Pope Francis took his condemnation of worldwide economic injustice several steps further on Tuesday, issuing a lengthy official statement that puts the markets, and its lovers, on notice. The 51,000-word outline of his vision for the Catholic Church's direction under his leadership is his first major publication since the papal elections this spring. The document is known as an apostolic exhortation, and it is basically the pope's official platform. This shouldn't really surprise anyone, but Pope Francis wants to do things a bit differently. The church, he writes, should "abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way,'” and instead become "bold and creative” in its work.
There's quite a lot on the document, which touches on a wide number of issues. Here are some of the more notable statements therein.
The Markets: "A New Tyranny"
This is the bit of Francis's apostolic exhortation that's getting the most attention, and for good reason. While Francis has made his stance against unfettered materialism clear in previous statements, he goes further here — the section is just filled to the brim with direct condemnations of what the Pope frames as market worship. The Pope makes a number of very strong statements against growing income inequality worldwide, and calls on the rich to share their wealth with the less fortunate. That statement explicitly goes beyond calling for Catholics to engage in run-of-the-mill charitable work, however. It's a call for systematic reform. Francis writes:
Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.
To drive his point home, Francis condemns our current relationship to money as "idolatry," alluding to a brutal Old Testament story in which the Israelites create a golden calf to worship while waiting for Moses to return with the Ten Commandments. In that story, Moses melts down the statue and angrily forces the Israelites to drink it as punishment.
The Pope vs. Paul Ryan
The Pope gets pretty specific about which sorts of ideas he's standing against, too. This bit could be a bit awkward for Paul Ryan, a Catholic and Ayn Rand devotee, going forward:
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
Instead, the Pope urges politicians to take up their vocation as one that serves the "common good." He writes:
I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare. Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans?
Sorry, Francis Fukuyama, but the Pope burns you, too.
Fukuyama, or more specifically his book The End of History and the Last Man, is the subject of one of the Pope's best zingers.
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.
Hot Button Social "Obsessions"
The theologically conservative First Things dove into the document's statements on marriage and abortion, noting that the exhortation confirms that the Pope's recent condemnation of the church's "obsession" with hot-button political issues isn't a change in doctrine.
Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.
And on abortion:
Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenseless and innocent among us. Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this. Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative. Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.
While these issues are not at the center of the Pope's message to the world, we're noting them because of the controversy surrounding the Pope's previous statements. It's important to remember that his reaffirmation of church teaching on abortion and marriage shouldn't be surprising. The document also stakes out a clear stance against the ordination of women, which, again, isn't surprising, though it may be different from what many reform-minded Catholics wanted to hear.
Today's document doesn't contain doctrinal power, but the message it sends will carry a huge amount of weight for the church going further into Francis's time as Pope. You can read the whole thing — or browse by section — here. We highly recommend a read of his thoughts on inequality in their entirety, in part because it's clearly at the heart of what Francis wants to do. That bit starts here.