In new interview, Francis strongly defends criticisms of capitalism

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis strongly defends his repeated criticisms of the global market economy in a new interview released Sunday, rebutting those who accuse him of "pauperism" by saying he is only repeating Jesus' message of caring for the poor.

"Jesus affirms that you cannot serve two masters, God and wealth," Francis states in the interview, bluntly asking: "Is it pauperism?"

"Jesus tells us that it is the 'protocol' on the basis of which we will be judged, it is what we read in Chapter 25 of Matthew: I had hunger, I had thirst, I was in prison, I was sick, I was naked and you helped me: dressed me, visited me, you took care of me," the pontiff continues.

"This is the touchstone," he states, asking again: "Is it pauperism? No, it is the Gospel."

"The Gospel message is a message open to all," the pope continues. "The Gospel does not condemn the rich but idolatry of wealth, that idolatry that renders [us] insensitive to the cries of the poor."

Francis makes his remarks in an interview published Sunday by the Italian daily La Stampa.

The latest in several explosive interviews given by the pontiff since his March 2013 election, Sunday's interview finds Francis answering wide-ranging questions concerning his view on capitalism and obliquely responding to critiques -- made especially by some U.S. conservatives -- that he does not understand economics.

Sunday's interview is an excerpt from an upcoming book by two of La Stampa's Vatican watchers: Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi.

The book, titled Pope Francis: This Economy Kills, is being released in Italy Tuesday. It recounts and analyzes the discourses, documents and interventions of the pope on the themes of poverty, immigration, social justice, and safeguarding of creation.

The book concludes with an interview given by Francis to the authors in October 2014, from which La Stampa excerpted at length in Sunday's edition of the paper.

Following are excerpts of the interview translated from the Italian by NCR.

Responding to a question to the pope of whether the progress of capitalism over the past decades is "irreversible."

I recognize that globalization has helped many people to rise from poverty, but it has condemned many others to hunger. It's true that in absolute terms it grows world wealth, but it also increased the disparity and the new kinds of poverty.

What I notice is that this system is maintained with the culture of waste, of which I have already spoken several times. There is a politics, sociology, and also an attitude of rejection.

When at the center of the system there is not anymore man but money, when money becomes an idol, men and women are reduced and simply instruments of a social system and an economy characterized, indeed dominated by deep imbalances.

... It is that attitude that rejects children and old people, and now also affects young people. I have the impression that in the developed countries there are many millions of young people under 25 years that don't have work. I have called them "nor-nor", because they don't study and they don't work: they don't study because they don't have possibility to do so, don't work because they can't find it.

But I would like to also remember that the culture of waste refuses children also with abortion. It strikes me the rates of birth so low here in Italy: Like this you lose the link with the future.


Many times I ask myself: Which will be the next waste? We have to stop it in time. Let's stop it, please!

And therefore, searching for a response to the question, I would say: Let's not consider this state of things irreversible; let's not resign ourselves to it. Let's search to construct a society and an economy where man and his good, and not money, may be the center.

Responding to a question of whether the capitalist system needs more ethical guidance, or complete restructuring:

Many times various heads of state and political leaders that I had the power to meet after my election as Bishop of Rome have spoken with me of this. They said: You religious leaders must help us; give us ethical indications.

Yes, the pastor can make his calls, but I am convinced that there may be need, like Benedict XVI remembered in the encyclical "Caritas in Veritate," of men and women with their arms raised towards God to pray, aware that love and sharing from which authentic development proceeds, is not a product of our hands, but a gift to be asked.

And at the same time I am convinced that there may be [a] need that these men and these women commit -- at every level, in the society, in politics, in economic institutions -- [to] putting at the center the common good.

We cannot wait more to resolve the structural causes of poverty, to heal our society from a disease that can only lead to new crises. Markets and financial speculation cannot enjoy absolute autonomy.

Without a solution to the problems of the poor we cannot resolve the problems of the world. They serve programs, mechanisms and processes oriented to a better allocation of resources, creation of work, [and] integral promotion of those who are excluded.

Responding to a question regarding the "disturbing" charges of pauperism:

Pauperism is a caricature of the Gospel and of the same poverty. Instead, Saint Francis has helped us to find the profound links between poverty and the evangelical path.

Jesus affirms that you cannot serve two masters, God and wealth. Is it pauperism? Jesus tells us that it is the "protocol" on the basis of which we will be judged, it is what we read in chapter 25 of Matthew: I had hunger, I had thirst, I was in prison, I was sick, I was naked and you helped me: dressed, visited, you took care of me.

Every time that we do this to our brother, we do this to Jesus. To have care of our neighbor: who is poor, who suffers in the spirit, who is in need. This is the touchstone. Is it pauperism? No, it is the Gospel.

Poverty is far from idolatry, from feeling self-sufficient. Zacchaeus, after crossing the merciful gaze of Jesus, donated half of his possessions to the poor. The Gospel message is a message open to all, the Gospel does not condemn the rich but idolatry of wealth, that idolatry that renders insensitive to the cries of the poor.

Jesus has said that before offering our gifts in front of the altar we must reconcile ourselves with our brother to be at peace with him. I believe we can, for analogy, extend this request even to being at peace with these poor brothers.

Responding to a question asking for examples to underline his continuity with the tradition of the church:

A month before the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII said: "The church presents how it is and wants to be, like a church of all, and particularly a church of the poor."

In the following years, the preferential choice for the poor entered in the documents of the magisterium. Someone could think it new, while instead it is an attention that has its origins in the Gospel and is documented already in the first centuries of Christianity.

If I might have repeated some passages of the homilies of the first fathers of the church, from the second or third century, on how we should treat the poor, there might be someone who accuses me that mine is a Marxist homily.

[Repeating from Paul VI's 1967 encyclical "Popolorum Progressio"]: private property does not constitute an unconditional and absolute right, and that no one is authorized to reserve for their exclusive use what he does not need, when others lack necessities.


As can be seen, this attention to the poor is in the Gospel, and in the tradition of the church, it is not an invention of Communism and [we] need not ideologize it, like sometimes happened in the course of history.

When the Church invites us to win what I have called the "globalization of indifference" it is far from any interest and any political ideology: It moves only from the words that Jesus wanted to offer; wants to make its contribution to building a world where you watch over one another, and we take care of each other.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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