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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pope Francis is going to twist a lot of conservative panties in knots

And ventilate some liberal boxers, too.

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio  visits an AIDS hospice in 2001.

Pope Francis opposes things that conservatives oppose:  abortion, gay marriage.  He advocates celibacy for priests.  Vatican watchers are not sure of his stance on contraceptives.  He seems to take a very traditional stance concerning the roles that women may serve. 

He also opposes some things that liberals oppose:  poverty and those factors that cause it.

He is a Jesuit, and was head of the Jesuit order in Argentina. The Jesuit order is committed to modesty and service.  As a cardinal, Pope Francis chose not to live in a mansion, but had a plain apartment where he cooked for himself.  He rejected a limousine and took the  public bus.  This is not surprising to people familiar with Jesuits.  They think that the ministry must be conducted by being with the people, even the most destitute and depraved. And St. Francis, the namesake for the new pope, forbid himself and members of the order he created to own property,  store food and supplies for the future, and insisted they must embrace the most destitute and depraved.  St. Francis often reminded that Christ embraced lepers and ate with prostitutes. Pope Francis has demonstrated that he rejects the material except for what is necessary.  

There is also a big uncertainty about Pope Francis and his stance during the Dirty War in Argentina.  That was a time when the country was taken over by a military junta which ruled from about 1975 through 1983, when elections were held and it was replaced by an elected civilian government. He is not shy about questioning the moral authority of civil government, and he has been an outspoken critic of corruption, social inequality, drugs, human trafficking, and the pillaging of the environment, which is taking place in the development of South America.  

But some immediate twists in the corporate panties were evident in the American business press, when a number of publications examined Pope Francis' stance toward capitalism.  His record of work and the way he has gone about it in Argentina caused some publications, such as Bloomberg News to tug at their crotches in anticipation of some discomfort about whether Pope Francis would pay due reverence to the free market as the engine of economic growth and the foundation of capitalism.  They are nervous about some conflicts between capitalist practices and Roman Catholic doctrine.  They fear any strong criticisms of capitalism, and imagine that the Pope could become like an Eagle Scout practicing for a knot-tying contest on their most intimate economic garments. 

The business community which directly and deliberately caused the recession that set the economy back in 2008 and 2009 has managed to evade, for the most part, the responsibility and blame it deserves.  It has a great affinity for the budget that Paul Ryan released a year ago and has re-issued this year.  That budget is nice to corporations and dismissive of the poor and those needing health care.  Pope Francis did not hesitate to take on the current government in Argentina over issues that he considered contrary to Catholic doctrine.  If he were to take issue with corporate practices as they have been conducted, capitalism would be put under a skeptical scrutiny that could put the brakes on the rapidly growing wealth that corporations have accumulated while the general populations have struggled with the lack of jobs and shrinking buying-power.  

When Ryan released his budget a year ago, the American Catholic council of bishops criticized it harshly and a group of church leaders signed a statement that said "This budget is morally indefensible and betrays Catholic principles of solidarity, just taxation and a commitment to the common good."  Ryan, his compatriots, and the corporate world brushed off the criticism and this year are persisting with the advantages for corporations and the slashing of budgets for the poor and needy.  The possibility that the world leader of the Catholic church might take on the assumptions in Ryan's budget  and the principles on which the global businesses operate makes the commercial world uneasy.  Such a position could reduce the profits and cause people to resist the power that corporations have over them.

Pope Francis has been widely quoted for his implied criticism of capitalism as it is currently practiced.  Among his statements are:

  • “Every economic decision has a moral consequence” 
  •  “The market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak.”
  •  "A  just society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the state so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied."
As the Bloomberg article points out, somewhat hopefully, Francis has pointed out that "the roots of the financial crisis were human greed and malfeasance, not a flaw per se in the structure of capitalism."  Bloomberg News also notes the Pope's position on global warming:  "He also exuded a consistent concern that climate change -- born of unbridled consumption by rich nations -- will overwhelmingly affect the poor, and he sought to turn Vatican City into the world’s only carbon-neutral state."

Being a Lutheran and not a good one (my family has not gone to church since Tom Daschle lost the election because we found some of the defamatory comments from gleeful parishioners about his defeat were contrary to any purpose for going to church), I have no theological reaction to Pope Francis.  I am well acquainted with Jesuits, however, and admire their commitment to Christ's instruction to help the poor and heal the sick, and especially to the scholastic tradition they created and maintain.  While teaching at a Lutheran college, the professor in the office next to mine for a time was a Jesuit priest who had retired as head of the theatre department at Boston College.  He had been sent to Davenport, Iowa, to address the inner city drug problems, and he worked as adjunct professor to help support himself and to keep active in academic work.   As an adjunct professor, he taught classical literature.  We would often chat about the situations in the inner cities and the refuge that teaching literary masterpieces provided from the bleak and often hopeless circumstances that made up life in neighborhoods shaped by prejudice, racial hatred, and neglect.  My Jesuit colleague had health issues with emphysema, but his resolve to inject some compassion and social justice into the blighted neighborhood and keep vital the uplifting understandings contained in important literature was undiminished.  With all the problems of sexual abuse in the church and its attempts to cover them up, the important intellectual and social contributions that orders of the Catholic faith have established in our culture are ignored.  (My blogging colleague at Interested Party refers to the church as the Holy Roman Kiddie Diddlers.)  But Jesuits and Franciscans became important and vital resources on our Indian reservations, and Aberdeen where I now live did not have a major health care facility until the Presentation Sisters established St. Lukes Hospital in response to the flu epidemic a century ago.  My Jesuit colleague brought that same spirit and purpose to the turmoil of the inner city.  

It is that spirit and purpose that unsettles business devotees of the unrestrained and often predatory free market and their political protectors.  Pope Francis while an Argentine cardinal did not subscribe to the theological movement in South America called liberation theology which confronted the exploitation of the land and the people by corporations and saw it as a class war in Marxist terms.  He saw the same issues at work and confronted them with a streak of Christian rather than political radicalism.

And that is what makes global corporatism very, very nervous.   The neo-conservatives who claim Christian traditions are wary of the Pope's thinking about exploiting people and the environment created to sustain life as sacred, as the temples of the creator.  When during passover, Christ cleansed the temple by driving out the money changers, Matthew quotes him as saying, "It is written, my house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers."  Could the Pope be as radical as Christ?

A lot of twisted and kinky panties are in the making. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States