We must listen carefully to his message.
Is Pope Francis a communist? An article on CNBC raised the question based on comments made by the Holy Father since his becoming pope. His comments on capitalism have raised eyebrows and caused some conservative Catholics in the United States to take pause.
We must not equate every call for social justice to communism. Justice is most possible amid a culture of freedom, but freedom also requires responsibility to one another.
His statement is one of humility, and his pronouncements call for attention to the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. What message then, is he sending to the world’s rich?
According to Mark Koba, writing for CNBC, Pope Francis has repeatedly cited “the pitfalls of capitalism, decrying global income inequality and equating low-wage labor to a form of slavery.”
It seems ironic for the leader of one of the world’s wealthiest institutions to be criticizing wealth, yet Pope Francis has called for the Church to be poor. He has asked bishops and cardinals to leave their princely houses and to get into the streets where the needy are. If ever there was a pope who was poor in spirit, it’s Francis.
So what gives? Is he a communist? A socialist of some form? Anti-capitalist to say the least?
None of the above.
Pope Francis is simply reaffirming Catholic teaching. He’s also modeling badly needed behavior.
“Analysts say Pope Francis-leader of some 1.2 billion Catholics-is not necessarily calling for the demise of free market theory. Rather, he’s issuing a strong warning to economic leaders,” Koba explained.
“Like many people, he thinks capitalism won’t survive unless it decreases income disparity,” Koba quoted George Haley, professor of marketing and international business at the University of New Haven, as saying.
In the United States, rampant capitalism has enriched the wealthy as the nation pulls out of the Great Recession. However, while Wall Street prospers, Main Street continues to struggle.
When we put the question to our readers on Catholic Online Facebook, readers overwhelmingly responded that they were yet to see the benefits of the recovery that Wall Street is enjoying.
Although hiring has ticked up, many Americans remain unemployed. Those who have gone back to work are earning less. Meanwhile, retirees are facing scaled-back pensions and debt continues to grow for the young, especially those attending college.
What’s happening is a massive aggregation of wealth in the hands of the few, while the masses must learn to make do with less.
The poverty is relative. Even the lower-middle class in America is wealthy by world standards. Nonetheless, the wealthy are rising, and the rest of the world, from the middle class to the poor, is being left behind. Only in developing economies such as in India and China, are middle classes booming.
Pope Francis is calling attention to this problem. Disparity in wealth means less opportunity and less freedom for people at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. Such people become more likely to adopt socialist and communist ideals, which can be very nationalistic and opposed to freedom of religion or Christianity.
Pope Francis isn’t decrying the ownership of private property, but rather the hoarding of it. Hoarding wealth can be harmful to the soul. Very few people in positions of wealth and power have the ability to live poorly, as the Holy Father does, avoiding the temptations of power.
Most wealthy individuals seek to secure and increase their wealth and influence, even though it often comes at a high human price.
Rightly, the wealthy and empowered should consider the teachings of the Church when setting policies for both business and government.
This is the constant message of Pope Francis. There is nothing communist or socialist about asking for people to make responsible, sometimes selfless decisions with their wealth and power. Instead, it is very Christian to concern oneself with the plight of those less fortunate. This is Pope Francis’ call, and it is the message of Christ Himself.
Being wealthy, conservative, and successful does not itself equate to being right.
We would do well to pay attention.