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Sins Against the Respect for the Reputation of Persons
Statements made about public figures are a dime a dozen. Individuals like Pope Francis who are known throughout the world garner certain reputations. Often, these reputations are an amalgamation of rash judgment, detraction, or calumny. In today’s examination, I want to investigate the rather loaded question: is Pope Francis in favor of socialism and/or globalism? For some, this seems like a forgone conclusion and for others the sentiment is preposterous.
I hope to shed a bit of light on the subject by sifting through the defining socialism and globalism, looking at Church teaching on the subject, and reviewing some statements by Pope Francis. Maybe then we will get a bit closer to understanding the mind of the Roman Pontiff on the topic.
However, first I want to look briefly at these three sins against respect for the reputation of persons. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury (CCC 2477).” So, what are rash judgments, detraction, and calumny?
If we call into question the moral standing of another without sufficient foundation, we are guilty of the sin of rash judgment. We do not even have to be fully convinced of our neighbor’s fault for the sin of rash judgment to be present. Avoiding rash judgment requires care and practice. When we encounter the thoughts, words, and deeds of another, we should attempt to interpret them in a favorable way. St. Ignatius of Loyola writes:
“Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved (St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 22).”
Detraction is the sin of disclosing another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them without an objectively valid reason for doing so, to use the wording of the Catechism (cf. CCC 2477). Notice here that detraction seems to presume that the faults of failings of the other person are actually present. However, we need to take care not to share these faults and failings with an objectively valid reason.
Finally, calumny is the sin of harming the reputation of another by providing remarks which are contrary to the truth. When this happens, it invites others to make false judgments about the person being discussed.
The problem with both detraction and calumny is that they “destroy the reputation and honor of one’s neighbor (CCC 2479).” Actions like these are vices opposed to the virtues of justice and charity.
Why Bring Up These Three Sins?
There is no shortage of armchair theologians interpreting the thoughts, words, and deeds of Pope Francis in an unfavorable way. This is the sin of rash judgment. I myself have been guilty of this sin in regards to the pope several years ago, and I repent of it.
Likewise, there are things which are sincerely problematic surrounding the Francis pontificate and the person of Pope Francis in the past ten years. Not all of these personal conversations needed to be brought out to the public forum, especially not in the way that they were. For example, the many letters of Archbishop Vigano would constitute, in my mind, consistent detraction against the Holy Father. Many of these letters also seem to fit the bill for calumny as well.
And, of course, there is widespread calumny against the pope, as I am sure there has been against every pope in history. Folks do love to gossip. It is an unfortunate side effect of the Fall and our concupiscence. So, how does this apply to today’s topic? I am going to try to avoid rash judgment, detraction, and calumny as I investigate the subject matter today. I hope by giving a model for reading the Pontiff charitably, all of us will be inspired to do likewise in the future. With that all being said, let us now turn our attention to socialism and globalism.
What are Socialism and Globalism? Are they Related?
When you say the word “socialism,” most people immediately think of economics. Really, socialism is more broadly a political ideology with implications in both economic and sociological structures. These structures or systems are predominantly centered around the means of production being controlled socially, rather than privately. The means of production are the land, labor, and capital which are used to produce products (in the form of goods or services). If the land, labor, or capital in a given locale are owned by the government, by a co-op, by employees, or the like, this is an indication that socialist mechanisms are in play. After the introduction of the thought of Marx and Engels in the 19th Century, a category of socialism was born which was called Communism. While there have been many iterations of socialism and communism, the key distinction is that communism is not concerned with social ownership of the means of production only but also with socially designed means of consumption of products. At any rate, both socialism and communism are opposed to capitalism, which desires to keep the means of production owned by private firms and individuals.
Globalism is an interesting term without a set definition. It is usually used by right-leaning capitalists in a pejorative sense. In the 17th Century, the Peace of Westphalia led to a world-system in which several nation-states and independent nations created an interconnected economic system. These world-systems were not global as much as very large regional systems. Many of these world-systems did not interact with one another. Then, over the next two centuries, these world-systems came into ever-increasing contact in a process known as globalization. Due to transportation and communications advancements, this process took off at a feverish pace after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. Goods, services, technology, capital, data, people, and the like move relatively freely across borders throughout the world. As a result, global markets continued to expand. In 2000, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) described four main aspects of globalization: 1) trade, 2) capital movements, 3) movement of people, and 4) the spread of knowledge and technology (Globalization: Threat or Opportunity?).
Globalism is really the expression of globalization, just as nationalism is an expression of nationality. Here lies one danger: just as nationalism can go off the rails towards a well-intentioned but ultimately overzealous approach, so too can globalism devolve into an attempt to control uncontrollable mechanisms. When governments and key global leaders in politics, business, and entertainment attempt to control global markets, the outcome leads to remarkable inefficiencies which sadly lead to human suffering. This is because a society which is not founded on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity are doomed to radically disordered structures and systems. For more on solidarity and subsidiarity, check out a previous episode on the topic.
So, are socialism and globalism related? To an extent: yes! Many of the early socialists dreamed of a utopian world in which everyone had what they needed and suffering was minimized. Then, when Marx and Engels began writing the Communist Manifesto, they did so in a world which was already experiencing the nascent groans of globalization, with all its accompanying problems. Their response was to instantiate a radical form of socialism. Planned socialist economies have been tried numerous times in the 20th Century and the result has always been widespread death, suffering, and even genocide. Globalism is more or less an attempt to understand the mechanism and intricacies of globalization. This is nothing more than a desire for more knowledge about how the structures which exist in the world actually work. The problem is when globalism takes on a more “intentional” twinge and admixes socialist policies. The socialist or the globalist could dream of a world in which social structures control land, labor, and capital in order to produce goods and services for a global market. These social structures could be the United Nations, the European Union, or even the neoliberal and neoconservative efforts of nation building seen after the Cold War.
What does the Church Teach About Socialism and Globalism?
Pope Pius XI, in his work Quadragesimo Anno, writes:
“If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the supreme pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist (Quadragesimo Anno, 120).”
Likewise, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that:
“The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modern times with “communism” or “socialism” (Catechism, 2425).”
Pope Leo XIII in his masterwork Rerum Novarum wrote in 1891 that:
“To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man's envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property, and contend that individual possessions should become the common property of all, to be administered by the State or by municipal bodies. They hold that by thus transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy. But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community (Rerum Novarum, 4).”
One of the key tenets of socialist ideology is contempt for private property, which is something that the Catholic Church ardently defends. Pope Leo XIII even speaks of the “inviolability” of private property, as a principle. Likewise, Pope Leo XIII speaks of socialists setting up “a State supervision” at the expense of parents, which he calls an “act against natural justice” which would “destroy the structure of the home (ibid., 14).”
Because globalism is so ill-defined, we will be hard pressed to find many denunciations or affirmations of it. However, we can see fairly clearly that the Catholic Church is not opposed to a transnationalism corporate approach, given that it is the oldest and most interconnected organization in the world!
Where the rubber meets the road on this question is between progressives in favor of an international and anti-nationalist view of global structures and a conservative and isolationist view. Between these two views is a wide diversity of ideologies of varying degrees. So, we do not want to fall into a trap of extremism.
From my perspective, I think both extremes have something to offer.
On the side of the internationalist progressives, I think there is value to their critique that there is an American, exceptionalist version of Catholicism which reads into everything the Vatican does as pertaining exclusively and directly to the United States. This sort of nationalism might be appropriate for navigating diplomatic relations between nations. But it is prideful and ridiculous on the global, Catholic front. I do not doubt that Pope Francis has spoken vaguely about the Western world and the United States, in particular, with negative overtones. But his critiques are centered around an observation of rampant materialism and individualism which devalues certain communities and the marginalized. And fair enough.
On the side of the isolationist conservatives, there is a desire to get one’s house in order before reaching out to others in assistance. The world is full of different problems, but we need to fix the problems in our own house and in our own backyard before we can be of use to anyone else. I am deeply sympathetic to this approach due to my abiding love of the principle of subsidiarity. But we have to balance this approach with solidarity, which shows how intensely interconnected the human family is. And what is more, the baptized are supernaturally brothers and sisters in an even more pronounced way than a mere natural association.
The problem with globalism which is the most pronounced is the lens of seeing the world in material terms to the neglect of the spiritual. I wrote about this extensively in my part two summary of Deus Caritas Est by Pope Benedict XVI. We have a responsibility to provide for the material necessities of those in need (preferential option for the poor), but we cannot fulfill this due to the neglect of the spiritual needs of persons. Rising alongside globalization was an insidious secularism which attempted to remove God from society.
Material, at the Expense of the Spiritual
Riding the wave of the Enlightenment, Frederich Neitzsche famously wrote “God is dead,” but most people do not understand the point he is making. He is not simply announcing his own growing personal atheism. The quote continues:
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? (Neitzsche)”
The Enlightenment was deeply disorienting because Christendom cannot exist apart from a Christian worldview and Christian societal ordering. When the Enlightenment thinkers and actors unmoored society from these deep roots and outstretched arms to Heaven, the response was the dramatic collapse of the moral value structure of Christian society. With continued globalization, this secularism continued to creep along the globe. Now, it is counter-cultural and an oddity to be a believer, much less a Christian. The nihilism of Nietzsche saw that society was shaking off the temporal influence of Christianity, but he also remarked that the “shadows” of God would still need to be vanquished, the vestiges of the Christian worldview. In our current postmodern world, this is certainly coming true pragmatically. The main problem with this - and thus with what globalism is effectively importing and exporting ideologically these days - is that God is not dead and never will be. Human nature does not change just because some European narcissists of the last centuries say so.
Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Marx, in various iterations refer to the offers of Christian religion as the comfort of certainty. Marx, in particular, refers to religion as the opiate of the masses. I think this shows just how twisted the notions of Christianity were at the time. Jesus did not come to bring us comfort, He told us to pick up our cross and follow Him. The Christian life is hard. Yes, the promise of Heaven is a comfort, but it also happens to be true because the Source is trustworthy.
Unfortunately, globalism has led to a bland approach to religious truths - and especially moral prescripts - which has devolved into moral relativism, subjectivism, and indifferentism. Even within the Church, we can sense the effects of these trends. Many Catholics - lay, religious, and clergy alike - are awash in the cultural cocktail of crappy creeds being advanced by every human source with no reference to transcendent, objective truth and the Source of Truth, God Himself.
All of that being said, moored in good philosophical and theological convictions, globalism can be a great force for good. Humanity is interconnected. Through mass communication, we can reach out to those around us and those halfway across the globe in an instant. If those using these modern technologies are virtuous and ordered towards God, then the Holy Spirit can bear fruit in these interactions! So, while it is healthy to critique what is morally ambiguous or evil, it is important to see things as they currently are and then help order our society back towards God. Lest we think this is an impossible task, remember charity begins at home. Start there.
Where Does Pope Francis Come From and Does it Matter?
Before we get into Pope Francis’ comments relating to socialism and globalism, it is worth looking at his own upbringing and cultural context. We are the product of nature and nurture, in many real and lasting ways. Pope Francis is no different.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1936 to Italian parents. His family left Italy to escape the fascist oppression of Benito Mussolini in 1929. Communism sought to abolish private property. Socialism advocated government ownership of the means of production. Fascism left the means of production in private hands but through government and corporate collusion directed every economic decision.
He worked as a bouncer and a janitor before training as a chemist and working as a technician in a food science laboratory. At the age of 22, he discerned a vocation to the priesthood in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).
As we grow up, our thoughts and opinions on matters change, politically, socially, economically, and even religiously. These changes might be a deepening and maturing, a complete break for something new, or an exploration which eventually comes full circle. What is consistent is that our cultural experiences and upbringing color our approaches. In the case of Jorge Bergoglio in Argentina, Juan Perón took power in 1946 after World War Two and held power until he was overthrown in 1955.
I think that Juan Perón is the key to understanding Pope Francis’ approach to society and politics. Peronism is a form of corporate socialism but is seen by many as “right wing.” Confused yet? Juan Perón was an Argentine nationalist and populist. Populism is not right or left wing; it is a way to stir up public support amongst the working class.
Juan Perón harbored former Nazi officials. He was fairly isolationist. He was anti-clerical and got on the bad side of the Church when he worked to legalize divorce. He supported labor unions and corporatized them. He used violence and dictatorial rule to maintain power, but all the while styled himself as a man of the people. Though a socialist in practice, Juan Perón had a well documented respect for Benito Mussolini. I think it is fair to say that Juan Perón was willing to support any policy which helped him retain power - a hallmark of populists.
Juan Perón is key to Pope Francis' approach because this is the society which Jorge Bergoglio grappled with from ten years old and forward. And even after Juan Perón was removed, his policies and ideas remained prevalent in Argentine politics into the 21st Century. So, keep that in mind as we look at what Pope Francis has to say about socialism and globalism. Americans, especially, are notorious for reading everything in light of American politics and economic ideologies. Argentina is vastly different from the United States politically, socially, and economically. If we approach Pope Francis’ writings on social and economic structuring with narrow vision, then we will miss the forest for the trees.
Is Pope Francis a Socialist or Globalist?
Now, finally, we can turn our attention to the question: is Pope Francis a socialist or a globalist? I am going to focus on looking at the three most authoritative documents from Pope Francis, his encyclicals: Lumen Fidei (2013), Laudato si’ (2015), and Fratelli Tutti (2020). I will also touch on his 2013 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.
I am not writing a book on the man, nor am I claiming to exhaustively treat this question. But the conversation I want to start here is: what does he actually promulgate in his ordinary and universal magisterium, as the Pope. Popes are free to hold private opinions and even express them publicly, but they do not hold the weight of an encyclical letter. So, we will stick to these three documents. If you want to sort through the ambiguous statements the Pope has made or dive into his airplane interviews, go for it!
Lumen Fidei (2013)
Lumen Fidei was released shortly after Pope Francis was elected and was actually written by Pope Benedict XVI. Nonetheless, being promulgated by Francis, we should charitably assume that he is asserting what is therein contained. This encyclical is in the same vein as Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi on Charity and Hope and is about Faith. This is a largely theological text without much discussion of politics or economics. But there is one pertinent idea that is repeated twice:
“The individual’s act of faith finds its place within a community, within the common ‘we’ of the people who, in faith, are like a single person - ‘my first-born son,’ as God would describe all of Israel (Lumen Fidei, 14).”
Likewise, in par. 43, we hear:
“Since faith is a reality lived within the community of the Church, part of a common ‘We,’ children can be supported by others, their parents and godparents, and welcomed into their faith, which is the faith of the Church (ibid., 43).”
I think these two paragraphs, when taken as one idea, are a concrete expression of solidarity and subsidiarity in the life of the Church. The corporate “We” of the Church stretches across the entire globe (and in Purgatory and Heaven!!) but the instantiation is in the local, the family, the cell of society. As far as globalism is concerned, this seems like a perfectly balanced approach.
The understanding that the integrity of the Faith is vital is beautifully expounded here:
“Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this or that point of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (cf. 1 Tim 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion (ibid., 48).”
The unity of faith is the unity of the Church. So, if the Pope takes a global view of the Church - which he should - then the accompanying principle is unity of belief. From the beginning, this has been one of the unambiguous guiding principles of the Church: there is a unity of governance, teaching, preaching, and means of sanctification.
It is only in Jesus that we are united. This is the light of life for society. The Pope writes:
“Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure (ibid., 54).”
It is abundantly clear that Pope Benedict XVI wrote these words. But Pope Francis promulgated them. This is what he believes.
By living the faith in integrity, locally and based in subsidiarity, is ordered to the common good of society.
“Faith does not merely grant interior firmness, a steadfast conviction on the part of the believer; it also sheds light on every human relationship because it is born of love and reflects God’s own love (ibid., 50).”
In this first encyclical of the Francis pontificate, there can be no doubt that any sense of a globalized reality is tempered with subsidiarity and a unity of faith, and a bold proclamation of that Faith. This is all the more clarified by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, released in November of 2013, Evangelii Gaudium.
Evangelii Gaudium (2013)
Pope Francis condemns a “throw away” culture which treats human beings like consumer goods. In this context, the Pope decries “trickle-down theories” of economics 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. 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 other people’s 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. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us (EG, 54).”
Clearly, the Pope is condemning a form of capitalism which relies on fallen human beings to do the right thing for the poor and marginalized. It does not seem to me that he is condemning free markets or capitalism, per se. Rather, he is condemning passive indifferentism. He also rightly says that this indifferentism has been globalized. Thus, in the same paragraph, we seem to have a condemnation of a certain kind of free market capitalism and a suspicion of globalist trends.
He says that money has become an idol and imbalances in financial markets are caused by a dehumanizing effect which sees human persons only as a consumer.
He goes on to say:
“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. 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 (EG, 56).”
Now, we are getting into a condemnation not just of trickle-down systems but of unfettered and unregulated free markets which he calls a “deified market.” What is interesting is his reasons why. He condemns unfettered free markets because he says that they reject God and seek to rule rather than serve. Further, it is not the markets which are problematic so much as the people pulling the levers. They lack a non-ideological ethics which seeks to serve human persons.
He quotes someone saying:
“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 (EG, 57).”
Golly! Who said that? Karl Marx?! Some dirty communist or socialist? No. Actually it was St. John Chrysostom, the great Church Father of Eastern antiquity.
Pope Francis ends this subsection by saying:
“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 (EG, 58).”
What the Pope is talking about here is principles of ethics and social life, not economic and societal structures, as such. Reading him uncharitably, I remember hearing - mostly American - conservatives mouth off that the Pope is anti-capitalist and therefore a SOCIALIST! Well, it seems more likely from Evangelii Gaudium that the Pope is lamenting any system which is based on greedy materialism which dehumanizes people.
The Pope then turns his attention to secularization which he says “tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and the personal (EG, 64).” It rejects the transcendent, deteriorates ethics, weakens a sense of sin, and increases relativism. Further, he mentions that:
“The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favours a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds (EG, 67).”
I think that this is a fruitful approach because he is describing the problems he is seeing and then proposing the principles to deal with them effectively, from the mind and heart of the Church. This is not a support or condemnation of globalism, so much as a sober look at where we are currently. I highly recommend reading this document in its entirety to get the full picture. Suffice it to say, there is nothing in Evangelii Gaudium which supports the hypothesis that Pope Francis is a socialist or a globalist.
Laudato Si (2015)
Laudato Si was written about the care of our common home. It is an encyclical about environmental stewardship, but Pope Francis touches on several economic issues.
The Pope is skeptical of international political responses to the protection of marginalized people and ecosystems. He says that too many special interests can “end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected (LS, 54).” He says that the consequence of this is that:
“… the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented (LS, 54).”
This is the same skepticism about international rule which he expressed in 2013.
Quoting from St. John Paul II, Pope Francis defends the universal destination of goods, developmental policies which focus on human rights, and a defense of legitimate right to private property. His critique here is that God’s gifts are being used for the benefit of only a few and that unjust habits need to be reexamined.
Further, Pope Francis puts globalization in his crosshairs again when he investigates the creativity and power of technology. He writes: “The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings (LS, 109).” However, he then repeats the same concern of free market trickle-down economic approaches that he brought forth in Evangelii Gaudium. He says:
“Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. They are less concerned with certain economic theories which today scarcely anybody dares defend, than with their actual operation in the functioning of the economy (LS, 109).”
He admits that those who espouse such views do not always do so in words, but he says their deeds run contrary to the items he thinks are important. Namely, these priorities are “more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations (LS, 109).”
Pope Francis does not then offer tangible steps of what more balanced levels of production would entail, but a charitable read would suggest that he is referring back to materialism and people being treated as commodities. He does not seem to be referring to who should own the means of production. He calls for a better distribution of wealth, but he clarifies this earlier in the text. There are those who are destitute and do not have their basic needs covered, while a small percentage of people have more resources than they could ever use or even effectively manage. But he does not suggest that wealth be redistributed in a socialist way.
As far as Laudato Si is concerned, there is a lot more to say related to a skepticism on the Pope’s part regarding global and international approaches to the issue of environmental care. But I want to share one final passage on employment. The view of Pope Francis here is as far from Socialism and Globalism as one could possibly get. And yet, many more conservative readers bristle at any possible critique of the free market and are uncharitable in the rest of their reading. It is longer, but well worth reading carefully, especially if you are prone to saying unequivocally in a kneejerk way that Pope Francis is a socialist; here is the passage:
“In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity. For example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing. Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing smallholders to sell their land or to abandon their traditional crops. Their attempts to move to other, more diversified, means of production prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is geared to larger businesses. Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good (LS, 129).”
Fratelli Tutti (2020)
Pope Francis’ 2020 document on fraternity and social friendship is excellent. It contains a lot of real gems. My favorite quotation, which I think shows Pope Francis’ mind on the interconnectedness of man is: “We gorged ourselves on networking, and lost the taste of fraternity (FT, 33).” This is a fabulous turn of phrase that hearkens back to the Pope’s desire to see people viewed as persons rather than commodities.
As a social encyclical, Fratelli Tutti touches on society, persons, economics, and politics throughout. It is also quite long, in terms of encyclicals. As a social encyclical, it contains several prudential judgments, opinions, and non-definitive ideas; so, it is a bit different from the norm as far as encyclicals go. However, it is highly worth reading, in its entirety. I want to just touch on a few main points here.
He begins the document taking swings against globalism, saying:
“As I was writing this letter, the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities. Aside from the different ways that various countries responded to the crisis, their inability to work together became quite evident. For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all. Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality (FT, 7).”
The Pope seems to come down squarely against what globalism is doing. He says, in part quoting Pope Benedict XVI:
“Local conflicts and disregard for the common good are exploited by the global economy in order to impose a single cultural model. This culture unifies the world, but divides persons and nations, for ‘as society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours, but does not make us brothers’ (FT, 12).”
He then proceeds to provide a blistering critique of globalism and attributes to it the growing problem of loneliness. He writes:
“We are more alone than ever in an increasingly massified world that promotes individual interests and weakens the communitarian dimension of life. Indeed, there are markets where individuals become mere consumers or bystanders. As a rule, the advance of this kind of globalism strengthens the identity of the more powerful, who can protect themselves, but it tends to diminish the identity of the weaker and poorer regions, making them more vulnerable and dependent. In this way, political life becomes increasingly fragile in the face of transnational economic powers that operate with the principle of ‘divide and conquer’ (FT, 12).”
The weak and the poor are the object of the Pope’s concern, because they are precisely those with the quietest voice in society. And there are those who claim to speak for the poor for their own gain. As we look at the next quote, remember Juan Perón and the Pope’s early experiences. He writes:
“Lack of concern for the vulnerable can hide behind a populism that exploits them demagogically for its own purposes, or a liberalism that serves the economic interests of the powerful. In both cases, it becomes difficult to envisage an open world that makes room for everyone, including the most vulnerable, and shows respect for different cultures (FT, 155).”
The Pope goes on to critique liberal approaches which speak of a respect for freedom without the roots of shared narrative. He says that leftist ideologies linked to individualistic ways of acting are ineffective and leave people in need. He calls for a greater spirit of fraternity as well as a “more efficient worldwide organization to help resolve the problems plaguing the abandoned who are suffering and dying in poor countries (FT, 165).” On first blush, this seems like an endorsement of a form of globalism. But what I think he is saying is that a more global pool of resources is needed to help the poorest nations move into a post-industrial phase.
Rather than proposing socialism or a concrete form of globalism, the Pope rightly says:
“It also shows that there is no one solution, no single acceptable methodology, no economic recipe that can be applied indiscriminately to all. Even the most rigorous scientific studies can propose different courses of action (FT, 165).”
As the document progresses, there are more of the same critiques of trick-down economics, populism, and a materialism which diminishes the dignity of persons.
Then, in paragraph 172 and following, Pope Francis enters into the few paragraphs with which I take most issue. He calls for agreements among national governments to form a “world authority regulated by law” which ought to “at least to promote more effective world organizations, equipped with the power to provide for the common good, the elimination of hunger and poverty and the sure defence of fundamental human rights (FT, 172).” I find this problematic because it seems to conflict with the principle of subsidiarity. But then the Pope takes things a step further into waters which I dare not wade. He says:
“In this regard, I would also note the need for a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth’ (FT, 173).”
The thought of the U.N. with “real teeth” is the stuff of nightmares. Globalist governments do not seem efficient or helpful. To give teeth to an organization which can so easily be ruled by only a few countries with real sway is a recipe for disaster. I think that the U.N. should continue to arbitrate disputes and be a diplomatic force for good, but I am inclined to let their power end there.
Comments on the United Nations notwithstanding, Fratelli Tutti brings up a lot of great points worth contemplating. There are several other points with which I would like to have a productive conversation with the Holy Father. But these items do not fall under the category of Faith and Moral teachings of the Church; they are almost completely prudential matters. So, disagreement, within reason and in charity, is perfectly acceptable.
Bottom Line: Is Pope Francis a Socialist or a Globalist?
Here is my bottom line. Based on what he has taught in his ordinary and universal magisterium, Pope Francis is not a socialist or a globalist. His critics pick up on some sincerely problematic phrasings but are largely uncharitable in their approach.
As a private individual, I know that Pope Francis has condemned socialism and communism, but is very sympathetic to those ideas and what they are trying to accomplish. But this does not mean that he is firmly in that camp. He is a harsh critic of capitalism, but he does not seem to be endorsing socialism as a viable alternative.
As far as globalism goes, the Pope speaks to the need for adherence to subsidiarity and solidarity, but he also espouses certainly pointedly globalist views, especially regarding international organizations and interreligious cooperation. In my opinion, these actions and especially joint-statements with non-Christian religious leaders are often misleading and imprudent. But the course of this exploration has been his ordinary and universal magisterial teachings.
In all things, we must read what people say with charity and an open-mind. Of course, we must do so within reason. As G.K. Chesterton said:
“The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
For a further look at what we here at Good Distinctions mean by being open-minded, check out Episode 3! Until next time: have a great week! And remember: Good Distinctions are the spice of life!
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