Archbishop Chaput: Economic Justice and Pope Francis
The following comes from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. at Catholic Philly:
Speech at the Napa Institute, San Francisco, Calif. July 26, 2014
I’m a Capuchin Franciscan, and I’ve often found that people think of Francis of Assisi as a kind of 13th-century flower child. St. Francis was certainly “counter-cultural,” but only in his radical obedience to the Church, and his radical insistence on living the Gospel fully — including poverty and all of its other uncomfortable demands. Jesus, speaking to him from the cross of San Damiano, said “Repair my house.” I think Pope Francis believes God has called him to do that as pope, as God calls every pope. And he plans to do it in the way St. Francis did it.
Pope Francis took the name of the saint of Christian simplicity and poverty. As he’s said, he wants “a Church that is poor and for the poor.” In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he grounded this goal in Jesus Christ, “who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast.” That’s a very Franciscan idea.
The Holy Father knows poverty and violence. He knows the plague of corrupt politics and oppressive governments. He’s seen the cruelty of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. He’s seen elites who rig the political system in their favor and keep the poor in poverty. When we Americans think about economics, we think in terms of efficiency and production. When Francis thinks about economics, he thinks in terms of human suffering. We’re blessed to live in a rich, free, stable country. We can’t always see what Francis sees.
I think it would be a mistake to describe him as a “liberal” — much less a “Marxist.” As I told the Italian newspaper La Stampa in an interview some weeks ago, words like “liberal” and “conservative” don’t describe Catholic belief. They divide what shouldn’t be divided. We should love the poor and love the unborn child. Service to the oppressed and service to the family; defense of the weak and defense of the unborn child; belief in the value of business and belief in restraints on predatory business practices — all these things spring from the same Catholic commitment to human dignity. There’s nothing “progressive” about killing an unborn human child or allowing it to happen. And there’s nothing “conservative” about ignoring the cries of the poor.
Before we go on, I should make a couple of obvious points about Francis. The first is that not everyone’s happy with him. G. K. Chesterton said that every age gets the saint it needs. Not the saint people want, but the saint they need; the saint who’s the medicine for their illness. The same may be true of popes.
John Paul II revived the spirit of a Church that felt fractured, and even irrelevant, in the years after the council. Benedict revived the mind of a Church that felt, even after John Paul II’s intellectual leadership, outgunned by the world in the public square. Francis has already started to revive the witness of a Church that, even after John Paul II’s and Benedict’s example, feels as if we can’t get a hearing and that we’re telling a story no one will believe.
Again, not everyone is pleased with Francis. Chesterton said that saints are so often martyrs because they’re the kind of antidote the world mistakes for poison. The website Salon recently ran an article complaining about the good press Francis has gotten. It argued that “The new sexist, nun-hating, poverty-perpetuating, pedophile-protecting homophobe is the same as the old sexist, nun-hating, poverty-perpetuating, pedophile-protecting homophobe … . [I]t is ludicrous to suggest that a man who denies comprehensive reproductive health care (including all forms of birth control including condoms and abortion) and comprehensive family planning is a man who cares about the poor of this world.”
Some on the political right have attacked him in words almost as strong, though for different reasons.
What Francis says about economic justice may be hard for some of us to hear. So we need to read the Holy Father’s writings for ourselves, without the filter of the mass media. Then we need to open our hearts to what God is telling us through his words.
Welcome to the Blog! I am a Catholic Priest and was ordained to the priesthood on August 26, 2000. I hope this site is a place of interest for you where you will find ideas and information on the Catholic faith and the Church.