I was chatting the other day with a Catholic friend about the new(ish) pope, the Jesuit, Pope Francis. Having been trained by the Jesuits myself,I confessed myself a tad skeptical about Francis. In the back of my mind somewhere was the recollection of “Persistent Perversity Provokes the Patient Pedagogue to Produce Particularly Painful Punishment,” which admonition certain malefactors, who shall remain nameless, were required to inscribe multiple times upon the blackboard. But what really made me uneasy were little, or maybe they weren’t so little, political hints. There was the matter of the Falkland Islands, which the pope insisted on misidentifying. There was the fact the he would be dispensing with a cook, would take public transportation, would eschew much of the ceremony appropriate to his office. The pope, I believe, should have a cook. He should have a driver. He should live up to the grandeur of his office.
My friend tried to reassure me. “He’s a real Catholic,” he said, and went on to suggest that he was wily to boot. Forget about his proclamations about various social issues. Deep down he was sound and was going to be a good thing for the Church. He wasn’t an intellectual, as were Benedict and John Paul II, but he was a pastoral force to be reckoned with. Moreover, he had already mentioned the Devil more than his predecessors ever did.
While I find the pope’s recognition of evil refreshing, I can’t say that my friend allayed my misgivings. And a recent article by Andrew Stuttaford at Ricochet reinforced all my worst fears. Andrew begins by quoting an article from The Guardian which describes Francis as the “obvious new hero of the left” for whom “even atheists should be praying.” As Andrew notes, The Guardian is sometimes mistaken (yes, I know that’s hard to believe), but the assessment of Francis has the ring of truth. Andrew quotes from that Guardian article:
It seems [Francis] wants to do more than simply stroke the brow of the weak. He is taking on the system that has made them weak and keeps them that way.
“My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost,” he tweeted in May. A day earlier he denounced as “slave labour” the conditions endured by Bangladeshi workers killed in a building collapse. In September he said that God wanted men and women to be at the heart of the world and yet we live in a global economic order that worships “an idol called money”….
…[H]e also seems set to lead a church campaign on the environment. He was photographed this week with anti-fracking activists, while his biographer, Paul Vallely, has revealed that the pope has made contact with Leonardo Boff, an eco-theologian previously shunned by Rome and sentenced to “obsequious silence” by the office formerly known as the “Inquisition”. An encyclical on care for the planet is said to be on the way.
Photographed with “anti-fracking activists”? An encyclical on “the care of the planet”? The silence should be embarrassed, not obsequious. And if you are wondering who the boffin Boff is, Andrew dug up the answer from the National Catholic Reporter: “One of Pope Francis’ most vocal supporters since his election three days ago has been Leonardo Boff, one of the founders of liberation theology….”
Yikes. It’s not, as Andrew says, that Francis has signed up for liberation theology. It’s not that straightforward: steal from the productive members of society, squander what you steal while pretending to help the poor, do everything you can to be sure every country achieves the same level of economic misery. That, in a nutshell, is what liberation theology is all about when it comes to economics. Francis is not so brash. Rather, as Andrew says, “When it comes to economics, at least, his thinking appears to be a muddle of Rerum Novarum and Juan Peron.” Which is not, as he concludes, particularly reassuring.