Changing My Mind (Some) about Pope Francis

Earlier here I expressed dismay at the media hype about the election of a new pope and said that he is not “my pope.” I was not excited about the election of a new pope–as were some Protestants I know. It didn’t even particularly interest me. To me, the Roman Catholic Church is just a denomination. It’s a big one, admittedly, but it’s just a denomination and I’m not part of it. And yet, some media talking heads and pundits in print talked about the papal choice as if it were the choice of a new leader of all Christians if not of all human beings.

Since Francis’s election, however, I’ve become more interested. Not because I’m shifting toward some kind of Protestant Catholicism or acquiring any new identification with or solidarity with the RCC. Not at all.

However, the bishop of Rome is a spokesman for and cheerleader among millions of Christians world wide and what he says can have some real influence for good or bad–even that affects everyone indirectly.

It’s not his folksy style (calling people on the phone to personally express sympathy for their grief, etc.) or his humble lifestyle (living in an apartment rather than the papal palace) that impresses me but his expressions of concern for the poor and his criticisms of wealth.

His most recent pronouncement, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) is a papal mission statement that includes the declaration that “Money must serve, not rule!” It calls for political rulers to reform systems that promote and perpetuate radical gulfs between the rich and the poor. In other words, as the bumper sticker says, “Charity is nice but justice is better.”

According to Associated Press reports, “In the text, Francis denounced trickle-down economic theories as unproven and naive, saying they are based on a suvival-of-the-fittest mentality ‘where the powerful feed upon the powerless’ with no regard for ethics, the environment or even God.”

What a breath of fresh air coming from Rome! I wonder what neo-liberal Catholics like Michael Novak are thinking now that a major theme of liberation theology (if not liberation theology itself) is being promoted from the Chair of St. Peter?

“Money must serve, not rule!” Amen and amen! And yet, as we face into “Black Friday” everything being thrown at us by the media and culture screams that money rules. If you don’t buy your wife a diamond ring you probably don’t love her. If you don’t spend a small fortune (that you don’t have) on your kids, you probably don’t love them. If you don’t go out on Black Friday and spend, spend, spend, you aren’t a good American because so many businesses depend on profits from that day to survive.

As a non-Catholic I will say “This time listen to the pope. He may not be infallible, but he’s speaking as a prophet about this.”

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