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December 04, 2013

Pope’s Views on Free Market Seen as Sharp Rebuke in US

by Jerome Socolovsky

Pope Francis' criticism of what he calls “unfettered capitalism” has struck a nerve in the United States, long seen as a global proponent of the free market.

In a 224-page apostolic exhortation, titled Evangelii Gaudium, or Joy of the Gospel, Francis argues that “trickle down” economic theories - associated with the late U.S. President Ronald Reagan - merely create an illusion of helping the poor.

The document has prompted a backlash from some U.S. conservatives.

“This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope,” said right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who saw it as a thinly veiled attack on the United States.

Other critics have come to the defense of the free market, arguing that it has done much more to lift people out of poverty than the Catholic Church has ever done.

At a recent discussion on Catholic social thought at Georgetown University, a school founded by Jesuits, Bishop Stephen Blair of Stockton, California pointed out that Francis had merely quoted the fourth century saint, John Chrysostom, when he wrote:

“Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life.”

John Carr, a former policy adviser to U.S. bishops, said such comments must be seen in the context of the pope’s previous critiques of socialism.

“People who say he’s a Marxist don’t know Marx and they don’t know Francis,” he said.

Carr describes Francis as “a man not of ideology, but a man of experience.  He lives with - works with - has been in the streets with the poor.  And frankly when you look at this [capitalist] system from the bottom up, it looks different than from the top down.”

Some left-leaning Catholics believe that what the pope is saying justifies tax increases on the wealthy and subsidized access to health care, which the political right in the United States has opposed vehemently.
 
But conservative blogger Kathryn Jean Lopez says that’s not the message.
 
“What he’s pointing to are the radical mandates of Christianity,” she said.  “And if you actually believe the gospel and if you actually believe Catholic social teaching, you actually believe the Catechism, you actually live lives that are different than the culture proposes.”

The life the pope lives is certainly grabbing headlines.  He reportedly went out in disguise among the homeless in Rome and has revealed that he used to work as a bouncer in a nightclub in Argentina.

Julie Byrne, a Catholic Studies professor at Hofstra University in New York, says Francis has inspired hope among progressives.

“Lots of people in the Church who have been looking for a more open message from the Vatican for a long time are celebrating what he’s saying, and are predicting that it is going to have so many effects on the youth and appeal to people who have fallen away, and I think that remains to be seen,” she said.

Former Catholics are estimated to comprise around 10 percent of the adult population in the United States.  It has been noted that if ‘ex-Catholic’ were a denomination, it would be one of the largest religious groupings in America.

The pope’s emphasis of centuries-old Catholic social teachings may not be bringing many of them back into the pews, but it is being received as a powerful commentary in a nation where belief in the gospel of the free market remains strong.