St Francis of Hypocrisy?

BY ALEXIA JAMES

Many accuse the Argentinian Pope Francis of socialist, even communist leanings – is he either?

Take a look at Francis’ body language during past meetings with foreign leaders. The people he seemed most comfortable with were the socialists and communists, even though they stand accused of murdering and torturing their own people while espousing Marxist political strategies which have caused economic mayhem and anguish in their lands. With capitalists Francis seemed taciturn and cold.

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Catholics defend Francis, rejecting this claim of Marxist bias, declaring him a saint. Certainly, Francis’ PR machine can be impressive. Francis is portrayed as a humble man who refuses to live in palatial papal quarters and spontaneously stops his motorcade to bless disabled children.

There are those Catholics who argue that Francis is simply more comfortable with Hispanics yet his meeting with Argentinian President Macri hardly seemed a warm one. Others argue that Francis dislikes wealthy men (Trump and Macri are billionaires) but the other leaders in the photos above (like the Castro brothers and Nicolas Maduro) are billionaires also, having siphoned off money from their countries illegally while in government, amidst other grave sins.

Could it be that Pope Francis is simply an awful hypocrite? The man who declared that child abuse within the catholic church would be dealt with by “zero tolerance”. The same man who quietly reduced sanctions against a handful of paedophile priests, applying his vision of a merciful Church even to its worst offenders in ways that survivors of abuse and the Pope’s own advisers question.

On the one hand, there are those who point to Francis being a left-leaning radical:

The gift of a “communist crucifix” from Bolivia’s president Evo Morales in July 2015 and uncertainty over the Pope’s response fuelled debate, while Morales told the Associated Press after meeting Francis that he thought that the Pope’s emphasis on a world without exclusion amounts to socialism. “I don’t know whether it’s communism, but it is socialism. He’s talking about community, about living in harmony,” Morales commented. He added: “I feel like now I have a Pope.”

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Francis has called capitalism a source of inequality at best – and at worst a killer. He’s for open borders and seems to have bought all the climate change arguments espoused by the green lobby.

Meanwhile, conservatives have dismissed Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospels) as “pure Marxism”. In it Francis argues that inequality creates “a state of social sin that cries to Heaven”. Francis has also said that unemployment is “the result of a worldwide choice, of an economic system that led to this tragedy, an economic system that has at its centre a false God, a false God called money”.

On the other hand, the Pope has directly rejected Marxism. He says that some of its tenets regarding the poor may sound similar to those of Christianity, but he firmly rejects attempts to equate the two.

“The Marxist ideology is wrong,” he told Italian Vatican analyst Andrea Tornielli in a late 2013 interview when questioned about his economic views.

“If I repeated some passages from the homilies of the Church Fathers in the second or third century, about how we must treat the poor, some would accuse me of giving a Marxist homily,” he said in an October 2014 interview.

In an interview earlier that year with the Roman daily Il Messagero, he said that while concern for the poor is a mark of the Gospel and Church tradition, rather than an invention of communism. “I must say that communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian,” Francis declared, recalling the Beatitudes and the story of the Final Judgment in Matthew 25. “Poverty is the centre of the Gospel. The poor are at the centre of the Gospel.”

Perhaps, rather than being a Communist or a Marxist, Francis more reflects what has come to be called Catholic Social Teaching – originally articulated in an 1891 papal document called Rerum Novarum, in which Pope Leo XIII addressed what he called the “spirit of revolutionary change” then sweeping Europe. Some of this teaching is very clearly designed to be a rebuttal of the communist ideas that were part of that change, but it is also a critique of aspects of capitalism. So, it is an unfamiliar mix that does not fit neatly into the left-right divide that dominates our political thinking today.

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Pope Francis will continue to be looked at with suspicion by conservatives. Perhaps he doesn’t care. But his taciturnity in the President Trump meetings last week will not be fast forgotten – those were the glares of a bigot not a saint. If eventually Francis does become canonised, he will surely never be the first Francis that springs to mind when the words Saint and Francis are placed together. It would seem that Pope Francis of Argentina has a long way to go before recognising the differences between Hypocrisy and Assisi.

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