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Pondering Francis...

I have been trying for a while now to get my head around what Pope Francis might really think about economics and markets and so forth.  I have been puzzled by a few of his remarks. I think I am not alone in that.

I saw in interesting interview at Real Clear Religion with Rocco Buttiglione, who played a role in the economic views of St. John Paul II.


RCR: Does Pope Francis have the same kind of philosophical heft that Wojty?a had?

RB: No. He is a different man.

RCR: Is that problematic for the Church?

RB: I don’t think so. We have had a pope who was a great philosopher, we had a pope who was a great theologian, and now we have a pope who has a great pastoral spirit. The Church needs all. I dare say that after those two popes we surely need a pope like Francis because the Curia is a mess and you need someone who has the capacity of clearing that mess.

RCR: You’re often credited for bringing Wojty?a to free market ideas, especially in the context of Centesimus Annus. How did you seem to persuade him?

RB: I would not put it that way, but I was a friend. As Don Ricci had done with me, I talked to Wojtyla about my friends and the things I saw in the world. Sometimes he asked me to do this or that for him, and that’s all.

RCR: Do you think Pope Francis needs a similar education on economics?

RB: Well, you had a pope from Poland who came to understand and love North America much more than anybody could imagine. Now you have a pope who comes from Latin America and in dialogue with him, we must try to explain other things. He is a pope that cannot be only Latin American, but he has to enlarge his horizons. How will he do that?

One of the first things John Paul II did when he became pope was go to Latin America. There he gave a series of homilies, which are a kind of regional encyclical. This encyclical is not against liberation theology, but it is an encyclical that says: We want a theology that is from the point of view from Latin American people. Fine. We want a theology that is written from the point of view of the Latin American poor. Even better! You think that you can produce this theology by using Marxism? That’s wrong. You need a different instrument to approach socio-economic realities from a point of view of a true liberation theology.

I remember one day Don Ricci and I were in Lima, Peru and we were talking with a group of liberation theologians. It was the day of the feast of Señor de los Milagros, and all the people were in the streets. I told the theologians: You talk about the people? Please open the door and look on the streetsThey are the people! They are people who are not Marx’s proletariat; they are a people of culture and religion.

Then we started working in Latin America to create groups that wanted to make a true liberation theology. Some wanted to condemn all liberation theology, and there was the first instruction from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which was very harsh.

I went around visiting different countries and when I came back, John Paul II invited me to one of his “working dinners.” In the end, he asked me: There is the theoretical side, but how is Gustavo Gutiérrez as a man? Does he say Mass? Does he pray the Rosary? Does he confess people? Yes? Then we must find another solution.

After that came the second instruction on liberation theology, which made a distinction between true liberation theology and Marxist liberation theology.

RCR: Which liberation theology is Francis influenced by?

RB: He is not a Marxist. Politically, he is a Justicialista. Westerners might call it populist. Justicialismo in Argentina has been a tremendous movement, giving for the first time to the people the idea that they have dignity. They are anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist. There is an Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism, which is the “self-made man.” That’s American. But that’s not capitalism in Argentina. Capitalism there is where a few people use the contracts given by the state without taking the risk of the market make an enormous amount of money and oppress other people. It is a capitalism created by the State.

If I could suggest to Pope Francis the reading of a book, I would suggest he read Friedrich Hayek’s The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason. This might help him.


Justicialismo…  good grief.  Who of us up here in the North can grasp what on earth has gone on in Argentina?  The more I read about the place, and its modern history, the less I understand.  Do you have be Argentinian to get it?  Does anyone understand Perónism, with all its layers and bands along the ideological spectrum?  I’d be pretty skeptical were someone to make that claim.  Take a look on Google for something on Justicialismo.  There is nearly nothing useful in English.  I read Spanish, but… sheesh… this has been entirely ignored.

I recently heard a talk about Pope Francis with a South American journalist who is the head of CNA and ACI Prensa, Alejandro Bermudez (whose background is, in part, Argentinian).  He clarified a few things for me and proposed some others.  In no particular order….

Concerning the Argentinian view of capitalism, I think I now better grasp the Holy Father’s (and that of whoever was doing some ghostwriting for him) dim view of capitalism, especially of so-called “trickle down” economics.  You will recall that that Francis mentioned this in his Post-Synodal Exhortation Evangelii gaudium and that there was controversy about the (bad) English translation.  To simplify: if up here in the North we think of “trickle down” as wealth pouring into a cup and, when the cup fills, it overflows and runs downward to the next level, thus helping to raise others up from poverty, in Argentina there would be a different view.  There is no “trickle down”, because as the wealth pours into the cup, the cup gets bigger and bigger so that nothing escapes over the edge.  This is the Argentinian experience.  And so in the matter of personal economics, we individuals and families with our little economies might go off the rails of charity when we say something like “I’ll help the poor after I get my second boat.”  As we gain wealth, rather than than overflow our boundaries, we expand our boundaries into more personal stuff.

Furthermore, Bermudez spoke of the influence on Francis of thinkers such as the Uruguayan writer-theologian Alberto Methol Ferré, the Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, and the pivotal Spanish-language poet Rubén Darío.  To condense wildly, it seems that Francis may breathe in a school of thought that sees a kind of “manifest destiny” for Latin America.  When cultures develop a interior decay, which they always do, revitalization of the cultures comes from “peripheries”.  For the larger Church, experiencing an interior decay, a periphery is Latin America.  Latin America, unlike any other continent, is unified in language (by far dominated by Spanish with related Portughese) and is/was unified in religion, Catholicism (though there is bad erosion).  With these unifying factors, Latin America has a critical role to play.  Also, if you are playing attention, Francis seems to use the word “periphery” a lot.  This not quite the same thing as “margin”.

Alas, we in the North have in general paid scant attention to what’s going on intellectually “down there”.  Thus, I have no idea who Alberto Methol Ferré and Rubén Darío are.  I guess I had heard of Sorokin, but I know little to nothing about him other than he explored a cyclic theory of societies.   A lot of us in the North are a bit crippled when it comes to ferreting out what Pope Francis is up to.

I had read that, while Pope Francis is a staunch opponent of Marxist-based Liberation Theology, he did embrace a kind of “liberation theology” that flowed from the devotion of the people.  If I (and others I talk to, and Buttiglione and Bermudez) are right about these things, then I may be getting closer to understanding a key element of Francis’ of economics, the North, etc.

Lastly, it could be that Francis, who has been placed on a pretty steep learning curve, now has an opportunity to learn something about the North and its ways and views.  It may be that his time in Germany, his only experience of the North aside from occasional visits to Rome, tainted his view of all of the Church in the North.  In Germany he would have experienced a Church with a lot of money and fewer and fewer believers.  I suspect that when and if he makes his first North American visit, he many encounter something that he hasn’t yet experienced.  It could be also that, as he meets representatives from North American Catholic organizations and hears about what they do, he is gaining a new insight into the Church in the wealthy North Western Quadrant.


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"And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood.

I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will."

-Papa Francis quote

He does not know you, yet he prays for you.
He will most likely never meet you, yet he loves you.

This is your chance to show your love, for as the Bible teaches, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven."