The right’s contretemps with Pope Francis has brought out into the open what is rarely mentioned in polite company: most visible and famous Catholics who fight on behalf of Catholic causes in America focus almost exclusively on sexual issues (as Pope Francis himself seemed to be pointing out, and chastising, in his America interview), but have been generally silent regarding a century-old tradition of Catholic social and economic teaching. The meritocracy and economic elite have been a main beneficiary of this silence: those most serious about Catholicism—and thus who could have brought to bear a powerful tradition of thinking about economics that avoids both the radical individualistic presuppositions of capitalism as well as the collectivism of socialism—have spent their energies fighting the sexual/culture wars, even while Republican-Democratic ruling machine has merely changed driver seat in a limousine that delivers them to ever-more exclusive zip codes.Share
In the past several months, when discussing Pope Francis, the left press has at every opportunity advanced a “narrative of rupture,” claiming that Francis essentially is repudiating nearly everything that Popes JPII and Benedict XVI stood for. The left press and commentariat has celebrated Francis as the anti-Benedict following his impromptu airplane interview (“who am I to judge?”) and lengthy interview with the Jesuit magazine America. However, in these more recent reactions to Francis by the right press and commentariat, we witness extensive agreement by many Catholics regarding the “narrative of rupture,” wishing for the good old days of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
But there has been no rupture—neither the one wished for by the left nor feared by the right. Pope Francis has been entirely consistent with those previous two Popes who are today alternatively hated or loved, for Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI spoke with equal force and power against the depredations of capitalism. (JPII in the encyclical Centesimus Annus and Benedict XVI in the encyclical Caritas in Veritate.) But these encyclicals—more authoritative than an Apostolic Exhortation—did not provoke the same reaction as Francis’s critiques of capitalism. This is because the dominant narrative about John Paul II and Benedict XVI had them pegged them as, well, Republicans. For the left, they were old conservatives who obsessed with sexual matters; for the right, solid traditionalists who cared about Catholicism’s core moral teachings. Both largely ignored their social and economic teachings, so focused were they on their emphasis on “faith and morals.” All overlooked that, for Catholics, economics is a branch of moral philosophy. (Read more.)