Pope Francis I

Barack Obama was elected on a platform which mostly consisted of Hope and Change. Once in office, it turned out that with respect to economic issues, there was no hope, only change back to the way things were before the Great Crash. Ever since, despite mouthing platitudes about the economy, and occasionally proposing a program that has no hope of passage in a government dominated by a cruel minority, he has done nothing to stem the concentration of wealth in the oligarchy, force serious regulation of the thuggish financial sector, or help anyone burdened by crushing debt.

The Catholic Church has been weakened by a clergy stubbornly insistent on maintaining that it is perfect in all its dogma and management. Whether it is sheltering pedophile priests, brutalizing and ignoring women, or insisting on a doctrinal purity based on ideas generated in the Middle Ages, the Church has driven too many of its best and brightest away. Those of us who hoped that the spirit of Vatican II would put the Church on a new path have been bitterly disappointed by the successors to the Good Pope John XXIII. In the election that made Benedict XVI Pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Argentina, was a strong contender. Now he is Pope Francis I.

Pope Francis has many problems to cope with arising from the scandals that have engulfed the Church, but he has made himself clear on economic issues. The National Catholic Reporter provides what appears to be a quote of his economic views:

The worldwide financial and economic crisis seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces man to one of his needs alone, namely, consumption. Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have started a throwaway culture. This tendency is seen on the level of individuals and whole societies, and it is being promoted! In circumstances like these, solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance and the economy. While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules.

That is the language of Liberation Theology. Here’s Wikipedia:

Liberation theology, is a political movement in Catholic theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described by proponents as “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor”, and by detractors as Christianized Marxism. (Footnotes omitted.)

Benedict XVI, the predecessor of Francis, opposed Liberation Theology, in line with centuries of Church practice and dogma teaching accommodation to and even the seeking of, secular power and wealth. The National Catholic Reporter put a kind face on this rejection, saying that the Church should love the poor, but should not put that love into practice through politics and government. Benedict XVI, then known as Cardinal Ratzinger, was head of the Church group on doctrine. Again from Wikipedia:

Ratzinger objected that the spiritual concept of the Church as “People of God” is transformed into a “Marxist myth.” In liberation theology he declared, the “people is the antithesis of the hierarchy, the antithesis of all institutions, which are seen as oppressive powers. Ultimately anyone who participates in the class struggle is a member of the “people”; the “Church of the people” becomes the antagonist of the hierarchical Church.”

It’s true that the concept of “the People of God” upended centuries of Church practice. It elevated Catholic Laity from sheep to citizens, and that was too much for the reactionaries that dominate institutional Catholicism, people like Ratzinger. Liberation Theology does not oppose the People of God to the hierarchy of the Church. It merely demands that the hierarchy practice the words of Jesus Christ, even where the practice and dogma of the Church is to the contrary. Making demands on the hierarchy is the function of the People of God.

Francis’ words about capitalism were delivered to an audience that included the ambassadors from three nasty tax havens. He included a condemnation of “corruption and selfish fiscal evasion”, by which he meant that their countries are helping the oligarchy ignore the rest of the People of God. That isn’t going to work for all those Catholics whose principal economic focus is on the Prosperity Gospel.

Black Liberation Theology applies the ideas of Liberation Theology to the problems facing African-Americans in the US, including the social, economic, political and even religious inequality people of color face in everyday life in America. Practioners of this view, like Jeremiah Wright, often use much stronger language, language that makes a lot of white people uncomfortable.

You will recall that Obama attended Wright’s Church in Chicago. Apparently it didn’t resonate as well as accommodation to power and wealth. Obama acts like the main problem in this country is that the citizens have Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to shield them from the excesses of predatory capitalism. He wants to slash these programs to maintain the low tax rates, the tax havens, and the untaxed wealth of the hyper-rich and their Corporate Personas, their Endowments, their trusts and their secret deals with foreign countries.

I hope for the best for Pope Francis. I have no such hope for President Obama.