The Sometimes Warring Schools of Francis

Editor’s Note: Count me impressed. The generous response to the first day of our end-of-year fund drive was greater than I expected, especially the larger gifts several of you sent. This is a good beginning towards making sure that The Catholic Thing continues its mission to the Church and the world in 2014. But it’s still only a beginning. We need all of you to do your part. The sooner we reach our goals, the sooner we can get back to the important work that remains ahead of us. I’m not going to browbeat anyone. You know the reasons why TCT needs your support. And you now the numbers too: we need many gifts of $50, $100, $300, $500, and more so that we can plan our labors in the coming year.  So please – listen to the better angels of your nature – make your fully tax-deductible contribution to The Catholic Thing today. – Robert Royal

The world is obsessed with, really cannot get enough of the Catholic Church. And the new pope has the world blushing like a schoolgirl – as TIME’s choice of him as Person of the Year Wednesday confirmed.  Mostly, it’s because he seems – to certain people – to have kicked the “right wing” in the keister, first with abortion, then with homosexuality, and now with economics in Evangelii Gaudium. I don’t know of another papal document, except Humanae Vitae, that has so intensely interested the world.

Whole Schools of Francis have sprung up. There are probably more, but I count four main ones: the Gloating Left, the Enforcers, the Faithful Questioners, the Silly and Straw Men.

Rush Limbaugh heads the last group, though he is more straw man than silly. He called the document “Marxist.”  Well, who cares? The answer is everyone who wants to bash Catholics who are politically conservative. They haven’t been able to get enough of those few paragraphs spoken by Limbaugh, who by the way loves the Catholic Church.

The Silly is an unfortunate guy named Adam Shaw, a video-game reviewer who wrote a ridiculous piece for Fox that said Francis “will prove a disaster for the Catholic Church.” It may be the last time you ever hear of him, but you would think he was the most influential “right-wing” Catholic ever.

The Gloating Left believes this document is the final comeuppance for all the “right-wing” Cafeteria Catholics. In the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters says: “There are not enough red and gold pens in the world for George Weigel to parse the clamant social justice sections out of Evangelii Gaudium.” The ever-ideological E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post and Commonweal asked: “Will conservatives among American Catholics who have long championed tax cuts for the wealthy acknowledge the moral conundrum that Francis has put before them?” And a political lefty named Dan Nichols, who runs a little-visited site called Caelum et Terra, says how happy he is to see conservatives “squirm.”

The Faithful Questioners are those trying to engage the Pope’s exhortation. While not outright rejecting his underlying arguments, they are trying to make sense of the economic claims that have drawn so much attention.

Michael Novak, one of the treasures of the Church in America, has taught a few generations both here and overseas about the faith and democratic capitalism. A regular adviser to Blessed John Paul II, Novak is one of the most qualified Catholics to engage Francis on this topic.

Novak says you cannot understand this document without taking into account the “populist fascism” that Francis lived under in Argentina; an economy once among the largest in the world now lies long-ruined by an elite that largely ignores the poor.

While Novak acknowledges that society must care for the poor – he parts company with Francis in his “highly partisan and biased” use of certain terms such as “trickle-down economics,” which Novak says is a mistranslation anyway.

        Destruction of the San Saba Mission in the province of Texas,
           and the martyrdom of Fathers Alonso de Terreros and Jose de Santiesteban, 1758
    by Jose Paez (c. 1765)

Sam Gregg of the Acton Institute wants to know where exactly “markets operate with ‘absolute autonomy’ and exactly who, except a minuscule number of “anarcho-capitalists”, rejects “the right of states. . .to exercise any form of control.”

I am most closely aligned with the questioners, but I recognize the danger. Dissident Catholics on abortion, for instance, will say things like “of course I hold the teaching of the Church, but I wonder. . .”, and then rattle off questions that amount to unbelief. I do not say that about Novak and Gregg. Not in the least. But that can be the danger for some.

Finally, there are the Enforcers who seem to have been lying in wait to go after their fellow Catholics who are not falling in line fast enough and in exactly the way they want them to.

Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame has taken a swipe at pro-life and pro-family Catholics who, he says, have been bought off by a “massive funding apparatus.” They get big Catholic money – provided they remain faithful Republicans on economics. But anyone who actually works in traditional Catholic non-profits will wonder where that massive funding apparatus is.

Mark Shea spends several hundred words pounding away with his sledgehammer on what he calls the “Thing that used to be Conservatism” and on the poor flea Adam Shaw, who wrote the stupid column for Fox and as a result got canned as a video-game reviewer by Catholic News Service.

There are better-balanced voices. Andrew Abela is Dean of the Business School at Catholic University of America. He quite sensibly says that the pope cannot condemn the market economy and champion socialism because that would go against Church teaching. And that Francis understands perfectly well that there is no place on earth where there exists a completely laissez faire economy.

Abela says it is clear to him what the pope is really denouncing is “crony capitalism” whereby big corporations, and not just those in Argentina, game the system through lobbying and political contributions. They use government to punish smaller companies and then get bailed out when they get in trouble. He claims the pope also condemns unimaginative businessmen who use the market as an excuse for bad and sometimes immoral decisions.

This puts you in mind of, say, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase. Evangelii Gaudium is for all of us, and for him, too. It is a document about evangelization. And I wonder: who is evangelizing Jamie Dimon?

If Dimon does not have God, then he most certainly has a god – and that is probably profit and loss, return on investment, and little else. So how much better would it be for Dimon, his employees and investors, if it were profit and loss and the supernatural motivating him?

And if it were, perhaps JP Morgan wouldn’t just this minute be ponying up $2 billion to the Justice Department for its part in the Madoff Ponzi scheme.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
© 2013 The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: [email protected]
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.