhaps the Pope too is doing his job.

Michael D. Breen | 09 July 2015  

Elsewhere I have criticised 'Laudato Si' for being too wide ranging and verging on the poetic in its language. It reads like a encyclical put together by a committee. I suggested this would make it a smorgasbord from which supporters and opponents would pick and choose different sentences to suit their different positions. Fortunately before reading Paul Kelly's diatribe of 24th June I had read Paul Collins's article in Eureka Street of 19th June. Here the difference between the work of a trained historian (Collins) and the hatchet job of a hack journalist could not have been more stark. I am afraid that in a polity where three word slogans substitute for policy the church is going to have a tough job selling the Pope's claim that ecological issues cannot be dealt with in isolation from social justice and equity. Try as I might I cannot think of a phrase that captures the thoughts of a man who refuses to separate concern for the total environment from concern for his fellow human beings at the bottom of the economic heap. He certainly a man not likely to buy the trickle down theory of some neo-liberals.

Uncle Pat | 09 July 2015  

I shouldn't worry. Francis is a highly educated man known throughout the world and admired by millions. Who on earth is this Paul Kelly bloke,anyway?

john frawley | 09 July 2015  

I am amazed how few people have not noted the glaring error in the Pope’s encyclical. It actually uses the phrase “carbon dioxide pollution” and says “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced.” Everyone should know by now that carbon dioxide is exhaled by every one of us and is essential to all plant life on Earth. Pope Francis seems to believe that every breath he exhales adds to the world's pollution. He might believe that. I don't and I intend to spend eternity not believing it.

Denis Goodwin | 09 July 2015  

Well done Bruce, well done your correspondents, and very especially well done dear Pope Francis! He is not repudiating the necessity of markets or technology, but saying quite clearly that they are not sufficient and brilliantly espouses what is needed in addition. He is a true follower of Jesus; wow! That would certainly get the Australian annoyed all right.

Eugene | 09 July 2015  

Sorry, HH, I must have missed something. Where did the ugly head of Stalinism pop up from to make you sick? Is it one of the heads our PM says must roll?

OldG | 09 July 2015  

Paul Kelly has a view on market forces and the exercise of economic power that is fundamentally inconsistent with Catholic social teaching as articulated by Pope Francis and his predecessors. It is a view that appears to have driven a number of articles in The Australian and its recent editorial. Kelly’s view was expressed in October 2005 in his response to opposition by various churches, including the Catholic Church, to the reductions in wage protections foreshadowed by the Work Choices legislation: "The intellectual failure of the churches to accept the moral foundations of a market economy and market-based mechanisms to deliver equity dooms them to a historic marginalisation. ... When will it [the Catholic Church] discover one of the elementary precepts of the 18th century, namely the moral laws built into economic liberalism?)” (The Australian, 26 October 2005, page 16.) With that frame of reference it is impossible to get any balanced discussion of Laudato Si’. Brian Lawrence

Brian Lawrence | 09 July 2015  

Thank you, Bruce, for this carefully nuanced response to Paul Kelly's emotive outburst.

Veronica Lawson | 09 July 2015  

Thanks for your clear and strong rebuff of Kelly and the Australian' reaction to Laudato Si. Reading this encyclical fills me with hope. It is as significant for our times as Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum was in its times. Laudato Si Francis!

Corrie van den Bosch | 09 July 2015  

It would seem to be well within the Pope's remit to criticise free market economics on the grounds that it is inequitable and socially destructive. I think his opponents want him to make innocuous motherhood statements which are not really concerned with the real world. That would be confusing the difference between the realms of Caesar and God. Jesus was quite incisive about exploitation and injustice whenever he saw it. He did not talk about systems of government but about abuse of power, economic or otherwise. The law of the market, on its own, will not provide a just moral order. I am not surprised that so many with far, far more wealth and real power than the Vatican are attempting to denigrate, marginalise and effectively silence the Pope and the Church on these contentious issues. It would make things far, far easier for them. These are difficult times for the Pope and the Church. They definitely need our moral support.

Edward Fido | 09 July 2015  

Thank you, Bruce, for responding to Paul Kelly by bringing your deeply-informed understanding of Catholic Social Teaching to bear upon his reasoning.

vivien | 10 July 2015  

Paul Kelly is a Murdoch journalist loyal to his boss who has sacrificed credibility for whatever is in Murdoch's interest. He says 'the Pope’s language was ‘almost hysterical. Profound intellectual ignorance is dressed up as honouring God’. Such a ridiculous statement is simply mouthing Murdoch's philosophy when it comes to climate change: any threat will be treated with an angry barrage of articles and opinions from his formidable media stable despite facts to the contrary. But who is being hysterical here? The extreme right of the climate change debate are desperate to undermine well established facts concerning global warming and anyone who dares differ will be dealt with harshly - Pope Francis must be discredited and silenced. But the skeptics are on the wane, their arguments are now seen to be hollow, self-serving and dangerous. The Australian Newspaper is one 'intellectual' arm of Murdoch's media (others e.g. the London Times) and is meant to present a balanced and factual argument countering global warming, but has failed due to overwhelming factual and credible evidence to the contrary. Rupert Murdoch has championed these forces for years and his attack on the Pope is a reflection of a man losing not only the battle but the war. The Australian is a discredited newspaper only concerned with promoting ultra-right wing views than it is with presenting facts. It is the mouth piece of the Abbott Government, for example, and its credibility on the issue of climate change is well know. Mr Abbott himself described it as "crap" - Murdoch's stable was quick to agree. Bruce Duncan has demolished Paul Kelly's arguments (and the editorial from The Australian). As if the Pope would not do his homework on this issue knowing the conservative forces would be mounted against it and him, is plainly ridiculous.

Jeff | 10 July 2015  

I think we can dismiss any outpourings from the Murdoch press - their track record in terms of accuracy and openmindedness is abysmal

joan thomas | 10 July 2015  

Check out the Earth Charter from Yale University and the EcoJesuit website ... implementation of Pope Francis' encyclical is already in the making!

mary tehan | 10 July 2015  

I think that the current Pope is on the wrong track, trying to make the Church into a nature worshiping pagan pack of nutbags.

Michael | 10 July 2015  

Graham Warren, I don't see reading a particular news source the way I see reading an encyclopaedia - I find reading feature articles from viewpoints/political ideologies different to my own as stimulating because it allows me to mull over it and have an internal debate. And Michael - we could very well learn some lessons from nature worshiping pagans, like our Australian indigenous people. Or maybe we should go back to the old days and burn pagans at the stake.

AURELIUS | 12 July 2015  

I am surprised at Paul Kelly's words. AS for who he is, I don't agree that he is a "hack" journalist. I have enjoyed many well written, balanced articles of his. I may be mistaken, but is he not the same named, educated man, once associated with many men of learning, sharing a common companionship.

LAP | 12 July 2015  

Wow, that's awesome Michael! Could you help me understand what you mean by 'a nature worshiping pagan pack of nut bags'?

Ginger Meggs | 12 July 2015  

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that The Australian newspaper has never, ever made a profit. It exists a tool used by a hyper-wealthy and powerful businessman to influence public opinion and by that means, government. It's practically the gazette for the 1% and can be dismissed as such.

Russell | 12 July 2015  

Pope Francis is quite well educated in the sciences .Like Jesus , the Church has every right to lash out at the corruption and greed of this world. To do otherwise is to lose its mission given by its founder. I strongly support Pope Francis and totally agree with Bruce. The Australian is totally irrelevant in the current environmental debate and represents no one other than the interests of its boss and Tony Abbott.

Gavin O'Brien | 12 July 2015  

I described Paul Kelly as a hack journalist because he embodies in his senior years a once robust horse who is now hackneyed. He may once have verged on being a political warhorse such as Alan Reid but is now a tired old horse fit only for pulling a hackney cab whose driver accepts only ultra conservative passengers. - but he feeds him well.

Uncle Pat | 12 July 2015  

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