Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The More It Changes, The More It Stays the Same

Two friends linked today to stories about a new statement by Pope Francis which attacked "unfettered" capitalism.  One article said the document, Evangelii Gaudium or Joy of the Gospel, was 84 pages long; the other said it was 224 pages long.  But details, details!  As I've complained before, many of my liberal friends, including non-Catholics and even non-theists, get all excited by Francis' pronouncements, which never seem to have any follow-through in action.  (Admitted exception: his disciplining of a German bishop for spending millions of euros on his residence.)  Some people commented on those links that Francis was "more left field ... (than we're used to)" and excited themselves by wondering "How long do you think he has until someone attempts to assassinate him?"

My friends have short memories.  The quotations I saw from Evangelii Gaudium sounded familiar to me.  Here are a couple of samples from EG:
"As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems," [Francis] wrote...

“I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth,” the pope wrote...

“We have created new idols,” the pope wrote. “The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.”
I knew I'd heard such sentiments before, and sure enough, a search confirmed my memories.
He deplored "hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor".

Those "hotbeds" also grew out of "the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism", as well as "various forms of terrorism and crime", he said.
And again:
In the speech, for example, he railed against abortion and contraception, as hurting the family, but he also called for state-sponsored day care, as helping it.

He also raged with equal fire against Marxism and capitalism. By focusing solely on material concerns, he said, they "falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality which is God."

"Both capitalism and Marxism promised to point out the path for the creation of just structures, and they declared that these, once established, would function by themselves," he said. "And this ideological promise has proven false."
The "he" in these quotations, of course, is Pope Benedict XVI.  His predecessor, John Paul II, said similar things.

But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.
For that matter, both Benedict and John Paul opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and JPII opposed the first Gulf War as well.

I suppose a dedicated exegete could find nuances in their various statements that indicate real doctrinal differences on political economy between Francis and his predecessors, but it seems obvious to me that he's not really saying anything new here.  It's long been clear to me that while the Vatican will put real pressure on secular authorities to pass laws against contraception, abortion, and homosexuality, they don't put anything like the same energy into pressing for economic justice.  What arms merchant has felt the burn, what slumlord, what economic exploiter?  When has the Church encouraged -- let alone ordered -- Catholics to abstain from military service in unjust wars?  There's been at least one priest defrocked and excommunicated by Francis for being too pro-gay and pro-woman.  (For the purpose of comparison, the "Bishop of Bling" was merely suspended, or as Bloomberg News worded it, "put on leave.")  I'll start being impressed by Pope Hope and Change when he defrocks a priest or two for hanging around with dictators and capitalists, or when he makes some rich Catholic tycoon do a pilgrimage to Rome in sackcloth with a public confession of his sins and giving away half of his wealth to the poor.