Pope Francis’ New Crusade

For the pontiff, social justice trumps the virtues of wealth.

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Quick quiz: who made the following statement?

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 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.

Was it New York Mayor-elect Bill deBlasio? Maybe former Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich? Was it perhaps President Obama, whose most hysterical critics accuse him of being a socialist?

Nope. It was Pope Francis, who has been engineering an historic change in the focus of the Roman Catholic Church, redirecting attention to the most pressing issue of this century – basic fairness and equality when it comes to sharing the world’s resources and being a decent world citizen.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

It’s difficult for American politicians to openly question the way we deal with wealth and income distribution in this country. There’s an unfortunate sense that there’s something un-American about criticizing the rich, let alone expecting them to pay higher taxes or live under any kind of regulation. And when they screw up – and Wall Street screwed up big in 2008, bringing the world to the brink of a global depression – were they punished for it? Sort of; they were fined, which only serves to send the message that money is the currency for not just products but behavior. They didn’t go to jail, as might have happened to someone who had burgled a home or held up a grocery store. If you steal other people’s money when you already have money, that is somehow not considered a jail-able defense.

The pope goes beyond the question of how we regulate people in finance. He gets to the root of the problem: the idolatry of money. As long as we endorse the notion that amassing more and more wealth, beyond the point of what anyone would enjoy in a lifetime, and at the expense of people who spend their entire lives struggling to put food on the table, we will have a pervasive sickness in our culture. Francis is committed to healing it. And you don’t have to be Catholic to join the crusade.

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