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.


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