Francis and the changes in the Catholic Church

  • Español
  • English
  • Français
  • Deutsch
  • Português
  • Opinión
-A +A
The unexpected renunciation of Pope Benedict XVI surprised the world, and especially the Catholic community.  It had been 600 years since a Pope had resigned.  It was a gesture of humility on the part of one who understood that he could no longer steer the boat of Peter through the troubled waves of scandal: pedophilia, corruption in the Vatican Bank, the network of masculine prostitution that involved seminarians in Rome, the reduction in the number of Catholics in the West, etc.
The Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected.  He had been in second place in the conclave that handed the keys of Peter to Cardinal Ratzinger.
The name chosen by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was also a surprise: Francis.  Never before had a Pope rendered homage to the saint of Assisi (1182-1226), considered the major celebrity of the past millennium. Nor had any Pope styled himself Peter II or assumed the names of the Evangelists Matthew and Luke.
Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?  A Jesuit priest, whose life involved governance functions in the Jesuit order, which catapulted him into the episcopate.  There is no evidence that Bergoglio had, as had many Argentinian priests and bishops, supported the military dictatorship (1976-1983) which was responsible for the death of over thirty thousand citizens and the disappearance of some three thousand babies, children of presumed terrorists.
Bergoglio was never outspoken in denouncing the violations of human rights committed by the military, as had the bishops Novak and Angelelli, the latter having died in a traffic accident in 1976 that many believed was engineered by the military.  The superior of the Argentinian Jesuits preferred to act behind the scenes in favour of the persecuted.
Bergoglio is doctrinally conservative.  One cannot expect him to authorize the civil union of homosexuals and the end of obligatory priestly celibacy.  Nevertheless, the choice of the name Francis symbolizes four dimensions characteristic of the saint of Assisi:
1) The critique of the productive system that promotes social inequality.  Until the Thirteenth Century in Europe, poverty was a part of wars and plagues.  Every family, even those subject to serfdom, had their parcel of land to grow food and raise a few animals that ensured their sustenance.
Bernardone, the father of Francis, introduced the mass production of textiles, for which he imported dyes from France (which led him to honour in the person of his son the foreign country, baptizing him Francis, one who comes from France).
The new system of production lowered the price of textiles, leading to the impoverishment and unemployment of numerous artisans in the weaving trade.
2) The option for the poor (basis of Liberation Theology).  Francis, when he encountered the poor generated by the new relations of production, divested himself of the clothing made by his father, and nude in the central square of Assisi, showed his rejection of emerging capitalism and his adhesion to the defence of the rights of the poor.
3) The love of nature. Francis is the patron saint of ecology.  He distinguished himself by his love for animals and by his many canticles to the Sun and the Moon.
4) The reform of the Church.  Francis, in the Chapel of San Damián, heard Jesus calling him to rebuild the Church that was in ruins.  On the outskirts of Assisi there was, indeed, a church in ruins, the Portiuncula (now inside the cathedral).  He and his friends proposed to rebuild it.  But then they understood that the call of Jesus had a wider meaning: to rebuild the Catholic Church, which was then distant from the people and identified with European nobility.
If Pope Francis, in choosing this name, also thought of Francis Xavier (1506-1552), the Jesuit saint who preached the Gospel to people in the east, then the name of the new pontiff invokes a whole programme of renovation of the Catholic Church, beginning with the reform of the Roman Curia, the formulation of a new sexual morality and a new evangelization that would implement the proposals of the Vatican Council II, such as ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, admitting that outside the Church there is salvation.
The fact is that, in less than a year of his pontificate, Francis has reformed the papacy, leaving behind the pomp and noble symbols; he has created a commission of eight cardinals to advise him in the conduct of the Church, chastised corrupt priests and bishops, combatted homophobia, authorizing baptism for the children of single mothers and positioning himself on the side of the poor.
Francis and the market economy
On November 26, 2013, Francis presented the document “the Joy of the Gospel” in which he clearly expounded his point of view.  His prophetic voice upset the CNN, the powerful communication network of the United States, which awarded him the “paper medal”, bestowed on to those who, in economic affairs, make foolish statements. . .
What are the “foolish statements” pronounced by Pope Francis?  Let the reader judge: “today we must say ‘no to an economy of exclusion and inequality.’  This economy kills. It cannot be that the freezing to death of an elderly person is not news, while a fall of two points in the stock market makes the news. This is exclusion.  We cannot tolerate throwing away food when there are people who are hungry.  This is inequity.
“Today everything is subject to the play of competition and the law of the strongest, where the strong eat the weak.  Because of this, great numbers of people are excluded and marginalised: without work, without horizons, without any way out.
“Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘disposable’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it.  The excluded are not the ‘exploited’ but the outcast, the ‘leftovers.’” (53)
In addition Francis has condemned the logic according to which the free market can, by itself, promote social inclusion: “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by facts, expresses a crude and naive 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.
“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed.  Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for others’ pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.
“The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.” (54)
The Pope underlines the fact that the interests of capital cannot stand over human rights: “One of the causes of this situation is found in the relation that we have established with money, since we peacefully accept its domination over us and over our societies.  The financial crisis that we are going through now makes forget that its origin lies in a profound anthropological crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human being!
“We have created new idols.  The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32: 1–35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.  The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances, and above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.” (55)
Without naming capitalism, Francis defends the role of the State as a social monitor and condemns the absolute autonomy of the free market: “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.  This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control”. (55)
“A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.  Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power.  To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits.  In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only rule.” (56).
In short, he is a prophet who puts his finger on the problem, because no one can ignore the fact that capitalism has failed for two thirds of humanity: the four billion people who, according to the UN, live below the poverty line.
(English translation from ALAI’s Spanish translation, for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)
- Frei Betto is a writer, author of La Mosca Azul - Reflexión sobre el poder  (Ocean Sur, México, 2009; Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2012 ) , among other books.
* This text is part of the magazine América Latina en Movimiento, Nº 492 (February 2014) titled “Francisco y los signos de los tiempos” (Francis and the Signs of the Times).
Subscrever America Latina en Movimiento - RSS