Pope Francis and The Liberal American Narrative

Did you hear the crazy thing that the crazy guy with a radio program said about the Pope?

Yeah, me neither. That some talk-radio host or Fox News personality (or MSNBC personality) said something stupid is not news and it has long since stopped being interesting.

Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis (Source: UN)

Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis (Source: UN)

Did you hear or read what Pope Francis actually said in his brief remarks? You may have. But his remarks seemed to play as the backdrop to American outrage politics of the day.

Here is a selection from the remarks of Pope Francis to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

I thank you, Mr Secretary-General, for your cordial words of introduction. I thank all of you, who are primarily responsible for the international system, for the great efforts being made to ensure world peace, respect for human dignity, the protection of persons, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, and harmonious economic and social development.

The results of the Millennium Development Goals, especially in terms of education and the decrease in extreme poverty, confirm the value of the work of coordination carried out by this Chief Executives Board. At the same time, it must be kept in mind that the world’s peoples deserve and expect even greater results.

An essential principle of management is the refusal to be satisfied with current results and to press forward, in the conviction that those gains are only consolidated by working to achieve even more. In the case of global political and economic organization, much more needs to be achieved, since an important part of humanity does not share in the benefits of progress and is in fact relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Future Sustainable Development Goals must therefore be formulated and carried out with generosity and courage, so that they can have a real impact on the structural causes of poverty and hunger, attain more substantial results in protecting the environment, ensure dignified and productive labor for all, and provide appropriate protection for the family, which is an essential element in sustainable human and social development. Specifically, this involves challenging all forms of injustice and resisting the “economy of exclusion”, the “throwaway culture” and the “culture of death” which nowadays sadly risk becoming passively accepted.

With this in mind, I would like to remind you, as representatives of the chief agencies of global cooperation, of an incident which took place two thousand years ago and is recounted in the Gospel of Saint Luke (19:1-10). It is the encounter between Jesus Christ and the rich tax collector Zacchaeus, as a result of which Zacchaeus made a radical decision of sharing and justice, because his conscience had been awakened by the gaze of Jesus. This same spirit should be at the beginning and end of all political and economic activity. The gaze, often silent, of that part of the human family which is cast off, left behind, ought to awaken the conscience of political and economic agents and lead them to generous and courageous decisions with immediate results, like the decision of Zacchaeus. Does this spirit of solidarity and sharing guide all our thoughts and actions?

Today, in concrete terms, an awareness of the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters whose life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death must lead us to share with complete freedom the goods which God’s providence has placed in our hands, material goods but also intellectual and spiritual ones, and to give back generously and lavishly whatever we may have earlier unjustly refused to others.

The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus teaches us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others. Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus to change jobs nor does he condemn his financial activity; he simply inspires him to put everything, freely yet immediately and indisputably, at the service of others. Consequently, I do not hesitate to state, as did my predecessors (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42-43; Centesimus Annus, 43; BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 6; 24-40), that equitable economic and social progress can only be attained by joining scientific and technical abilities with an unfailing commitment to solidarity accompanied by a generous and disinterested spirit of gratuitousness at every level. A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.

Consequently, while encouraging you in your continuing efforts to coordinate the activity of the international agencies, which represents a service to all humanity, I urge you to work together in promoting a true, worldwide ethical mobilization which, beyond all differences of religious or political convictions, will spread and put into practice a shared ideal of fraternity and solidarity, especially with regard to the poorest and those most excluded.

The entire transcript can be found here.

Nothing particularly new in these remarks. I was struck by the specific endorsement of international effort, state action, and civil society cooperation when he advocated “…international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.” This is not vague.

I am particularly struck by his appeal for the least well-off, when he notes that “…an important part of humanity does not share in the benefits of progress and is in fact relegated to the status of second-class citizens.”

This is why Pope Francis is an important voice in the world-wide debate about inequality and social justice. While politicians are appealing to the middle-class for their votes and the one-percent for their campaign donations, Pope Francis is advocating for the least well-off. Their are other advocates for the least well-off, that is for sure, but none with the bully pulpit of the Pope.

Notice also that while there is a heavy emphasis on serving and lifting the poor, there are also references to abortion with mentions of “throwaway culture” and the “culture of death.” These terms can refer to a number of other things as well, such as the death penalty and war, but for a Catholic Pope, they undoubtably also include abortion.

I think this is part of why American liberals prefer to mock and laugh at the remarks of Rush Limbaugh and other American right-wing responses to Pope Francis. Right-wing nuts help support their narrative. Pope Francis is a figure that many liberals really like, but he does not fit nicely within the traditional liberal vs. conservative narrative.

Sometimes we should question the narrative.

In particular we should ask: Who benefits from this narrative?

Primarily groups like the Democratic Party and the major liberal special interest groups benefit from this narrative. By keeping our attention on the Koch brothers, Fox News, and talk radio, we are distracted.

The Democrats are not “those crazies.” Good for them, but that is hardly impressive.

But who are they serving? It is not the poor. It is the wealthy and the connected that fund their organizations and their campaigns. Some Democratic politicians talk about inequality and poverty, but they are scared to death of terms such as “the redistribution of wealth.” Why? Because they are scared to bite the hand that feeds them.

No religious voice should be completely comfortable with any political party, especially any of the major big-money parties. If anything is of the world, it would be political parties. Christian voices should inherently be in tension with the ways of the world. This does not mean that Christians should not be involved in politics or with political parties. I actually think party participation is very important. However, the critique offered by the Pope is deeper and more sweeping than our normal partisan bickering. If you only see it as reinforcing your partisan narrative, your are missing the point.

The critique offered by Pope Francis challenges all of us. To make this a matter of left vs. right misses the point. He is not critiquing the other guy. He is critiquing all of us.

If anything, the liberal vs. conservative political narrative fails to provide the “spirit of solidarity” which is needed in order to tackle the serious issues that devastate the large segments of the human family that have been “cast off” or “left behind.”

Pope Francis is providing both a loud voice and leadership when it comes to the critique of injustice in our world. I value this immensely and I am not even Catholic. However, we are missing an opportunity if we do not act to achieve these goals. While we might not be able to change our political foes, we can start by re-evaluating our own paradigms and our own tactics.

This is a great opportunity. What a shame it would be if we squandered it wasting our time mocking Ann Coulter.

2 replies »

  1. What about the rape and murder of the indigenous tribes of the NewWorld?
    What about the vicious persecution, imprisonment and murder of the Inquisition?
    What about the the papal silence to the holocaust in WWII?
    What about the sex crimes against the most innocent andrm defenseless children, and the cover-up?

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