Reading Pope Francis
Michael Coren writes that Pope Francis is not the left-leaning socialist many think he is . . .
In addition to my work as a television host, radio panelist, columnist and author, I am a Catholic apologist — which doesn’t mean I say sorry for Catholicism. Rather, I explain and justify the Church I embraced nearly 30 years ago in my hometown of London, England.
On one particular weekend last November I left Dallas on a Saturday morning with the temperature rising to 84°F. Within 24 hours I was in Saskatoon, Canada, and it was -18°. It struck me that in spite of more than a 100° climate disparity, it was the same Church I was defending. It’s always the same Church, whatever the weather or language or context.
Random House asked me to write The Future of Catholicism after Pope Francis’ election in an attempt to explain to an often ill-informed and hostile media (and a public eager for knowledge) what could and could not change in Catholicism. The media’s questions were always the same: Would the Pope change Church teaching concerning abortion, same-sex “marriage,” contraception, and female ordination? In spite of wishful thinking from the usual anti-Catholic coalition, the answer is No. What is contained in Scripture, the deposit of faith, and natural law is written in perfectly formed, ancient, timeless stone.
The Church is not a product of fashion but an institution given to us by God and rooted in truth rather than time. The Church may change the way the message is delivered, may emphasize certain aspects over others, may even reform certain non-fundamentals, but it exists not to reflect but to shape the world.
We saw this at the end of November with Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). It’s a lyrical, compelling document that affirms the exclusively male priesthood and simultaneously calls for more women in positions of Catholic influence; it magnifies the dignity of the human person and simultaneously condemns the gossip-driven, obsessive triviality of celebrity culture; it explains the necessity of papal authority and simultaneously calls for more national autonomy so the Holy Father can be helped and supported.
There was one particular aspect, however, that seemed to fascinate a media which increasingly reduces the solemn to the sound bite. We have seen this intellectual flabbiness again and again when journalists respond to the pope’s comments. In this case it was his criticism of “unfettered capitalism” and need to make God — and not money — the object of our love and worship. He wrote that extreme economic inequality was cruel, that people were entitled to jobs, food and education — and that some of those who controlled the world’s economies were not always to be relied upon.
Hardly Vladimir Lenin on a rant! The Church has been committed to the poor and the marginalized ever since Our Savior walked the earth. Jesus came for all of us, but if some of those “all of us” are in despair and poverty, the Church has to take notice.
The papacy formed its modern economic teaching as far back as 1891 with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. The late 19th century witnessed a vehemently aggressive capitalism that often refused to empathize with workers and their families. This in turn led to the rise of state socialism. Leo condemned both, outlining private property as a basic right but reminding employers that they had a Catholic duty to pay their employees a fair wage.
Fast forward 125 years and Pope Francis is not condemning capitalism, but outlining how a free market without any Christian imperative — especially in the developing world — can lead to ethical disaster. Even in the West, we all know the “low taxes, low morals” brigade who care not a fig for marriage, life, and faith but obsess about fiscal issues. The Church is grander, deeper, better than that. It defies political labels.
Socialism has always limited religious freedom, which is why no Catholic can embrace such a materialistic ideology. But capitalism without God and Christ also runs contrary to religious liberty as we see when the super-wealthy of Hollywood and Wall Street mock and suppress those of us who defend Catholic values and virtues.’
We are Catholic not to be loved but to love. And if anybody is looking for popular approval, the Church is probably the wrong venue. Pope Francis is experiencing something of a honeymoon with the media right now, but his refusal to compromise Christ’s teachings regarding an all-male priesthood, for example, is already earning disapproval from the usual suspects. We look neither right nor left but up; we work to make this world a better place but know that this is merely the land of shadows and that real life has not yet begun. This is the past, present, and future of Catholicism.
MICHAEL COREN is a Toronto-based columnist, author and television broadcaster.