The Heart of Francis's Mission

Embracing the Call to Challenge

Christianity has often been used over the centuries to prop up the powerful. But from the beginning, the Christian message has been subversive of political systems, judgmental toward those at the top, and demanding of all who take it seriously.

Pope Francis has surprised the world because he embraces the Christian calling to destabilize and to challenge. As the first leader of the Catholic Church from the Southern Hemisphere, he is especially mindful of the ways in which unregulated capitalism has failed the poor and left them “waiting.”

His apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” is drawing wide and deserved attention for its denunciation of “trickle-down” economics as a system that “expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” It’s a view that “has never been confirmed by the facts” and has created “a globalization of indifference.” Will conservatives among American Catholics who have long championed tax cutting for the wealthy acknowledge the moral conundrum that Francis has put before them?

But American liberals and conservatives alike might be discomfited by the pope’s criticism of “the individualism of our postmodern and globalized era,” since each side defends its own favorite forms of individualism. Francis mourns “a vacuum left by secularist rationalism,” not a phrase that will sit well with all on the left.

And in light of the obsessive shopping on Cyber Monday and Black Friday, here is a pope who paints consumerism in the darkest of hues. “We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,” he writes. “In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

Yet this critic of our age refuses to be gloomy, scolding “querulous and disillusioned pessimists” whom he labels “sourpusses.” I like a pope who takes a stand against sourpusses.

Francis makes many liberals swoon without, in a conventional sense, being a liberal. He has also split American conservatives between those trying to hold fast to him and those who know that he is, from their perspective, up to something dangerous.

All sides realize where the energy of Francis’ pontificate lies. He’s not the first pope to denounce our unjust economic system. Pope John Paul II regularly decried “imperialistic monopoly” and “luxurious egoism.” Pope Benedict XVI condemned “corruption and illegality” in “the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries” while speaking approvingly of “the redistribution of wealth.”

The difference is that a concern for the poor and a condemnation of economic injustice are at the very heart of Francis’ mission. “In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits,” he writes, “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.” Can you imagine an American liberal who would dare say such things?

Conservative American Catholics have been quick to point out that toward the end of “The Joy of the Gospel,” Francis strongly affirms the church’s opposition to abortion. This is, indeed, one of the ways in which he is not a conventional liberal. He speaks of “unborn children” as “the most defenseless and innocent among us.” He insists that the church’s position is not “ideological, obscurantist and conservative,” but rather is “linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”

Yet almost immediately, he adds that “it is also true that we have done little to adequately accompany women in very difficult situations,” and quickly moves back to his broader stand on behalf of “other weak and defenseless beings who are frequently at the mercy of economic interests or indiscriminate exploitation.”

It’s quite true that liberals who love Francis need to come to terms with aspects of his thought that may be less congenial to their assumptions. But the high priority he has placed on battling economic exploitation, his warnings against those who “remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past,” and his unhappiness with the rise of ultra-orthodoxy -- he upbraids “dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation” -- test conservatives even more.

In light of a recent past in which conservatism was gaining the upper hand in the American Catholic church, progressives have reason to be elated. Conservative Catholics know this. That’s why they are torn between expressing loyalty to a pope who has captured the popular imagination and fretting over whether he is transforming the church with a speed that few thought was possible.

About the Author

E. J. Dionne Jr. is a syndicated columnist, professor of government at Georgetown University, and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (Bloomsbury Press).



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Our Pope Preaches the Gospel of LOVE -  

When we hear from our Pope, about Faith, Love and Hope -   That's Amore'

Francis Says Ride along,,,, weak are helped by the Strong,,,,, That's called Love

Francis Asks for our prayers,,,,not just for our own Cares,,,,,,,,That's Amore'

"Scuse a Me,,,,,  While we see ,,,,,,,, From a Rome, Italy,,,,,,,,More Amore'

Of course Pope Francis is no Marxist, certainly no secular Utopian, but he is not a doctrinaire global Capitalist either, and Rush Limbaugh, being of mainline Protestant extraction, will find it difficult to appreciate what the Pope is saying, and how most Catholics will agree with him and in any case, will fall in line behind him.  In fact I will wager that most American Protestants will not catch the nuance and balance the pope is describing.  The news media will not help either; they will just gleefully proclaim “Francis is a Socialist”, and move on to the next Hollywood outrage or nonsense.  Thoughtful people however who take time to read a few pages or think about what Pope Francis wrote for ten or fifteen minutes, will readily understand. 

In my reading of his letter, Pope Francis points to the current form of capitalism as being deficient because modern societies have – you guessed it - lost sight of the value of individual human beings, of the value of life.

This part of being a Catholic is easy for me, in that while I probably do not understand all of what Pope Francis is talking about, and as a Republican, politically I tend not to be as much toward the middle (as balanced) as he most probably is, of course I know he is correct - he is the pope after all - and I will trim my sails accordingly. 

There – that burden is easy and that yoke is light.  Like the red button at the Staples store says; “That was easy”.  I did the same with John Paul II, Pope Benedict (they both ocassionally commented on the economy as well); I will do the same with the next pope.

Old Chesterton once quipped something to the effect that; While strict Socialism ruins the family in theory, strict Capitalism does so in practice.  In those days (1920’s) he promoted something called “Distributism”, which I have not yet looked into very much, but will of course - as time permits. 

It will be intersting to see how American Catholics receive this, but how they react is not particularly important; Francis is simply saying the obvious truth and sputter away as one might, it is difficult to argue with that.  In any case, for a traditional Catholic like me, the fact that the Pope in Rome - the Vicar of Christ - decided to take the time (i.e., spend his valuable time), and sit down and write out somehting like this means; it is important, we Catholics should pay careful attention, and with the consequent fresh understanding that sort of thoughtful consideration produces, adjust our course as best suits the common good. 


EJ, I disagree that the poor is at the heart of Francis' message.  God and his love for each individual are the heart of his message.  AMDG.


E.J. Dionne has hit the nail on the head, as usual.  Maybe through a meaningful dialogue among all Catholics, especially between the clergy and lay people, we can come to see the wisdom and truth of Pope Francis' message.

I was stunned to learn that Rush Limbaugh has said that Pope Francis Is not really a Cahtolic, but Is in fact a Marxist.


It's  ubelievable.  I ask myseldf why on earth is he saying such a thing?  But people I've talked to were not surprised.  They say Rush has always been trying to dupe religious people into becomeing foot soldiers in his crusade to give tax breaks to the wealthy.  Pope Francis is a danger to Rush's effort to seduce religious people to his cause.

Will Catholics take Rush's side on this?  I don't think so!  No way.


While I wish that people would simply read and contemplate the words of this most extraordinary Pope, EJ Dionne has, in my opinion done a pretty  decent job of conveying the essence of the message of Francis in remarkably few words. Considering Francis in the context of his two immediate predecessors was helpful. I hope that this little essay receives a wide distribution among both Catholics and among those writing about Francis in both MSM and blogosphere.

Rush Limbaugh is a disc jockey; and still spinning round and round his same old tunes.


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