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With the exception of Senator Elizabeth Warren, American politicians had a terrible year.  President Obama’s approval ratings plummeted along with those of
Congress.  Indeed, the most popular “politician” in the United States was a non-American, the new head of the Catholic Church, 77-year-old Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis.

Beginning with his March 13th election to the papacy, Francis has been singular.  He’s the first Pope from the Americas – the first non-European Pope since 731 – and the first Jesuit.  Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose the papal name Francis – another first – in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.  It wasn’t a cavalier choice of name.  Like many Jesuits, Francis cares deeply about social justice.

In his illuminating NEW YORKER article, journalist James Carroll noted that in his first week as Pope, Francis said, “How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor.”  Francis’ commitment to social justice can hardly have come as a surprise to the College of Cardinals who elected him in March.  Carroll notes:

By the time Bergoglio was named a cardinal, in 2001, his simplicity of style had already set him apart from other prelates. He preferred a small apartment to a palatial residence and travelled by public transportation instead of chauffeured car. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he encouraged his best priests to live in the slums, joining them for Mass and often walking through the shantytowns… he also was strident in his denunciations of neoliberal economic policies that condemned many to abject poverty.

As Pope, Francis has continued his pattern of simplicity by choosing to live in a two-room apartment instead of the Apostolic Palace and wearing a plain white cassock instead of fur-trimmed velvet capes.

For many progressives, Pope Francis first came onto our radar on November 24th when he issued his Evangelii Gaudium, explaining his liberation-theology-influenced morality.  Chapter 2 regards his assessment of inequality in the modern world: “We have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences… The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident.”

After condemning the “idolatry of money,” the Pope said, “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.”  He observed, “[In contemporary society] Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded.”

Pope Francis attacked the prevailing conservative economic ideology:

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... To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed.

Francis identified the core ethical problem:

The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! … Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God… With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: ‘Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.’

Pope Francis concluded with a strong appeal for social justice:

A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders… Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to the return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.

In 2013 there was a resurgence of populism in the US, with the enormous popularity of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and the victory of Bill De Blasio in the New York mayor’s race.  And populists gained a powerful ally in Pope Francis.

Populists believe the true backbone of America is the middle class; not the elite one percent.  We believe in a level playing field and government as a force for good.  Populists believe the government must provide a social safety net to protect Americans’ human rights.

Populist values emphasize empathy, compassion, and fairness.  Those are the very same values that Pope Francis has highlighted the past nine months.  That’s why he was the 2013 “politician” of the year.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, on economic issues, the Pope certainly (8+ / 0-)

    demonstrates solidarity with what has been called the "Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party" (count me in, too!) and in some ways is even more radical.

    Now, this is something important to remember: Francis hasn't changed any doctrine, he has simply changed focus. It's very compassionate, what he said about LGBT folks and as a gay man I find that encouraging. But there's no change of doctrine. But the doctrine isn't what many people think it is (it's a common misconception that the Church teaches that gay people are going to hell. It doesn't.). What he says about economic justice and the poor, that's nothing new either, except that many Bishops and priests around the world have been so obsessed about birth control and abortion and gays (something Jesus says nothing about) that they've missed the social justice angle (something Jesus says a lot about).

    I find his re-focusing of priorities deeply refreshing as well as his metaphorical turning over of the money changers' tables. He's made the hierarchy of the Church deeply uncomfortable, and pissed off right wingers from Rome to Rush Limbaugh. I find this delicious.

    There's an old saying that it is the Christians' duty to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That's exactly what he's trying to do, and I applaud him for it.

    Pope Francis: the Thumb of Christ in the eyes of the Pharisees.

    by commonmass on Fri Dec 27, 2013 at 07:04:31 AM PST

    •  Nothing's changed - Everything's changed (2+ / 0-)

      I asked a friend of mine who is a Franciscan Monk what he felt about the new Pope, and he had the same response. He sent me a set of links to Vatican tracts issued by Benedict to read. I took his word for it. There is a vast difference between the right wing ramblings of American Bishops (I don't know about anywhere else in the world) about Gays and Birth Control and Abortion and this Pope who is preaching from a different gospel. Disclaimer - I am not a church historian (I am Jewish in fact), but Pope John Paul abandoned the liberation theologists in Central America when Father Romero was seeking social justice.
      There is a huge difference between theory and practice. When the people of Ireland wanted an apology on abuses hidden by the Church they got a missive on Canon Law from the Vatican. The pews emptied out.
      I can  speculate why Benedict stepped down and I do not think it was to "spend more time with his family." I think that it was clear that in the information age, maintaining a face of piety by keeping a lid on ugly secrets, no longer works. The Church took a big risk with Francis and I joke that it is why they picked such an old man to take a run at populism, inclusiveness, simplicity and warmth. The Vatican politics were no longer viable. He will be fill the pews again in places where the Catholics have abandoned the Church, like Ireland and Boston.

      "You can die for Freedom, you just can't exercise it"

      by shmuelman on Fri Dec 27, 2013 at 07:39:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Nothing's changed, only the image and moderate (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        language. Your friend sent you Benedict's Caritas in Veritate (I hope) to show you that his predecessor wrote the same condemnation of vulture capitalism as Francis. Francis continues to appoint the same militant plutocrats as his predecessor, only they speak nicer like their boss.

        BTW, Bergoglio lives in a 3-room suite which is all his predecessors used for their personal use in the "palace." The rest was for official functions. He gets his clothes tailored and specially made, he never has to do his own laundry, cleaning or cook just like his predecessors.

    •  I think he is changing it in baby steps (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Killer of Sacred Cows

      it's taken centuries to get this messed up he's only been
      around for a little while comparatively.  I think he is sincere in
      wanting to change things though.  Baby steps in the right
      direction are so much better than it was.  I especially
      like that he is pissing off everyone on the right...  
      He is making changes under the radar to a lot of the
      institutions like the Vatican Bank... it's making even the Mafia
      in Italy nervous, they've been laundering money through
      there for centuries...

      Happy Holidays my friend... hope you had a good one...

      "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment." *Ansel Adams* ."Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."*Will Rogers*

      by Statusquomustgo on Fri Dec 27, 2013 at 08:59:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Pope Francis proves to me that (5+ / 0-)

    religion, done right, is the civilizing force in human society. Judaism and Christianity are very different religions, and I have always contended that Judaism is closer to some types of Buddhism than Christianity, even though they ostensibly share some canon. In Judaism, we know that the "bible" is not about informational reporting, and cannot be directly interpreted without the oral law and Talmud. So many areas, which are baffling, violent and cruel are filled with a vast range of meanings that take a lifetime of effort to unlock their meanings (and I really struggle with some of it). Because the human experience, as exhibited by history, is not one of peace. love and understanding. That is why in Judaism, the Rabbinical decrees overrule the word of G-d, and the ways of the Jewish people take precedence over the Rabbis. Jewish people, over the millenia, have led the way in "liberal humanism," as can be witnessed by the vast number of liberal and revolutionary Jewish thinkers.

    "You can die for Freedom, you just can't exercise it"

    by shmuelman on Fri Dec 27, 2013 at 07:49:33 AM PST

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