This would be a terrible time to be a Catholic neocon or libertarian. Pope Francis has given them not one morsel that could be misconstrued as acceptance of capitalism or (for the neocons) imperialism or war. Instead he has been speaking very plainly, criticizing the economic system, globalization, the waging of war, and the plight of the poor. It is further rumored that his first real encyclical- for this latest is clearly much more Benedict’s last than Francis’ first- is to be on the subject of the poor. I would imagine folks at the Acton Institute and the Ethics and Public Policy Center must be very, very nervous. Here are Catholic Workers Mark and Louise Zwick on the plight of one prominent Catholic neocon:
The very first thing our new Pope did was to choose the name of Francis for St. Francis of Assisi. No Pope has ever been named Francis before. If Pope Francis had not done anything else, just claiming the name of Francis would have had a tremendous impact.
With the name comes all of the meaning of a Saint who lived the spirit of poverty and the reality of voluntary poverty. He was a man for the poor, but also a man of peace, against war, and a man who loved creation and all its creatures. He loved the Cross, even had the stigmata and suffered from it. St. Francis inspired and infiltrated the whole culture of his time.
What will George Weigel say now? Weigel is the person who wrote off St. Francis of Assisi as a marginal character who could not be taken seriously, who was “outside the mainstream of Catholicism” in his book Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace. How can he face Pope Francis?
And what is a humble Catholic to do? Who will our Bishops tell us to follow, Pope Francis or George Weigel, now that Weigel has his new book outlining how the Church should be reformed?
We are hearing a clear message from Pope Francis. His message is very different from that of George Weigel, whose book, Evangelical Catholicism, has been positively reviewed by Catholics in many publications, and even by Cardinals and Bishops.
Pope Francis speaks often of solidarity with the poor and going out to those on the margins. He criticizes greed and an economic system that marginalizes so many people. He asks why we are talking about banks and the stock market when people are dying of hunger. He tells us that poverty and praise of God are the two key signs of an evangelical and missionary Church. “The proclamation of the Gospel must follow the path of poverty.” He speaks of the horrors of war.
Weigel asks Bishops not to speak of these things. He insists that they must only speak about life issues and marriage and not try to extend the “reach” of the social doctrine of the Church into such areas as economics or war or “a host of matters that do not, except in the remotest sense, touch on questions of first principles or on areas of the Church’s special competence.” He has long said that economics, war, and justice are matters of prudential judgment and can only be addressed by laymen. He himself has spoken very forcefully in these areas over the last decades in the name of the Church, supporting economic libertarianism and striking out at others in war before they can attack you, but in this book forbids Church leaders to address the the moral issues involved in war and peace and economics.
Pope Francis does not hesitate to speak of them.