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Francis sticks in Republicans' craw


Pope Francis has been fiercely consistent in his priorities: the lives of the marginalised, the structures that diminish their dignity, and the pastoral imperatives that flow from mercy. He has not so much shifted mainstream Catholic discourse as broadened the terms.

The connections he makes in Laudato Si between climate change and the prevailing economic order, for instance, forces a rethink on what it means to be a Catholic with political power. The lead-up to his visit to the United States only confirms that this has been received as provocation, especially among Republicans.

Arizona representative Paul Gosar — a staunch Catholic — made a show of boycotting the historic papal address to the Joint Houses of Congress. In an article for TIME magazine, he explains that 'when the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one'. He advises the Pope to fight climate change 'in his personal time', adding that '(promoting) questionable science as Catholic dogma is ridiculous'.

Fox News radio host Brian Kilmeade was also blunt: 'I'm Catholic and he could stay home. Some of his comments just have no place. He's in the wrong country. He doesn't like capitalism. He blames us and money for what's going on in the Middle East ... He's never visited our country before, now he gets around to it and he's critical going in?'

Washington Post columnist George F. Will (an atheist) was at least less prosaic: 'Francis' fact-free flamboyance reduces him to a shepherd whose selectively reverent flock, genuflecting only at green altars, is tiny relative to the publicity it receives from media otherwise disdainful of his church.'

The conservative response to Francis has exposed fault lines; this much we can gather from the past two years. A US Gallup poll in July attributes the steep decline in his popularity — from 76 per cent to 59 per cent — to Catholics and conservatives. Last year, 89 per cent of American Catholics had a favourable view of Francis, dropping to 71 per cent this year. Among those who identify as conservative (rather than moderate or liberal), the figure dropped from 72 per cent to 45 per cent.

It is reasonable to believe that Francis' critique of free market economics has contributed to the hostility. One pundit described him as 'an eco-wolf in pope's clothing, a stealth Marxist in religious garb'.

Such intra-Catholic tensions aren't new. It is the same adverse response that met liberation theology and distributism. Dorothy Day, cited by Pope Francis in his speech at the Capitol, was a social activist and pacifist who clashed ferociously with the Archdiocese of New York.

Like Day, Francis has rearranged the furniture, bringing certain elements of Catholic doctrine into better prominence, making central a space for those who have been thrust to the peripheries.

This necessitates change not just in perception, but in things like how the tax system is designed, what our budget priorities are, and whether conditions such as housing, education, health care, employment and security are liberating and available to all.

This view makes Francis authentic, not radical. Even his overhyped comments on capitalism are nothing more than an iteration of Christian priorities: 'Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.'

The only people who regard Francis as radical are those who think popes should only attend to matters of personal conscience. Topics such as abortion and same-sex marriage are safe zones for comment because they don't concern the economic order, or threaten systems that generate income and wealth for the few. As Gosar put it in his boycott piece: 'If the Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be the first in line.'

But Francis has smudged the line between faith and economics in a way that many conservatives find inconvenient. To be consistently Catholic, they would need to support policy that prioritises those who have the least.

Fatima Measham

Fatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She tweets @foomeister .

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, Aylan Kurdi, war, refugees, morality, satire, Charlie Hebdo, war



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It was encouraging to see that Pope Francis gave as good as he got. He delivered it straight and then himself boycotted the congress dinner in favour of visiting a homeless shelter. I like this pope!

Bill Venables | 29 September 2015  

"To be consistently Catholic, they would need to support policy that prioritises those who have the least." Policy-wise, I enthusiastically support the free market: in housing, education, welfare, etc, because I fervently believe it overwhelmingly prioritises those who have the least. I'm happy to supply theoretical and empirical evidence to back up my case, which includes data from Nobel Laureates in economics. If Pope Francis' non-infallible opinion on these specific economic points is at odds with mine, does that mean I'm not a "consistent" Catholic?

HH | 29 September 2015  

After watching and listening to his tour here carefully, I conclude that he is indeed a radical -- just as Jesus was. In my view Francis is steering Catholicism right back to the original mission statement, which is only a few lines long, and entails humility, mercy, service, caring for the Christ in every being. Many people who are more interested in money and power are horrified, which I find entertaining; they would be even more horrified by the blunt Christ they profess to follow.

Brian Doyle | 30 September 2015  

I can only applaud this well-informed and thought-provoking article. As I am on the same side and of the same opinion as the author it is unnecessary to go into greater detail regarding Conservative Americans. I would rather address the oft-repeated hysterically expressed here in Europe and elsewhere that this pope could split the church. No, given enough time - and OUR support - he could renew the church as Saint Francis did, and very much on the same basis as well - a strong option for the poor, for peace, and, oh yes!, God´s creation.

Frank Joussen | 30 September 2015  

Fatima, a great article in its own right but also as a pre-read in preparation for the next Catalyst for Renewal dinner in Sydney on 10th October when Fr Frank Brennan sj is the guest speaker and his topic? ... "Why Pope Francis Is Not An Anti-Capitalist Greenie"

Marea Donovan | 30 September 2015  

The way I look at it, Pope Francis sticks in their craw because he is attacking their god(s) and their religion(s), for surely that is what money, profit, and the sort of power that these "conservatives" tend to love, has become for them. That said, I find the pope's challenges difficult to address as well, for I benefit from an unjust system - how much am I willing to give up to follow JC?

DeC | 30 September 2015  

Metanoia: To be consistently Catholic, they would need to support policy that prioritises those who have the least.The meaning of the Greek metanoia is very different from the meaning of the English repentance, and the meaning of the Greek metanoeo is very different from the meaning of the English repent. Therefore, Walden describes the translation of metanoia as repentance as "an extraordinary mistranslation. The translation of metanoia as repentance began in the 2nd century when the Greek metanoeo was translated into the Latin as poenitentiam agite.In biblical Greek, metanoeo/µeta???? and metanoia/µet????a signify a "change of Mind, a change in the trend and action of the whole inner nature, intellectual, affectional and moral." This meaning of metanoia as a "transmutation" of consciousness contrasts with classical Greek in which the word expressed a superficial change of mind.[21] It was in its use in the New Testament and in writings grounded in the New Testament that the depth of metanoia increased until, in the words of Archbishop Richard C. Trench, it came "to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God.

AO | 30 September 2015  

This Pope is indeed Christ-like. And in that, he is out of step with the rich and acquisitive. He brings joy and hope to the downtrodden. He is the embodiment of Joy and Hope (Gaudium et Spes), the most important of the four Vatican II Apostolic Constitutions which carry more moral authority than Papal Encyclicals. Not really surprising that he would get into big trouble with American Catholicism the great scar on the face of the Church with its apostate clergy and religious, its scandalous ex-catholic universities and its conservative politics supplying the weaponry to both sides of the conflicts in the Middle East. Ironic that all the US currently stands for is the antithesis of the philosophy that carried it to the heights of Wester civilisation. The principles expressed in Jefferson's Immortal Declaration,The Declaration of Rights, so clearly vocalised in Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" have been abandoned by this God-forsaken country. We should be grateful that the Pope has made it back to Rome safely.

john frawley | 30 September 2015  

Abraham Lincoln remarked along the lines of: "Most people can handle adversity fairly well. A greater test of their spirit comes when they achieve success in the form of wealth, power, or both".. Many Catholics in U.S.A, and also in Australia started out in adverse circumstances, and eventually achieved success, leading some of them to typify the saying: "Some people are said to possess great power or wealth, but what can be truer is that the power or wealth possesses them, as they become consumed with guarding it, trying to increase it, and making it their whole life's work.

Robert Liddy | 30 September 2015  

"If the Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be first in line" so wrote Rep Paul Gosar in an article published in Time magazine. It was a reprint of an article Gosar had written for an Arizona (his home state) magazine. The blatant effrontery of Gosar in stipulating what he thinks the Pope should talk about when addressing Congress is beyond belief. And yet it is a fair indication of how beholden Gosar is to the Tea Party and the US gun lobby. Gosar's profession is dentistry. He was Jesuit educated. The Pope has a degree in Chemistry. He was Jesuit educated in Philosophy and Theology. I have a feeling that what he regards as 'standard Christian theology' is wider, deeper and richer than Rep Gosar's. What a pity the latter's Jesuit education didn't cultivate in him the gift of open-mindedness and the courtesy to listen (patiently at times!) to one's elders.

Uncle Pat | 30 September 2015  

Poor Pope Francis can not win. If he restricts his comments to matters of personal conscience, he would be called irrelevant to the things that matter to people. If, as he has done, he restricts his comments to matters of principle, he is criticised by journalists like Paul Sheahan for not suggesting any real life solutions. If he were to suggest particular steps that any government should take, he would be interfering in the political process. But, God bless him, he perseveres in his typical Jesuit way, in telling the truth as he sees it.

Alan Hogan | 30 September 2015  

Very good article and some equally good comments. Francis is transforming the Church and having a good go at trying to transform the world, with the sort of radical transformation to the common good through personal commitment and action that AO implies in his excellent remarks. Francis is moving us away from condemnation of specific "acts" to an understanding that "evil" exists wherever human beings and indeed Creation itself is not treated with respect or endowed with its full dignity. That is where abortion, war, capital punishment, negative exploitation of people and things, domestic violence etc etc come together. And these things cascade: it is no point blaming a women for aborting her baby if her personhood has has been exploited, violated or driven into poverty, for example so she is at her wits end. And HH, I agree that capitalism can and frequently is a force for good when using the same radical principles, but so frequently there are examples where it does`t and so needs determined regulation (heard of the tobacco industry; or even VW or 7/11 recently?).

Eugene | 30 September 2015  

It boils down to what politicians (secular pundits), have tried to drill into human consciousness - State and Religion do not mix! If you worship one you cannot practice the other. Does that also mean that I cannot be spiritual because I am human?

Roy Fanthome | 30 September 2015  

It's probably worth noting that Thomas Piketty and his colleagues, using data over 300 years, demonstrate the significance of inheritance in wealth, and how free market systems tend to concentrate that wealth. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, offers a nuanced view that capitalism does not have to produce inequality, but capitalist societies make choices that induce it (e.g. tax structures that favour those at the top). There is evidence that trickle-down theory doesn't work; in the US the 'middle-class' is now worse-off. All this is by way of saying that Francis' views are not fringe - they are grounded in mainstream economic discourse.

Fatima Measham | 30 September 2015  

Ever since Pope Francis has opened his mouth on economics, climate change and standard Catholic Social teaching, wha entertaining theatrics, mental gymnastics and ideological contortions by Catholic neo-cons such as George Weigel of First Things, the Greek chorus at Crisis Magazine, Sam Gregg and (Fr) Robert Sirico at the Acton Institute and their colleagues. This crowd who for over thirty years branded their Catholic opponents as 'modernists,' Vatican II 'wreckovers,' the 'Gaudium et Spes brigade' and 'cafeteria Catholics' now find themselves to be dissenters. Fortunately for them, the ultimate fall-back position is to trot out the tired old mantra, 'But the Pope is not speaking infallibly!' What a close call!

David Timbs | 30 September 2015  

No Pope. Bishop, or Council can change the constitutive elements of any of the seven Sacraments. And if Pope Francis believes that "Man" cause the climate to change , well he is not the only one, so does Tim Flannery and Malcolm Turnbull. I don't and I am a consistent catholic. I am loyal to Our Lord Jesus, to Our Blessed Mother Mary, to the Blessed Trinity, the Pope and the Magisterium

Ron Cioni | 30 September 2015  

What a pleasure to see a debate about the role of capitalism in the reduction of poverty worldwide. Both HH and Fatima Measham have civilly stated facts and authorities on either side, and we are the better for this. Perhaps that's one of the intended fruits of the Pope's stance. We're actually involved in a conversation, rather than a wrestling match.

Joan Seymour | 30 September 2015  

I take it Fatima Meesham that you are referring to Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the 21st century.” Whatever the popular reception of Piketty’s work has been, economic scholars from all sides of the political spectrum have been far from uncritical. According to critics Piketty makes basic errors in his retelling of history. Most of it is skewed to make the Republican Party look miserly and the Democratic Party look generous. His sweep of the empirical data does not look back into multiple countries over 300 years so much as Western countries from 1900. At base he is a redistributionist who wants international governments to coordinate so that they can impose a global wealth tax. This would raise state confiscation of private wealth to new levels and would mean a massive intrusion into people’s private dealings. But if it’s in the name of battling inequality, then it’s justified. For those interested a scholarly yet readable critique of his work “Challenging the Empirical Contribution of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century” can be found here at this URL. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2543012

Gerald Lanigan | 01 October 2015  

Thanks Eugene: I don’t regard the examples cited as proof that the free market as such needs determined regulation above and beyond merely reinforcing property rights, which is what free marketeers advocate anyway. The VW case is one of fraud on the consumer – a straightforward violation of property rights. But fraud notoriously occurs everywhere – in business, politics, bureaucracy, the church, academia, you name it. So it’s no peculiar indictment of the market or capitalism to say that fraud crops up there. Tobacco industry? If it’s misrepresentation you have in mind there, (e.g.: the “no link between tobacco and cancer” slogan) again, that’s just fraud. The 7 Eleven case is more complex. 7 Eleven franchise operators were caught dishonestly claiming to fulfill awards payments, and were thus breaking the law and lying. Lying in this case is obviously a mortal sin, and moreover one shouldn’t lightly break a law. But what if the law is unjust? The assumption behind the substance of the case against 7 Eleven is that minimum wage laws enhance workers’ welfare. But there is a huge and longstanding economic argument against this assumption: some workers benefit from minimum wage enforcement, while others are denied work altogether. What the coverage of the case omitted to mention is that when minimum wage is finally enforced, marginally profitable franchises will close down, the unemployment queue grows longer, and the wealth-creating taxpayer is left to pick up the welfare tab. Great! BTW, the 7 Eleven case exposed the naivete of our supposedly top shelf economic journos. “Several workers who have spoken to the joint media investigation say they would rather work 20 hours at the correct rate than work 40 hours for half the pay” breathlessly intoned the SMH’s Adele Ferguson on August 29. Well, duh! Personally, I wouldn’t refuse half an hour of work a week for 80 times my current pay but, hey, maybe that’s just me.

HH | 01 October 2015  

In the Pope’s address to congress the word “time” used twice and relative context should not be overlooked: 1) Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a “time” – to build a better life for their families. Note: One billionaire in 2013 made $US12.7 billion or ~$37 million per day; ~$1.54 million per hour; or ~$25,694 per minute. Souce Net 2) Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which “time” will use for us”. Note: It will take 100 years for the world’s poorest people to earn $1.25 a day. Souce Net

AO | 01 October 2015  

Pope Francis is very focused especially in the questions or challenges he poses for he genuinely seeks to engage disparate 'worlds' in conversation about this one world we share. This is perplexing at times but encouraging for he's not easily labelled despite efforts to do so and the freedom he embodies is freeing: "Oh didn't you know, yes that's been Catholic teaching for a while now." Pope Francis has not departed from Catholic Social Doctrine and someone needs to distinguish for a staunch US Catholic the difference between Teaching and Dogma. Where has the world been? Where has the church been? They're rediscovering one another. God Bless and Protect.

Gordana Martinovich | 02 October 2015  

To Ron Cini: Please have a proper listen http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-01/one-plus-one-dr-cary-fowler/6821480

AO | 03 October 2015  

Very obvious clear-cut cases , HH, mentioning fraud as the only limit to a free market. Basically means do what you want, exploit who you want, as long as you get away with it. The food/sugar industry refuses to admit there's a link between sugar consumption and diabetes 2 and obesity. There's more money to make in processed than healthy food, so as a result 70% of the stock in our supermarkets is leading us to a slow death. Yes, that's the free market. It's about time POLICY, comes before politics.

AURELIUS | 06 October 2015  

Aurelius, your post doesn't even begin to make sense. Even if, as you claim, that fraud is the "only" limit on the free market (which is not what I said, or even implied), then to state that the free market means: "Do what you want, exploit who you want, as long as you get away with it" is obviously false. For, if you in fact get away with fraud, then while it may be fine materially for you, but it's still - even by your own limited definition - not a "free market" situation. On the contrary, it's anti free market! In a similar vein, thieves may get away with robbing banks and jewelry shops day on day. This is not the "free market"! The "free market" is people voluntarily entering into peaceful honest transactions with each other. "Capitalist acts between consenting adults", as the Bob Nozick put it in "Anarchy, State and Utopia" as I'm sure you know. Love it or hate it, can you not grasp this?

HH | 06 October 2015  

For the record, the Pope never studied for obtained a university degree in chemistry. When he was 19, he gained a titulo (degree, diploma) in chemistry from a technical secondary school. Perfectly respectable, indeed something beyond our Year 12 chemistry level, I understand. But not a university degree.

HH | 07 October 2015  

HH, the point is not whether I can grasp the notion of a free market, but whether the US can embrace and love it when it creates so-called free trade deals, but always with the upper hand. That's not a free market either.

AURELIUS | 07 October 2015  

Aurelius, I identified two instances of fraudulent practice from cases offered to me, and you infer from this that I maintain fraud to be the "only limit to a free market". Sensible discussion is unsustainable in the face of such manifestly defective reasoning. End of debate.

HH | 08 October 2015  

Gosar cites 'standard Christian Theology'. He clearly doesn't know what this is.

Pearl | 27 October 2015  

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