When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future. We are far from the so-called “end of history”, since the conditions for a sustainable and peaceful development have not yet been adequately articulated and realized.
It has been illuminating, the reaction to Francis’ first full and official declaration of his vision. I thought, as I said, that his comments regarding the social and economic aspects of the Church’s mission were clear enough that there would be no room for anything but agreement or open disagreement.
As I said, that was naive.
Of course the non-Catholic right was more direct; according to Rush Limbaugh the pope is a commie (and where was the response of the Catholic League and Mr Donohue?)
For Catholic conservatives the response varied. None that I am aware of openly dissented. Some took Fr Sirico’s approach, denying that the pope’s concerns were even real, or that he, Sirico, held to the positions that the pope condemned. Others, like George Weigel, praised the pope highly, in general terms, only acknowledging that Francis has a great love for the poor. He did not acknowledge that the pope said that the “socioeconomic system is unjust at its root”. After all, according to Mr Weigel and his fellow neoconservatives, capitalism is the most just system, and they have worked to expand it for decades. Weigel’s strategy at this point seems to consist of high praise, while ignoring anything that challenges his own project.
Perhaps, though, Francis’ radical comments were mistranslated, which is the other response from the right. Translation is an inexact science, and every attempt to retranslate I have seen appears to differ from the Spanish text only in shades of meaning. Even if one was to grant the rather strange contention that the Vatican has either incompetent or deceptive translators, the tone of the pope’s remarks, his deep criticism of the global capitalist economy and the structures of injustice stand unchallenged One writer asked, rhetorically, “Show me one place in the letter where the pope mentions the word ‘capitalism’ “. Yeah, and show me one place that the Gospels speak of the Trinity. What “socioeconomic system’ do you think he is criticizing as “unjust”?. One article I read from the Fiscal Times was headlined “The Media Got the Pope’s Comments on Capitalism Wrong “, as if this was all a distortion, that Francis did not really criticize the global corporate order. All the media got wrong is presenting this pope as if there were some radical discontinuity with his predecessors. Granted, Francis has his own vision of the Church, one that differs from John Paul and Benedict’s, but there is no radical break in his critique of modern society and the capitalist economy, though he is certainly more plainspoken.
Evangelii Gentium, of course, is far more than a socioeconomic statement; it is a clarion call for a new evangelization that includes a challenge to the existing economic structures and a deep solidarity with the poor. John Allen called the letter Francis’ “I have a dream” moment. It is a deeply spiritual work, and the opening paragraph itself offers a rich and challenging invitation to return to Jesus Christ, an invitation that should speak to anyone beyond the first consolations of conversion.
But that invitation cannot be seen apart from the pope’s call to challenge the very unjust structures that keep the poor in their place, and injustice enthroned.