Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Pope's pungent pontification against greed


Pope Francis addresses Bolivia faithful

Last week prominent people were busy in Europe, in Australia and in South America. In two continents they left the air foetid. In the other it was fresh.

Europe, a nation whose prosperity was built on the remission of its debt, and which rescued its own banks, condemned the already dispirited of another nation to limitless penury. And all in defence of economic orthodoxy. The air where the finance ministers met was indeed foetid.

In Australia it was no less so. Ministers contributed to environmental degradation and economic decline by backing coal mines and their sponsors and putting out of work people working in renewable energy.

In such an atmosphere the Pope’s visit to Latin America came as a breath of fresh air. After issuing his Encyclical on the environment he was with his own people, sharing a common language with the poor who battled for survival in unequal societies. In two engagements in Bolivia he focused on what matters.  

The first was his visit to the Palmasola jail. Built for 800 prisoners it holds 5000, of whom more than three quarters are still awaiting trial. Prisoners who met the Pope told him that bribery, drug-dealing and violence are rife.

What mattered to the Pope was the people held there. He was clearly delighted to share their company and to speak to them in their simple and earthy language. He shared with them his own frailties, his enthusiasm for faith, his empathy with their pain on separation from families, their anger and fear at the conditions in the jail and their tenacious hope for something better. He nurtured their hope and their generosity.

In his speech to the grassroots community groups, he also showed he knew intimately their struggle to live. He encouraged them to keep hope alive and to work together. But here he also invited them to look at the wider forces that made for a sour world, and spoke urgently of the need to address them. It is worth quoting from his speech at length to show its directness and passion.

Time, my brothers and sisters, seems to be running out; we are not yet tearing one another apart, but we are tearing apart our common home. Today, the scientific community realises what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem. The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea – one of the first theologians of the Church – called 'the dung of the devil'. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the 'dung of the devil'. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, sister and mother earth.

This paragraph introduced the themes of his speech. Reading it after having to hold one’s nose in the two other continents is to breathe fresh and bracing air. In the body of his talk Pope Francis discussed what needed to be done:

The first task is to put the economy at the service of peoples. Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money. Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes. That economy destroys Mother Earth.

The economy should not be a mechanism for accumulating goods, but rather the proper administration of our common home.

The economy should serve human beings and nature. The Pope does not back particular economic frameworks. But he insists that all must be directed to the common good, so ensuring a decent life for the poor and respect for the environment.

This focus makes it clear how prissy the debate about the authority of the Encyclical is. It leaves space for difference about how to regulate the economy. But the urgency of the need for change and the obligation of people individually and in their associations, including businesses, to serve the common good and so especially the poor, are central to Christian faith, not simply to church teaching. On that the Pope is adamant.

Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment. It is about giving to the poor and to peoples what is theirs by right. The universal destination of goods is not a figure of speech found in the Church’s social teaching. It is a reality prior to private property. Property, especially when it affects natural resources, must always serve the needs of peoples.

Pope Francis recognises that any structures built on these principles will require personal conversion to be sustained. That is why he speaks with the poor about the importance of their own commitments. He finally appeals over the head of finance ministers and governments to people to struggle for an order that will bless both the natural world and the poor of the world.

We cannot allow certain interests – interests which are global but not universal – to take over, to dominate states and international organisations, and to continue destroying creation. People and their movements are called to cry out, to mobilise and to demand – peacefully, but firmly – that appropriate and urgently-needed measures be taken. I ask you, in the name of God, to defend Mother Earth.

Compared to the waterboarding of the Greek people and the coal dusting of the Australian people, the Pope’s discourse may lack something in the power to suffocate. But how refreshing it is to breathe fresh air.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is a consulting editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Pope Francis, capitalism, greed, environment



submit a comment

Existing comments

Thank you for plcking up on this Andrew. Pope Francis is a leader who is speaking the truth and it is a breath of fresh air. The people are crying out for it. The Faith Ecology Network is holding a forum in Sydney this Thursday on this very topic with voices from the major world religions sharing their religious motivations for their concern and actions. https://www.facebook.com/events/844761682284217/

Anne Lanyon | 20 July 2015  

Let us earnestly hope Pope Francis is not just an isolated voice crying out in the wilderness. Items on the international agenda such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, if ratified, will, once again, alter the balance of power in favour of multinational corporations. I see the final decision on the Shenhua Watermark Coal Project as being a litmus test as far as Australian federal and state governments go. In these times I wonder if the politicians we elect have the mettle to stand up for the general good. It is good the Pope is encouraging solidarity amongst the poor. This needs to be translated into their effective engagement in the democratic process (when the country is a democracy) to get the government they need.

Edward Fido | 20 July 2015  

The foetid air coming from Australia! I agree, it also comes in many colours, re immigrants, non conservation, profit above workers. My question to you Andrew is this. How is it that the leaders of this country pushing this style of economics and government have been educated in schools owned and run by your religious order, the order of the Pope you quote in contrast to this government. What are the students taught in your schools that lead them to take this path?

Kevin Vaughan | 20 July 2015  

my comments are extremely respectfull of pope francis...eureka street however has injected venom into Franciss beautifull and simple message.When you talk of foetid air in Europe and Australia you only speak for yourself and make pope francis job harder each time you talk like this. seventy percent of Australians would probably agree with the essence of the popes message,very few would agree with your jaundiced and extremist and ideological views on Greece. Please continue to give us the popes beautifull message and spare us your own unwanted opinions.

steve graham | 20 July 2015  

Thank God for the greatest pope since John XXIII.

Peter Goers | 20 July 2015  

Your piece is also a breath of fresh air Andrew. Italian newspapers earlier tis month gave a lot of prominence to an interview Thomas Piketty gave to the German magazine Die Zeit in which he points out that Germany has never repaid its debts and it ill becomes the Germans to bay for Greek blood. It's worth remembering that Germany's modern prosperity is built totally on the enormous amount of capital poured into it by America to make it a buffer against Russia after WW2. Britain, on the other hand, was left to struggle out of the enormous dislocation it had suffered in the process of resisting Germany, its industries left in need of capital etc that would have facilitated modernising and enabled prosperity.

Joe Castley | 20 July 2015  

Thank you once again for the voice of reason, for Pope Francis - and the voice of the Gospel. One of the most respected and able of economists, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote The Affluent Society in 1958. After such an analysis no one could maintain (without ridicule) that unfettered capitalism (and really it can only be unfettered) would educate and feed the poor, tend the ill and elderly, keep the air fit to breathe and provide any kind of moral direction and intellectual fulfilment - it would be a nonsense to speak of integrity. Reading Pope Francis's words to poverty-stricken Latin America I recalled a poem of Roy Campbell: Still out of hardship bred, Spirits of power and beauty and delight, Have ever on such frugal pastures fed, And loved to course with tempests through the night.

John Nicholson | 20 July 2015  

What world do you live in Steve Graham? You have completely misconstrued this article!

John Whitehead | 20 July 2015  

Andrew, Indeed a breath of fresh air. It is time for the ordinary people to protest the idiotic behaviour of our leaders. Pope Francis maybe like the Prophets of old crying in the wilderness, but like them his message will continue to resonate with the ordinary people long after the greedy people and their stooges have left the public stage.

Gavin O'Brien | 20 July 2015  

In spite of Pope Francis' Encyclical, Pell has seen fit to undermine this vital work and reprise his 2011 talk on Climate Change, called One Christian Perspective on Climate Change by questioning the Pope's scientific credentials. You would think Pell had enough on his plate with the Royal Commission and reforming the Vatican Finances? Where firm guidance was needed, Pell instead gave Abbott a shovel to dig up the Liverpool Plains and a hammer to destroy wind farms and solar panels.

Dr | 22 July 2015  

Before reading this article, I had read an article on Vietnam. Its Marxist-Leninist economic system had been responsible for endemic poverty, chronic rice shortages, and 700 per cent inflation. In 1986 the government ditched these failed economic policies and announced the Doi Moi reforms which created a market economy. Result: from 1993 to 2004 the percentage of people living in poverty dropped from 60 per cent to 20 per cent; Vietnam became the world’s second-largest exporter of rice after Thailand; Hanoi has grown from under 1 million in 1979 to over 7 million; Hanoi’s Royal City Mall is said to be “as opulent as Las Vegas”; and in 2013 the Vietnamese economy grew by 8.5 per cent. Hanoi is following China’s economic and political model: the state yields on economic freedom as long as citizens don’t demand political freedom. Meanwhile rusted-on old EU socialists in ideological blinkers continue to lead their citizens into poverty. Anyone can talk about poverty, social justice and the love of God. But if you aren’t prepared to take proven, practical steps that in fact alleviate poverty, you are just as responsible for poverty and misery as any greedy capitalist.

Ross Howard | 22 July 2015  

"We cannot allow certain interests .. to continue destroying creation.": The greatest of all creation is certainly that created in God's own image, that is, the human being. Can't wait for the issue of the destruction of the human being to be publicly addressed by the Church and its agents in the public domain, The rest of the planet doesn't really matter if human beings are created in God's image destined for immortality in a spiritual hereafter life united with the Creator. As far as I am aware, only human beings are destined for resurrection!

john frawley | 23 July 2015  

John Frawley, there's a group of Catholics who pray the rosary on a regular basis outside an abortion clinic on the outskirts of Sydney's CBD and hand out leaflets to women entering the premises if you would like to add to their effort. It's on Elizabeth St at the back of the dental hospital.

AURELIUS | 24 July 2015  

This is about the TPP - and I sent it last Friday to Andrew Robb. It definitely affects us as in this article. _____ Like thousands of Australians, my father fought in the war to protect us from being taken over by others, so that we could a decent life where we made our own rules to govern ourselves, and look after our fellow citizens. This included Health Care, Laws to protect us and the environment, and Banking, just to name a few. Australians have always liked to give each other a "fair go". Americans (where I lived for some 5 years) mainly live by different rules. Money is always foremost in their minds. The American Munro Doctrine and similar have put into the American minds the thought of constant expansion. They want to take over the world, either through commerce, or war.

Clement Clarke | 03 August 2015  

Similar Articles

Booing Adam Goodes

  • Michael McVeigh
  • 29 July 2015

What is the difference between people who boo Goodes because they disagree with his statements on Aboriginality, and those who lined the streets of Selma to abuse Martin Luther King and his companions on their marches? What they are doing is designed to further marginalise and alienate Aboriginal voices brave enough to speak out against the status quo. The actions of those booing Goodes need to be called out for what they are - racism.


The problematic 'saving lives at sea' argument

  • Kerry Murphy
  • 28 July 2015

When refugee advocates criticise harsh policies such as boat turnbacks, they are confronted with claims that the measures are necessary for saving lives at sea. This justification has dominated the debate to the extent that any policy which further restricts refugee rights becomes justifiable on this ground. Imagine a proposal to ban cars because there were too many people killed and injured on the roads.