Disagreeing with the Pope.

The last week has been full of analysis of Pope Francis' first Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudiem.

As Jimmy Akin explained, an apostolic exhortation is a papal document that exhorts people to implement a particular aspect of the Church’s life and teaching. Its purpose is not to teach new doctrine, but to suggest how Church teachings and practices can be profitably applied today.

Some apostolic exhortations are devoted to the pastoral challenges faced in particular parts of the world (Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas). Others are devoted to particular themes. Previous apostolic exhortations include:

Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (on evangelisation today)
John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici (on the role of the laity)
John Paul II’s Redemptoris Custos (on St. Joseph)
Benedict XVI’s Sacramentum Caritatis (on the Eucharist)
Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini (on the Word of God).

In terms of its importance, it is of a pastoral nature rather than a doctrinal or legal nature, though, it is ranked lower than an encyclical or an apostolic constitution. It is one of the more important papal documents—more important, for example, than a Wednesday audience or a homily.

As with everything official that the pope writes, it is to be taken seriously. Most importantly for us, it presents an opportunity to find out from the Pope himself thinks and intends to do about some stuff—mostly the new evangelisation, this is because it was written in response to the most recent meeting of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in October, 2012 devoted to the subject of the new evangelisation.

This synod took place before Pope Francis was elected in March 2013. seven points, gathered together in the five chapters of the Exhortation, constitute the fundamental pillars of Pope Francis’ vision of the new evangelisation:

1. The reform of the Church in a missionary key,

2. The temptations of pastoral agents,

3. The Church understood as the totality of the People of God which evangelises,

4. The homily and its preparation,

5. The social inclusion of the poor,

6. Peace and social dialogue,

7. ...and the spiritual motivations for the Church’s missionary action.

In America, Rush Limbaug, political commentator and talk show host, made quite a vocal attack
“There has been a longstanding tension between the church and communism, that’s what makes this to me really remarkable unfettered anti-capitalist dictate. This would have been unthinkable for a pope to believe or say just a few years ago.”
Blimey, that's ignorance it really is hard to beat! The Church's social teaching has consistently condemned extremes of Captialism and Socialism. History has shown us that the Church is right: if we consider that free economy will regulate itself, we are just being naive, as the recent banking scandal in the UK has demonstrated. Similarly, over-intervention and regulation by the state has led to very dangerous situations.

Back in 1981, John Paul II wrote Laborem Exercens - “On Human Work” which taught that work is the central social issue and increases human dignity. The encyclical prioritised labour over capital, the rights of workers (especially women) and unions and held a brilliant critique of Capitalism as well as Marxism.

The Church is not informed by a particular political position or agenda, but rather concerns itself with principles informed by the Gospel: the dignity of the human person, the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, and care for the poor. These have not changed and are echoed throughout the centuries in Catholic social teaching. As the world changes and new social challenges present themselves, the Church constantly finds new and dynamic ways of relating the Gospel's teaching to modern situations.

Pope Francis keeps reminding us that fidelity to Christ means seeing him above all in the faces of suffering and wounded people. But this Gospel principle is not as radical as some in the secular media are trying to paint it. Indeed, the social teaching of the Church has consistently held this as a truth since Leo XVIII wrote Rerum Novarum in 1891. Leo XIII was inspired to write this encyclical due to a conviction that the present age had handed over the working poor to inhumane employers and greedy competitors. He considered that the working poor were needy and helpless (n. 66) and lacked sufficient protection against injustices and violence. His sympathy went out to these poor, who have a "downcast heart" (n. 37).
I've seen a number of negative comments from Catholics about the exhortation which have shocked me a little bit in all honesty. I'm shocked by how unwilling we often seem to be humble and listen, preferring to teach rather than learn. It's a common human trait, but one we should unlearn I think.

For my part, I feel neither affiliated to left or right wing politics, but I do feel affiliated to the Church. What is the Church’s social teaching? It is the proclamation of the truth of Christ’s love in society (Caritas in Veritate n. 5). This is the wisdom I have chosen to follow. The Pope is intelligent, experienced and evidently committed to social justice issues. He comes from a different part of the world to me where the culture and social issues are unfamiliar. I think I can learn a great deal from him and, rather than dismiss what he has to say about any given issue, I would prefer to absorb his comments and try to understand them from his experience and position. I do this a lot, and I find that it is a great way to learn and grow.

Similarly, I think we have a natural tendency to relate what we read directly to our experience and understanding of an situation. Clearly, many Americans have taken what he has said as a direct criticism of American Capitalism. I'm sure if they stopped and thought about what the Church has consistently said, they would find the comments in context make much more sense.

It is easy to see this out of context and as everything the Pope has to say on a particular subject (EG 54 on for example, which criticises "trickle-down" economic theories). I think the Pope is showing us his experience from a Latin American context here and doing what a Pope should do—he has given us a vision and is challenging us (exhorting us) to think about difficult social issues, and get us talking about it. As Benedict XVI explained in Caritas in Veritate n. 9, the Church does not offer specific technical solutions, but rather moral principles to inform the building of such solutions. This short video from Catholic News Service attempts to explain why Pope Francis is involved in talking about this sort of issue:

Samuel Gregg at the National Review gives the Pope a stern telling off in his article Pope Francis and Poverty. Although clearly better informed than Limbaugh, he starts of attacking the Pope's perspective on Islam;
“authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (253).
Gregg says that is not a correct academic perspective, and presents some powerful evidence. However, many Muslims would powerfully argue that the Pope's perspective is the right one. The Pope is trying to build peaceful consensus here and I ask what the alternative to supporting peaceful Islamic vision is? In my own society, I see the only way forward with Islam to be to support those peaceful interpretations of Islam and confront the violent ones as irrational.

Gregg then goes on to attack the pope's comments in EG 54.
There are several problems with this line of reasoning. First, opening up markets throughout the world has helped to reduce poverty in many developing nations. East Asia is a living testimony to that reality — a testimony routinely ignored by many Catholics in Western Europe (who tend to complain rather self-centeredly about the competition it creates for protected Western European businesses and other recipients of corporate welfare) and a reality about which I have found many Latin American Catholics simply have nothing to say.
Second, it has never been the argument of most of those who favor markets that economic freedom and free exchange are somehow sufficient to reduce poverty. These things are certainly indispensable (witness the failure of planned economies to solve the problem of scarcity), but they’re not enough. Among other things, stable governments that provide infrastructure, property arrangements that identify clearly who owns what, and, above all, the rule of law are just as essential.
It hardly need be said that rule of law (mentioned not once in Evangelii Gaudium) is, to put it mildly, a “challenge” in most developing nations. The lack of rule of law not only ranks among the biggest obstacles to their ability to generate wealth on a sustainable basis, but also hampers their capacity to address economic issues in a just manner. Instead, what one finds is crony capitalism, rampant protectionism, and the corruption that has become a way of life in much of Africa and Latin America.
Of course, there are some good points in this as one would hope, but I couldn't help feeling that Gregg had taken it all very personally, the fact he seems at great pain to say that he hasn't merely serves to exacerbate this (me think he doth protest too much?). The Pope's position is that no one solution, for example trickle-down economics, can be thought sufficient to solve these problems.

Catholic Social Teaching presents us with objective truths about human development. These teachings hold that the truth is more than just clever rhetoric which ultimately leads to the dominance of the supporters of one ideology over another, or of one country or people over another. The proclamation of this truth is the mission of the Church, the Gospel impels us to proclaim love “To love is to will the good of another.” (St. Thomas Aquinas ST 1—11, 26, 4 as cited in CCC 1766). Without truth, this love degenerates into sentimentality (CV 3), and so we must show our love in the truth which is consistent and which, when clear in our praxis, lends credibility to the truth which we proclaim.


  1. I am only going to respond to the Islam comment. I have read and taught the Koran and much of the hadith, in translation, several times. The texts are violent. To be a good Muslim, a Muslim must embrace violence.

    Stupid example: if you belonged to a religion where you had to wear green all the time and insisted on wearing blue, you would be an apostate. Muslims who do not wage holy war are apostates.

    Muslims who are Westernized and believe in accepting peaceful integration, are hated and scorned by the real Muslims.

    To pretend that a religion based, yes, based on violence and not a revealed religion, but a man-made one, unlike Judaism and Christianity-the only two revealed by God religions, is truly living in a deceit both intellectual and emotional.

    Where were the outcries of Muslim leaders en masse after the horrific killing in Woolwich? Where were the Muscle demonstrations against such violence?

    Did I miss something? As to prejudice against the Muslims, this is greatly exaggerated. Check this out. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/10093568/The-truth-about-the-wave-of-attacks-on-Muslims-after-Woolwich-murder.html

    When are Catholics going to return to the reality that violence-based religions, which kill those who will not convert, kill young couples who love each other but one is not a Muslim, who inflict pain on women in female circumcision, who dominate women as in the Koran they are less than human males, who think that Western education is evil, and who kill apostates to their religion, that is converts to Christianity are not true religions, but human constructs which need the light of Christ to come and show the real way of love and real peace?

    Catholics who do not know the truth about this violence-based religion do not want to know the truth. Catholics will lose their own freedoms by pretending such.

    1. Thanks Marie

      Certainly, I don't disagree with most of what you say here. But I do think there is a broad base of Islamic culture that is not quintessentially violent, the flaw is the ideological and philosophical basis of their faith and many Muslims are convinced of the peaceful and ordered direction of their faith, whilst being ignorant of these flaws. I have written about this a bit, especially here .

      However, that's not really what I am trying to discuss here. In his new apostolic exhortation, the pope states: “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence” (n.253). When he says this, in this context, in this document, how do you and I deal with that? Certainly his position would appear to me to be in accordance with that expressed in Nostra Aetate , would it not? So is his declaration right from a certain perspective? Is it foolish? naive? Ignorant? Or is he pointing to a reality we can bring about as Catholic Christians because the Church, in her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship? I would be interested in your thoughts!

    2. If you worked with a secularized Catholic, who believed in contraception and abortion, divorce and remarriage without annulment and doubted the Eucharist, would you call that person a Catholic? Anyone who departs from the creeds of their own religious beliefs is no longer "practicing". So, too, those Muslims who depart from the credal statements of their own system of belief are apostates, and frequently, killed as such.

      You quote Nostra Aetate, but that was written before, what Hilaire Belloc prophesied, the re-emergence of real Islam, as it was taught originally. What was acceptable is no longer acceptable among those who want the global caliphate. To deny that this type of thinking is the majority is not to face the facts of Islam.

      I would like to refer to Dominus Jesus, in which the Pope Emeritus made it clear that there are only two real religions-I suggest you look closely at the text.

      Forgetting the past is no longer possible in this day and age of Muslims who want the global caliphate. That Christians think that one can dialogue with a belief system which is against the Catholic faith is naive.

      What do we have in common? Why are we not evangelizing?

      To pretend that the Muslim community does not support divorce or even abortion is naive. A friend of mine in the south of England told me that at her weekly vigil at the abortion clinic one day, ALL the young girls on that particular day were Muslims, as she talked with them and their partners. They all but one went through with abortion.

      Tell me what we have in common. Violence? The denial that Christ is Lord and God? The denial of the status of Mary as the Theotokos? The hatred of the Eucharist as idolatry? The gross inequality of women? The desire for kingdom of God as preached by Christ? The global unity under the last caliphate?

      Common ground may not be able to be found anymore. It is not the Catholics who bring up the past, but the Muslims themselves.

      Why 9/11? The great victory of Vienna. It is not the Catholics who have the long unforgiving memories....

    3. "In my own society, I see the only way forward with Islam to be to support those peaceful interpretations of Islam and confront the violent ones as irrational." I cannot help but contrast this with the attitudes of the Church Fathers towards the worship of Jupiter or even towards Christian heresies, They had no desire to go forward "with" paganism; they fully intended to replace it. That's because they had two remarkable ideas: that paganism was indeed fundamentally and irredeemably wrong, and that it actually matters whether a religion is right or wrong. Too many Catholics today deny one or both of these propositions.

      Even in ancient times, Christians and pagans might unite to deal with an immediate crisis, such as a fire (a huge threat back then!) or a barbarian invasion, and they could generally live side-by-side as peaceable neighbors. We do the same today, not only with other religions, but also with those who actively support abortion.

      We must never, however, make "niceness" our ultimate goal, so that we would consider the murders of millions of the unborn to be an unfortunate collateral effect of maintaining the all-important status quo. Nor must we consider the destruction of souls to be an acceptable price for being "nice", not to other people, but to other faiths -- or our own souls will be among those lost.

      The "way forward with Islam"? It's not a concern of mine.


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