Pope Francis’ war on aspiration

Pope Francis has declared war on those who aspire to provide a better life for themselves and their families, expressing the misguided snobbery of a man for whom money has never been an issue.

In the first week of his papacy, when briefing the media, the pope exclaimed:

“Oh how I long for a poor Church for the poor!”

This statement is a perfect summary of Francis’ papacy, a primary theme of which has been a peculiar dislike of prosperity. His first major document, -- “Evangelii Gaudium” -- was a prime example of his disdain for those who are not content to soak in poverty or to submit to socialism.


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In the document, Francis says that “the powerful feed on the powerless” in a free market economy, and that those who engage in the market become “incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor.” He says the “culture of prosperity deadens us.”

The pope’s snub of the struggle for prosperity is a typically derisive attitude toward the American quest for self-development, and an attitude that is often encountered among rich European liberals, or, in this case, clergymen who have not had to work to provide a better life for their families.

As a Catholic in my 20s, recently married and with a baby, I can testify to this. I was never much interested in making money when I was single; I was happy to have enough to pay my rent, with some left over for a few books and a season ticket to my soccer club.

But like millions of fathers, I am now working hard -- not just to put food on the table, but to give my wife and child as comfortable and secure a life as I can.

The Church has traditionally understood and encouraged this aspiration. Unfortunately, this pope does not, possibly due to his career in bureaucracy that unusually contains zero experience at parish level, in which he would have at least had experience bringing in money.

In "Evangelii Gaudium," the pope goes on to say (without any evidence) that “ethics are viewed with derision” in a free-market economy and that “the thirst for power and possessions knows no limits.” Then, putting the boot in, he concludes by saying, “Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God.”

It is true that Catholic social teaching has been wary of full-fledged support of capitalism since Leo XIII discussed it in “Rerum Novarum” in 1891. But it still recognized the inherent value of markets, correctly viewing them as the best way to produce prosperity and freedom.

Recent popes have focused on the dangers of socialism, with even the most liberal pope of the last century -- John XXIII -- saying “no Catholic could subscribe to even moderate socialism.”

But Francis has no time for nuance. Like his vague, open-to-every-interpretation interviews, he blunders in, slamming the market and its adherents without any clarification.

He goes on to say that trust in the free market “has never been confirmed by the facts,” and that those who do trust in it express “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power,” which is ironic considering his crude and naïve trust in the goodness of politicians to redistribute wealth. “Please, your Holiness, tell me again about the raging prosperity of socialist Latin American countries?

When asked if he was a Marxist, Francis denied it, but he quickly said that he knows good Marxists. Yet  capitalists making a better life for themselves apparently are godless heathens who desire a Dickensian nightmare.

The pope is yet another victim of what George Will recently called “liberalism by gesture.”

Francis makes lots of noise about the poor, and the liberal media fawn over him at every occasion. Yet it is those evil capitalist Catholics who pay for the churches, fund the hospitals, the schools, the soup kitchens and everything else that allows the Church to actually help the poor.

Francis can pay as many of his own hotel bills as he likes, but he won’t have his “poor Church for the poor” unless there are rich people to fund it.

That’s not to say Francis should give the rich and those aspiring to be rich a free pass. The Gospels are very clear about the dangers of money and the instructions to give generously to the poor. But, strangely, in the exhortation, Francis never urges capitalists to give to the poor.

The only such instructions of sharing wealth are directed to politicians; the only charity the pope supports is forced redistribution. The consequences are the backward economics we see expressed by the pope.

Francis must stop making broad judgmental statements about those striving for success and bring himself back into conformity with Catholic social teaching and reality.