VATICAN, Rome – The Catholic church as an institution has not always remained wholly focused on some of its central tenets: to love ones’ neighbor as oneself, and the imperative to give aid to the world’s poor. In his first apostolic exhortation, called “Evangilii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis details his intention to refocus the Catholic church on this missionary aim. Argentinean by birth, Pope Francis comes from a region of the world still struggling with extreme poverty, giving him a unique perspective. This is perhaps part of the reason he has been so famously vocal in condemning the current global economy, which, it is argued, systematically oppresses the already oppressed and maintains an appalling income inequality with indifference. Pope Francis has become known for his relative social liberality and his dedication to the poor.
In an open letter written to British Prime Minister David Cameron, Pope Francis criticized the global economic and political system, which prioritizes self above humanity. He identified the principle mission of politics and economics as the means by which to serve humanity, and not the ends in and of themselves. Pope Francis also eschews the traditional pomp associated with the papacy, choosing to drive a modest Ford Focus and living in the papal guest house, and reasserting his judgment that the papacy should be focused on aiding the poor and not ruling it.
The Pope speaks on these topics in even stronger terms in the recent 84-page exhortation, which expounds upon the plans for his papacy he has laid out the past eight months. His central message calls for a decentralized church that focuses on rectifying global poverty. Francis prefers “a church that is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets,” to one that is too preoccupied with itself and “gets lost in a web of obsessions and procedures.”
Pope Francis does not limit his audience to the church, but also addresses the world in general. His remarks on secular leadership and capitalism advocate political reform.
Regarding secular governments, Francis calls for ethical leadership that concerns itself with global inequality. “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor,” he stated, calling on governments to guarantee work, education, and healthcare for all. But his strongest words were for the inequality of the global financial system as it stands. “An economy of exclusion and inequality kills,” he asserts. He speaks for the world’s poor who are ignored in favor of profits. Unfettered capitalism amounts to tyranny.
Francis specifically addresses the theory of trickle-down economics, which he claims “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 the document, Francis also addressed women’s ordination and abortion. While he stressed that the church’s position remains unchanged in those two areas, Francis did advocate a larger role for women in church leadership.
– Kathleen Walsh