Saturday, November 30, 2013

Defining Argentina's First Pope

November 29, 2013 5:50 pm

The New World Pope shifts Church politics south

Francis has figured out that people would rather hear about salvation than the wages of sin
From the way Pope Francis discusses sex and money in his first major papal pronouncement, you can tell a lot about his plans for Catholicism. He wants Church leaders to scold people less for their sexual arrangements. He thinks capitalism in its present, lightly regulated state is a “new tyranny”.
The Pope’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“Joy of the Gospel”), was released this week. He calls it a set of guidelines for a “new phase of evangelisation”. The election in March of Francis, a charismatic priest serving the working class of Buenos Aires, was a milestone in this phase.





For all the Church’s recent difficulties, its leaders believe it has vast potential for growth. They are right. The consumerism and materialism of the past decades have wrought economic marvels, but they have left a spiritual void – what Francis calls “the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart”. And yet every time the Church clashes with hedonism, it loses. So, at one level, Francis is making his self-abnegating religion more marketable in this consumerist age. He has figured out that people would rather hear about the joys of salvation than the wages of sin. “An evangeliser,” he writes, “must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral.”
This shift should not be mistaken for all-out modernisation. On fundamental questions – which include sex and money – the Pope is not revising the Church’s beliefs, although he may change dramatically its attitude towards power.
The cornerstone of the Pope’s thinking is that the Church is a community of sinners, subject to “self-absorption, complacency and selfishness, to say nothing of the concupiscence which preys upon us all”. Francis is harder on hypocrites within the church than without. His tone is occasionally bilious and angry. His fellow clergymen are pretentious. They write lousy homilies. They are cliquish and snobby, which leaves people feeling unwelcome. “The Eucharist,” he writes, “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
Those who follow the Catholic Church primarily to root against its sexual teachings will find little to please them in this document, which lays out a number of non-negotiable points. No women priests, no reconsideration of abortion and (by implication) no gay marriage. The Pope is not at odds with the way previous popes understood these things. He is just a bit more savvy about how, on television and online, “certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning”.
On economic matters, the Pope’s thinking is radical, albeit somewhat less radical than it looks. There are passages in Gaudium that sound like the manifesto of some mid-20th-century revolutionary front. (“Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognise that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property.”) But the Gospels have always been an uneasy match with free markets. At heart, the Pope is urging believers to pay more attention to the poor. Nothing could be more mainstream than that. The poor, and Christians’ duty to them, are all over the Gospels. Latin American theology since the 1960s has stressed that theme tirelessly. “For the Church,” Francis writes, “the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one.”
These ideas will be harder for the Pope to apply in more prosperous parts of the world, where today there are, broadly speaking, two ways to help the poor. You can help them directly, by giving alms or tutoring or ladling soup. The help this affords is genuine, but it takes the heat off the wider system, centred in the west, which the Pope attacks as a tyranny. The other way to help is indirectly, through politics. In advanced European and North American democracies, however, “the poor” tend not to speak for themselves. They are represented by the more “compassionate” of parties of the relatively wealthy, whose “compassion” often consists of pillaging the other party’s voters to compensate their own. The poor wind up an afterthought.
In less-developed political societies, such as, historically, those of Latin America, it is easier to tell rich from poor. And a lot more politically charged, too. Either the first New World Pope understands European and North American politics less well than his predecessors or he has revealed a historic shift in the Church’s culture. The Vatican may still be in Rome, but the heart of the church is on other continents. After centuries of projecting its attentions outward, Catholic Europe now finds itself on the periphery. It is missionary territory.
The writer is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools.
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  1. Reportnow what | November 30 2:12pm | Permalink
    If the pope blames capitalism he should be consistent and open the Vatican riches to the poor and the migrants
  2. ReportJonathan Escott | November 30 1:29pm | Permalink
    From Yale’s Global Magazine “in 2011 there were 820 million people
    living on less than $1.25 per day, down from 1.37 billion in 2005. Whereas it took 25 years to
    reduce poverty by half a billion people up to 2005, the same feat was likely achieved in the six
    years 2005-2011. Never before have so many people been lifted out of poverty over such a brief
    period of time.”

    If one cares to lift people out of poverty, is it wise to undermine the system that has done more than any other to do so?

    Charity has its place, but as a practical solution to lifting the mass of humanity from poverty, no.
  3. Reportstonebird | November 30 11:51am | Permalink
    If the Pope leaves Politics and High-financier dictatorships aside, (such as anti-democratic meddlers, ie Koch etc) then he can re-align the Church as a "moral" and "ethical" authority for the 99% to adhere to. In which case he could actually start something new.
  4. ReportPaul Munton | November 30 10:20am | Permalink
    It is quite extraordinary in western capitalist countries the way in which people pursue and value freedoms in their private lives but ignore the tyranny of employers, who in the work place, strip them of those same freedoms under threat of dismissal and impoverishment. Surely this is what Pope Francis is bringing to our attention?
  5. ReportIvan Turgenev | November 30 3:50am | Permalink
    "The Auditing Integrity And Job Protection Act Of 2013"

    Bought and paid for with 4 million dollars by KPMG and Deloitte & Touche; spread out to the us congress and 85 thousand to Obama and 115 thousand to Romney in the 2012 election cycle. A bill to prevent the PCAOB from implementing audit rotations among the now big 4. The real slap in the face though is that "And Job Protection Act".
  6. ReportIvan Turgenev | November 30 3:44am | Permalink
    (“Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property.”)

    I know at least one University and its surrounding community that will definitely be at odds with those Lenin/Marxist undertones - and many of them are catholic. hehe.
  7. ReportIvan Turgenev | November 30 3:37am | Permalink
    He almost makes me want to join the brotherhood, this guy.
  8. ReportIvan Turgenev | November 30 3:33am | Permalink
    "He wants Church leaders to scold people less for their sexual arrangements. He thinks capitalism in its present, lightly regulated state is a “new tyranny”."

    Oddly enough this fits nicely with the article on the proposed fines for paying for sex in France - Lenin placed the blame of prostitutes in Europe on Capitalism and Marx always said that Capitalism would need to run its natural course in order for the tyranny and inequities of it to be felt by enough people - Before the Utopia could be realized.
  9. ReportFelix Drost | November 30 2:15am | Permalink
    Not a bad article. But if the Vatican were to really pivot, a review of Pope John Paul II's visit to Nicaragua ought to be leading. So far John Paul II remains a leading saint of the Church and Nicaraguan priest Ernesto Caridinal is not. Liberation Theology has no place in this vatican. Positions advance but it still is all politics.
  10. ReportJohn Schaffer | November 30 12:00am | Permalink
    I liked the article, but the banner at the top of the first page is misleading and also wrong. It states:

    "Is the Pope a capitalist? Preaching salvation beats the wages of sin."

    As you point out, the Pope is not denigrating capitalism, but the abuse thereof. Perhaps, impolitic as far as North American and European feeling might be tilted. So it it too harsh to criticize the Envangelii Gaudium as being against capitalism.

    However the second sentence is flat wrong, as least as far as the subject of abortion as same sex marriage. In such cases the condemnation is much easier to proclaim and rant about because those are the sins of another person who is vulnerable and until recently without much hope of a defense or pardon. So easy to be sanctimonious about what one feels safe from. Without worries of an unwanted pregnancy (like being a man) or proclivities toward the same sex (heterosexual) it is easy to throw stones.
  11. ReportVicente Espeche;Gil | November 29 9:29pm | Permalink
    There is another possible conclusion:
    The first New World Pope has perfectly understood certain global effects from European and North American politics, which has prompted a historic shift in the Church’s attitude. The Vatican is always in Rome, and the heart of the church is wherever there are poor people. True it is, also Europe is missionary territory.
  12. Reportmotinow6700 | November 29 7:52pm | Permalink
    this article might usefully have referred to the online questionnaire which the Vatican earlier this month asked all Catholics to complete ahead of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family 2014.

    (i won't post a hyperlink as the FT system will then exclude this comment, but easy to find by feeding that title into a search engine)