A tinge of anti-Catholic bigotry in commentary on Pope Francis' 'Evangelii Gaudium'

Sorry, but somehow I missed how Pope Francis has signed on to the Democratic Party platform. Or the Republican one.

But you might think so from the mainstream media's commentary about the pope's disquisition, Evangelii Gaudium.

Allow me, as a Roman Catholic who is decidedly conservative on social issues and decidedly less so on libertarian-run-amok theories on economic issues, to cast my own light on the document. For me, Francis' message is a renewal of evangelism, a call to Catholics to pursue with new passion and energy Christ's gospel message.

Francis clearly emphasized, as Catholic teachings have for centuries, Christ's gospel of comfort, forgiveness, nourishment and glad tidings. For some secular commentators, it's as if they've heard for the first time the church's message on theEvangelii_GaudiumBeatitudes and the good Samaritan. Ignorant about the church's rich teachings on social justice, they sneer, "It's about time the church start giving a damn about the poor." In this, I hear not just ignorance, but a tinge of anti-Catholicism.

The first major written work of his papacy is a pastoral and religious document. But it has been excessively viewed as a political manifesto, to be spun, shredded and stood on its head as the observer's political proclivities and biases would have it.

Economic liberals have greeted the pope's attack on unfettered capitalism as a repudiation of Reaganomics, though Francis has created a straw man in his assault on the Adam Smith brand of unregulated capitalism. It's not practiced in America, nor is it found in the Republican Party's platform. (Yes, Catholics can disagree with the pope on economic matters.)

Conservatives, for their part, liked his defense of the principle of subsidiarity (decentralization) and of the sanctity of marriage and traditional family values. Liberals liked his call for inclusiveness. Conservatives loved his criticism of pro-choice progressives when the document says: "It is not 'progressive' to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life."

But let's sideline the political ideology and just accept Francis' exhortation for what it is — an affirmation of jubilation in the Lord. He opens the document with this simple declaration: "The Joy of the Gospels (translation: Evangelii Gaudium) fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew."

Pardon me for filling this secular space with words of faith, but if you are going to comment on the pope's counsel, you at least should give him the respect of addressing the message that he means to impart.

The thing is 224 pages long, not meant to be discerned, understood or appreciated in a couple of readings. In it, I encountered meanings I and many Catholics had to look up, such as "kerygma." (It is the overwhelming and ardent decision to entrust yourself to Christ through faith.)

Paul Griffiths, a Duke University Divinity School professor, called Francis' thoughts "a piece with the tone and substance of his papacy so far. It is warm, enthusiastic and welcoming; it focuses on the central truth of Christianity, which is the redemptive gift of love to the world."

Don't be a sourpuss, Francis enjoins. Yep, that's what he said: "One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, sourpusses."

He urges Catholics to talk more about grace than the law; more about "faith working through love." He admonishes his own church for being too preoccupied with strictures and structures, noting that the church is not a "tollhouse," but a place for everyone to bring their problems to the Father.

Unchanging truths need to be addressed in a language that brings out their abiding newness, he says, at once reminding traditionalists of the need to face vast cultural and technological changes while reminding church reformers that truths do indeed exist.

There is a fervor to this document that reminds me of the fresh breeze that blew through the church a half century ago when Pope John XXIII threw open the windows to renewal. John, like Francis, emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit in joyful evangelization. In calling for the Second Vatican Council, John resisted declaring new orthodoxies, but emphasized the role of love, mercy and faith. In this, Francis continues and re-energizes John's work.

This column first appeared in the Chicago Tribune

Related and recommended: "The Joy of Evangelism," by Father Robert Barron, founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein Illinois. 

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  • I have a hard time reconciling "It is warm, enthusiastic and welcoming" with the Sophmoric condemnation of legitimate business. Who is it welcoming too? People who want to blame others for their own problems? It is a broad brush condemnation speaking to a lack of serious thought on a variety of subjects.

    It is also hard to take the condemnation of trickle-down economics, is not rational, considering that a great amount of charitable contributions to the Church are just that, massing tax shielded resources in a benevolent organization, with the promise that the benefits will trickle down to the needy.

    As you mention Dennis, the Straw Man here is a pretty abusive of logic.

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    If you're going to cry bigotry, shouldn't you cite some specific examples?

  • I find it interesting how you create a strawman, call it Mainstream Media, and accuse it of being ignorant and anti-Catholic. Then you accuse Pope Francis of creating a strawman out of Adam Smith capitalism. You shrug this off by declaring that Catholics can disagree with the pope on economic matters. With this, you ignore the substance of paragraphs 53 through 60 of the Apostolic Exhortation, even though these are the paragraphs causing so much commentary among those of you in the Mainstream Media.

    I think that if you are to take on the role of apologist for Pope Francis and the Catholic Church, you will need to address those eight paragraphs more analytically than by declaring them to be the pope’s strawman.

  • I don't contest the assertions that the Pope has made about the failures of the free market. But he would be more effective if he had addressed the free market system as it exists. As I suggested, the unfettered free market as the Pope describes does not exist in the United States or any of the western Democracies. And I certainly don't see it existing elsewhere. The free market system in America is regulated. Some say its not regulated enough; others say too much. The question becomes: just how much regulation is required to achieve the goals that the Pope lays out? He ignores the question. So do you.

  • I think Pope Francis is describing capitalism as it is found in America and the other Western countries quite clearly. In paragraph 54 he says, "some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system."

    In paragraph 55 he says of money, "we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies."

    Paragraph 56: "While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation." I think you would have to agree that the ideology of autonomy of the marketplace is predominant among those who wield economic power.

    I think that if you would acknowledge that Francis has identified a problem, you would be able to come up with some solutions and not just ask that Francis and I do so.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    The solution is free market capitalism, with reasonable regulations. What do you recommend?

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    So, if I understand you correctly, you "don't contest the assertions that the Pope has made about the failures of the free market." However, you believe that he should have detailed a solution. The solution you suggest: more of the same! I wonder what treatment you would suggest for food poisoning!

  • In reply to jnorto:

    I don't think he's an economist, so I don't expect a detailed solution from him. No, the free market isn't without its problems and imperfections, but it's a damn sight better than the other "solutions" that have been tried. Again: What do you recommend?

  • 1) If earnings were "growing exponentially" that exponent must have been a number less than1. The wealthy got hammered in the 2008-9 financial meltdown.

    2) The massive growth of a middle class in India and China pretty much confirms 'economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world' in direct contradiction to the Curia's statement.

    Francis has identified a problem akin to worship of the she-god Isis. I am sure it happens, but it is not even on the top 100 list of bads in the world today.

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