Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Father's Day, We Celebrate Pope Francis' Prophetic Role

One of the Jesuit values (at Loyola University New Orleans)
On this Father's Day, I was simply going to post a quote from Pope Francis urging the faithful to rethink our economic values and place a priority on changing a system that promotes the types of inequalities that are causing suffering around the world.  But as I was looking for the best quote, I came across several options, so I decided to make this into a full blog post.

In his short tenure as the Bishop of Rome,  Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio has fully embraced the name he chose when he was elected as pope.  Francis of Assissi was a strong advocate for simplicity and caring for the poor, and Pope Francis has fully used his prophetic role as head of the Vatican to advance these values. By biblical definition, a prophet is not a person who predicts the future, but one who speaks out about the ills of society, such as injustice, oppression and the pursuit of a luxurious lifestyle at the expense of the poor. (Sound familiar?)

“A savage capitalism has taught the logic of profit at any cost, of giving in order to get, of exploitation without thinking of people... and we see the results in the crisis we are experiencing,” the pope said in comments tothe men and women coming to the 'Gift of Maria' food kitchen, located at the walls of the Vatican in May.

A few days later,  Francis told members of a charitable foundation in Rome that unemployment was “spreading like wildfire in large areas of the West and ... alarmingly extending the boundaries of poverty.” He continued, “there is no worse material poverty, I would like to emphasize, than that which deprives someone of earning their living, deprives them of the dignity of work. By now this 'something wrong' is not just affecting the southern regions of the world, but the entire planet.”

Francis has called for “a global rethinking of the entire system, seeking ways to reform and correct it in a manner consistent with fundamental human rights.”

The pope's statements have caused some uncomfortable moments for those who promote a libertarian vision of capitalism, where the market is allowed without any interference whatsoever to dictate the direction of our global economy.  One blogger claims that "capitalism permits the massive multiplication of wealth for all of society." But he misses the point.  Francis is not calling for an end to capitalism, but rather for society to place limits on the abuses of capitalism.

And as some observers  point out,  the criticism is not aimed just at the U.S., Europe and Japan, but also at some newly wealthy countries. "In a fast-changing economic world, Russia has become a case study in gangster capitalism, while the Chinese Communist Party has hatched a privileged overlord culture as the larger population is teeming with grassroots capitalism," said the The Global Post.  "Neither of these models, nor the casino culture of Wall Street banks in which the Federal Reserve Bank guarantees the house on major losses, shows any interest in human scale, nor an ethical responsibility of creating jobs for the domestic economy."

And while Pope Francis has spoken out frequently about this social ill, his comments are in line with some of the values of his predecessors.  "Rhetoric of this kind echoes John Paul II and Benedict’s encyclicals that criticized the consumerist culture of western capitalism alongside the command economy of Marxism,"said the Global Post.

And even some of the publications whose primary readers are those who embrace capitalism acknowledge that the intention of Pope Francis' statements.  "The former Cardinal placed a strong emphasis on the distribution of wealth, not the creation of it. Spiritually he places emphasis on identification with the poor and the spiritual benefits of living a life of poverty,"  said Forbes  magazine. "Pope Francis has condemned 'ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.”

So on Father's Day, I salute Pope Francis for embracing his role as prophet.  

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