Catholic 101: Is the Pope a leftie? (or Catholic Social Teaching)

This week was all about Catholic Social Teaching for me, as I submitted an essay for a CapX competition about explaining capitalism that quotes from Prof Philip Booth’s book published by the IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs), and also it’s the week of Good Works‘ AGM. It was pretty timely that someone challenged my telling them that CST is neither left or right politically with an article from Newsmax telling me that there are 22 statements that prove the Pope is a leftie. We like our unbiased sources so obviously random person reading an article by a Mike Garcia that clearly writes things that feed the American right is exactly that and we loved it. Mate, I have been going around the country teaching CST to students, I have read the bloody encyclicals and various documents that are quoted and in the case of interviews I haven’t read I have read enough Pope Francis to know there is always a context to the things he says, and it usually goes something like Jesus – Mercy – More Mercy – More Jesus. The American Right just doesn’t like him because he calls them out on their selfishness, not because he is particularly political. UK Catholics in politics include among others a few editors of centre-right newspapers, aforementioned people who work for the Thatcherite IEA, and Conservatives for Liberty’s second Bae Jacob Rees-Mogg and knowing some of these people well I can tell they aren’t ditching their CST just because they believe in the market economy. Au contraire.

So let’s unpick this piece of Republican drivel statement by statement.

Statement 1: He has called for “centralized redistribution of wealth”.
The full address is available here. The alleged incriminating sentence in a speech about international development is: “A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.” To me, taken in its context, isn’t really what they claim. Most states have a commitment to international aid, which is, you guessed, redistribution of the fruits of the market economy in richest countries to the poorest in an attempt to fast track their own growth to the point where they can have an economy too (many places don’t even have basic sanitation…in 2017!). This is in line with the CST principles of respecting Human Dignity, Community and Partecipation and Solidarity.

Statement 2: He has contradicted the teachings of previous Popes.
Never mind the address above which clearly reinforces the teachings of previous Popes. In unnamed comments he has contradicted JPII. The only comment I can recollect on the subject is the Pope replying to the accusation of being a communist by saying that “if anything, marxists think like Christians” in the context of a broader comment commending their concern for the poor. In my book this is reiterating that the concern for the poor is the Christian domain, not theirs, and so above politics. More on what the Pope said against communism here (The Stream is not exactly a leftie Catholic newspaper, it’s pretty libertarian).

Statement 3: He has decried “inequality” as “the root of social ills”. 
This is pretty self-explanatory, right? Not quite. As Ramesh Ponnuru wrote for BloombergView, people are misreading him on inequality. Why? Because outside of the Catholic Church that’s a word that is mostly branded around by the Left. However, Catholics believe God made men in His image therefore granting equality in His eyes to all. Equal dignity. When the West idolises money while children are exploited to make our luxury goods we are sinning against their human dignity. The assertion comes from Evangelii Gaudium, which translate to the Joy of the Gospel and goes back to spreading the Gospel and living more like Christ.

Statement 4: He has rejected the most basic tenets of free market capitalism.
He said we can’t trust the invisible hand to take care of the poor. If that makes him a socialist then also Adam Smith who invented the invisible hand is a socialist, for Adam Smith wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments too. In it, he wrote, “How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.” The market reflects the choices of the agents operating within it, so the Pope is telling people that we should be more like Adam Smith wrote and make sure nobody is left out.

Statement 5: He has rejected basic tenets of personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
“”In a culture where each person wants to be bearer of his or her own subjective truth, it becomes difficult for citizens to devise a common plan which transcends individual gain and personal ambitions,” he’s said.” Breaking news: the Pope is a Catholic. Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

Statement 6: He has praised a children’s book promoting homosexual coupling.
Fake news. The Catholic News Agency, which isn’t exactly liberal, went into details here so I won’t repeat them.

Statement 7: He has spoken at length about the need to combat climate change.
Only in the US is climate change a hot political issue along party lines. The science is there, and even if it wasn’t a key tenet of Catholicism is care for creation. It’s also related to the criticism of excessive consumerism. We’re talking about a guy who represents the guy who said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24), what on earth do you expect him to say?

Statement 8: He has defended homosexuality.
“In July 2013, the pope was asked what he thought about gay priests, and he responded with a laissez-faire attitude: “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” The statement, now one of Francis’ most famous, was cheered by social liberals, progressives, and libertarians.” So basically because these groups approved of a statement out of context the Pope has now embraced a liberal agenda? Let him who is without sin cast the first stone (John 8:7). Also last time I checked priests have to be celibate in the Latin rite unless they are already married and converting through the Ordinariate so it’s not really anything new.

Statement 9: He has downplayed issues important to conservatives.
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible,” he said in 2013. “The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”
You know what? I’m fed up of talking about these issues too. Can’t we talk about Jesus? Who is like, you know, what the church is about. Not culture wars. Jesus.

Statement 10: He has alienated many devout Catholics.
I’m not entirely sure how a matter of doctrine, theology and the pastoral approach of the church in the modern world says anything about someone’s politics. He’s not condoning divorce or encouraging untraditional families arrangement, he’s saying this is the situation we have and what we’ve done so far didn’t help bring people to Christ (which is what the church is all about). Is he right in the approach? I don’t think so, but it’s a conversation worth having instead of just hitting people on their heads with a Bible telling them their situation is irregular. Chances are that save a few hardcore liberals in the church those people in the church in such circumstances know, and they matter as much as those whose life is perfect.

Statement 11: He has criticized the institution of the Catholic church.
“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you,” he said in August 2013.
Damn right. You know who also said something similar? Celebrity Medieval and Renaissance preachers who now have Saint before their name, and you know what happened when people criticised the institution of the Catholic Church? The Council of Trent.

[Note of the author: half way through, yay. I’m going for lunch because I’m starving.]

This is the end of part 1. If you are really keen, here’s part two.

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