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Pope Francis challenges the free market

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Pope Francis was not as overt in calling out the greedy in his 2014 Easter message as he was last year.

He focused mainly on calls for peace and an end to pressing conflicts in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. But even this year, he wove in some commentary on the world economy.

“Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible,” he said. He went on to mention diseases like Ebola that are “spread by neglect and dire poverty.”

Pope Francis stunned the world last Easter when he broke with the usual Holy Week traditions.

He washed the feet of women and two Muslims and delivered an Easter day message calling for not just the usual world peace, but “peace in the whole world, still divided by greed looking for easy gain.”

At that point Francis was mere weeks into his tenure as head of the Catholic Church, but these were early signs of what has become a central theme in his papacy: fighting inequality.

He doesn’t just call on people to help the poor, he often calls out the current economic world order.

He has spoken out against the evils of “slavery of profit at all costs” and the “scandal of poverty”.

In a speech on January 1, Francis listed “access to capital” as a human right as fundamental as education and healthcare.

The papal focus on finance has led some to refer to it as “Vatican economics,” “Franciscanomics” or simply Pope Francis’ economic doctrine.

Francis clearly sees huge flaws in the system that mostly benefits those at the very top of the wealth and power ladder.

What isn’t clear is whether the Pope is a capitalist, socialist or something in between.

“I don’t think he sees himself as a capitalist,” says Dr. Alejandro Chafuen, a Catholic scholar and president of the Atlas Network. “The Pope doesn’t see himself in the camp of those who run the world economy.”

In November, shortly before Francis was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, the Pope gave arguably his most forceful economic themed address to date.

It had sections titled “No to an economy of exclusion,” “No to the new idolatry of money,” and “No to the financial system which rules rather than serves.”

“We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose,” the Pope wrote.

He went on to critique how the current system has shifted the focus from people to things.

“The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption,” Francis said.

It’s important to view Pope Francis as a product of Peronist Argentina, Chafuen argues. As Francis was serving in various posts in Buenos Aires, he saw first hand the government corruption that prevented much of the country from prospering.

Chafuen thinks the Pope supports a “Third Way,” something between the free market and Marxism.

But plenty of Pope watchers see more of a capitalist in Francis.

“He’s merely calling for a market economy that does a better job at allowing all people to participate,” says Gerald Beyer, an associate professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University.

Beyer thinks Francis is continuing the message of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict, who were clear that the free market economy is better than socialism at helping to promote human welfare even though they criticized it at times.

A big part of Francis’ appeal is that he lives his message in many ways. He doesn’t just challenge greed and excess verbally, he opts himself to live a simple life, including choosing not to live in the palace at the Vatican.

In a global economy still trying to get back on track after a major recession, the Pope’s message and actions are resonating inside and outside the church.

As the Pope concludes the most important week in the Christian calendar, he is calling the free market gods to a higher power.

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1 Comment

  • Vasu Murti

    An Open Letter to Pope Francis From the Board of the San Francisco Vegetarian Society:

    “The livestock population of the United States today consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed over five times the entire human population of the country.”

    “We feed these animals over 80% of the corn we grow, and over 95% of the oats. Less than half the harvested agricultural acreage in the United States is used to grow food for people. Most of it is used to grow livestock feed.”

    –John Robbins, Diet for a New America

    “One man’s meat is another man/woman/child’s hunger.”

    This slogan is part of the “Enough” campaign, with its aim of reducing meat consumption. The campaign highlights the waste of resources involved in feeding grain to animals:

    “Every minute 18 children die from starvation, yet 40% of the world’s grain is fed to animals for meat.”

    Vegetarianism for a trial period is advocated to “help the hungry, improve the environment” and “stop untold animal suffering.” Vegetarianism is also recommended on health grounds. This campaign actually has the support of organized religion.

    Ronald J. Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, in his 1977 book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, pointed out that 220 million Americans were eating enough food (largely because of the high consumption of grain fed to livestock) to feed over one billion people in the poorer countries.

    The realization that meat is an unnecessary luxury, resulting in inequities in the world food supply has prompted religious leaders in different Christian denominations to call on their members to abstain from meat on certain days of the week. Paul Moore, Jr., the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of New York, made such an appeal in a November, 1974 pastoral letter calling for the observance of “meatless Wednesdays.”

    A similar appeal had previously been issued by Cardinal Cooke, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York. The Reverend Eugene Carson Blake, former head of the World Council of Churches and founder of Bread for the World, has encouraged everyone in his anti-hunger organization to abstain from eating meat on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

    “Is this not the fast I have chosen? To loosen the chains of wickedness, to undo the bonds of oppression, and to let the oppressed go free? Is it not to share thy bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless? Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

    —Isaiah 58:6-8

    “Honourable men may disagree honourably about some details of human treatment of the non-human,” wrote Stephen Clark in his 1977 book, The Moral Status of Animals, “but vegetarianism is now as necessary a pledge of moral devotion as was the refusal of emperor-worship in the early church.”

    According to Clark, eating animal flesh is “gluttony,” and “Those who still eat flesh when they could do otherwise have no claim to be serious moralists.”

    “Clark’s conclusion has real force and its power has yet to be sufficiently appreciated by fellow Christians,” says the Reverend Andrew Linzey, author ofChristianity and the Rights of Animals. “Far from seeing the possibility of widespread vegetarianism as a threat to Old Testament norms, Christians should rather welcome the fact that the Spirit is enabling us to make decisions so that we may more properly conform to the original Genesis picture of living in peace with creation.”

    Father Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest, author, and founder of the Riverdale Center of Religious Research in New York, wrote in 1987 that “Vegetarianism is a way of life that we should all move toward for economic survival, physical well-being, and spiritual integrity.”

    The Reverend Marc Wessels, Executive Director of the International Network for Religion and Animals (INRA) made this observation on Earth Day 1990:

    “It is a fact that no significant social reform has yet taken place in this country without the voice of the religious community being heard. The endeavors of the abolition of slavery; the women’s suffrage movement; the emergence of the pacifist tradition during World War I; the struggles to support civil rights, labor unions, and migrant farm workers; and the anti-nuclear and peace movements have all succeeded in part because of the power and support of organized religion. Such authority and energy is required by individual Christians and the institutional church today if the liberation of animals is to become a reality.”

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