At the end of our Dec. 3 hour on poverty wages in America, we turned to Rome for a quick check-in on Pope Francis‘ radical new apostolic exhortation that criticized the capitalist system, among other things. Freelance reporter Eric Lyman let us know that this statement is drawing attention from many quarters of the international media — ourselves included — for its unique take on economic issues.
“It’s the kind of document that most of the time doesn’t get a lot of attention because it deals with fairly esoteric or canonical or spiritual issues and in the mainstream press most folks don’t talk about it. But because there was this aspect, this sort of biting critique of capitalism, this one sure turned a lot of heads.”
The apostolic exhortation was long — more than 84 pages — and is almost a road map for the next steps of Pope Francis’ young papacy. But it wasn’t necessarily meant to change the global economic system, Lyman cautions.
“I don’t think that it was meant to be a kind of an economic treatise. A lot of the criticism of the Pope’s point of view in the European press has been to make an equivalence between him and Karl Marx, and I don’t think it was sort of meant to be a sort policy initiative that a minister of finance or central bank governor would adopt but I think he did want to cast some light on the growing disparity between the rich and poor, and point out some of the hypocrisy that’s involved in some religious institutions and people who claim to be religious, fostering this widening gap.”
Still, the Pope has made a lot of headline-generating moves in his eight-month tenure. It’s all part of the pope’s larger view on his role in the world, Lyman says.
“Well this pope — it’s a short papacy so far, only eight and a half months — but he hasn’t shied away from stating his point of view on a wide variety of issues, and certainly not just on economics, but on homosexuality within in the church, on women’s rights, on social justice, on politics, on inter-religious dialogue with other faiths, and so on. I think that that this statement that he’s made here is attracting attention from a new corner, bit this fits into a wider point of view that the pope has, which is that he needs to be a kind of moral guidance for the world and for Christians and that touches on a lot of areas, including on economics.”
Pope Francis’ way of going about things makes him unique, however, Lyman says. His almost populist resonance echoes some pope’s from earlier in the 20th Century.
“I don’t think there’s anything boilerplate about Pope Francis. I think he’s very original in the way he’s doing things. I don’t think he’s doing anything for effect. I think he’s stating the things he believes. It’s true that in the recent past we haven’t thing anything like this before. Pope Benedict XVI, who was pope from 2005 to 2008, said nothing like this and it would have been as hypocritical if he had, because he was seen as very much in the old mold of the papacy, with a lot of opulence and so on. And John Paul in his waning years also was unlikely to delve into such an area. But I think for a lot of people he recalls the early years of John Paul II’s papacy and even more so the very brief 33 day papacy of John Paul I in 1978. These were both natural populists as well as John XXIII in the 1960s, and this kind of resonance that those men had, and speaking of John Paul II, only in the early years of his papacy when he was much healthier. I think Francis is tapping into some of that. But of course with a Latin American accent and his own personality stamp on it as well.”
Some European newspapers have taken offense at the Pope’s message, Lyman says (some American news-makers, too, it would seem).
“There was a serious piece that came in one of the Italian newspapers, Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian equivalent of The Wall Street Journal, that criticized him for weighing in on things he didn’t understand and drawing parallels to Marxism.”
And there’s been debate over the place of more conservative Catholics in the changing church. Where could they fit in Pope Francis’ new way? Lyman says those Catholics still can see their views represented.
“I don’t know exactly what’s gonna happen because in many ways Pope Francis is still a conservative Catholic. He’s a Jesuit, he’s not any kind of a theological liberal on issues related to the church, such as the role of women. He’s not budged an inch on whether women would ever be ordained. You know he did famously say about gay Christians, ‘Who am I to judge?’ But he gave no indication that the church was gonna change its rules on that kind of thing. So I think that they have something to hold on to.”