By Fr. Seamus Finn, OMI and Originally Published on The Huffington Post
Critics of Pope Francis have been feverishly presenting their personal and institutional interpretations of his encyclical, “Laudato Si'”, in media outlets all too eager to fuel a public brawl over the intended meaning of his message. As the Pope’s September visit to the U.S. draws near, the speculation and spin promises to only increase in both volume and hyperbole. Chief among the critics are self-described “free market” defenders who insist that Pope Francis’ calls for greater reflection about how our economic system and lifestyles are exacerbating the marginalization of the world’s poor are actually calls for a global socialist revolution and the dismantling of capitalism. These criticism are a cheap rhetorical strategy intended to distract us from the genuine self-reflection the Holy Father is advocating by creating bogeymen where none exist. It is very similar to the inaccurate claim of those who insist that the pope refers to capitalism as the “dung of the devil”.
While some would like to characterize his encyclical on “care for our common home” as an economic and political manifesto from the global south, Francis has hardly traded in his mitre for a black beret. At its core, the pope’s critique of free market capitalism in this encyclical and in his previous writings is consistent with what has been articulated by his predecessors and by Catholic social teaching over its well-developed tradition. Profits do not trump people and planet; greed and unbridled growth must be tempered by the promotion and protection of the common good. These canons are written in the Holy Bible and existed way before they were adopted by any political theorists.
In re-articulating the vision for an economic system that is aligned more consistently with Catholic social teaching and scripture, that is founded on the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, that is rooted in self-governing associations and institutions coming together to cooperate, that share risk and responsibility and generate societal, political and economic structures and institutions, and that are respectful of justice, human dignity and freedom, Pope Francis is calling us to an innovative redirection of the prevailing economic system. He is asking if capitalism can prosper within this framework. I believe the Holy Father thinks it can, but perhaps not in its present form. What capitalism, as it is currently being practiced, is lacking, is a human face.