Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pope Francis Interview with La Vanguardia, Part I

Here is part one the Bear's delayed comments on Pope Francis' interview in La Vanguardia, as reproduced by Vatican Insider. Underlining has been added by the Bear.

Pope Francis on Persecution of Christians: Persecuted Christians are a concern that touches me as a pastor. I know a lot of these persecutions which I do not think would be prudent to tell of here, so as not to offend anyone. But there are places where it is forbidden to have a Bible or teach catechism or wear a cross .

Bear: It is good for the Holy Father to acknowledge not only that there is persecution and violence against Christians, but that an identifiable group is to blame for it. No one is going to take Islam on directly, but Pope Francis says enough to let everyone know whom he is talking about, something to remember in other contexts. The Pope has a role to play on the world stage, and while it might be fun to imagine a Bear Papacy, it probably would not end well.

Pope Francis on Religious Violence: Violence in the name of God is a contradiction, it does not correspond to our time, it is something ancient. With a historical perspective we must say that Christians at times, have used it. When I think of the Thirty Year War, that was violence in the name of God, today it is unimaginable. Right? ...In the three religions (monotheistic, ed) we have our fundamentalist groups, small in relation to everything else. A fundamentalist group, even if it does not kill anyone, even if it does not hit anyone, it is violent. The mindset of fundamentalism is violence in the name of God.

Bear: The Pope is not drawing any kind of moral equivalence between Christianity and Islam. He is really saying that Christianity has outgrown religious violence, and that only backward cultures still practice it. There is no doubt he is talking about Islam. But then he says Christianity ("we have") has fundamentalist groups, too, who have a violent mindset even if they do not practice violence. Who knows what he is talking about? Later he links antisemitism to the political right, so the Bear guesses anyone of the Christian right, whatever that means, might be suspect. The Bear supposes it sounds tolerant to identify "fundamentalism" as a common problem shared by the Three Great Religions of Abraham, even though everyone knows the reality: Islam is making all the headlines about killing people.

Pope Francis on Whether He Is a Revolutionary:  There is no contradiction between being a revolutionary and returning to the roots.  Moreover, I believe that the way to make real changes is to begin from the identity. You can never take a step forward in life if not from the past, without knowing where I come from, what my name is, what my cultural or religious name is.

Bear: Pope Francis skirts the question about whether he is a revolutionary or not. Who knows what "begin from the identity," or "returning to the roots" means. This could be spoken by a radical traditionalist as easily as an evangelical.

Pope Francis on a Poor Church: Poverty and humility are at the heart of the Gospel, and I say this in a theological sense, not sociological. You cannot understand the Gospel without poverty, which, however, should be distinguished from pauperism. I believe that Jesus wants bishops to be servants and not princes.

Bear: Pope Francis sees the importance of humility, and poverty is "material humility." He does well to distinguish a theological poverty from a sociological poverty of the kind we ordinarily think of as "poverty." Similarly, he distinguishes the poverty of the Gospel from "pauperism," which is apparently the kind of mania for impoverishing the Church that traditionalists have feared. We should not be surprised by Pope Francis saying Jesus wants bishops to be servants, not princes. Working that out in practice is a matter of changing the culture of the Church, and would seem to be beyond the ambit of one papacy.

Pope Francis on Economics: I believe that we live in a global economic system that is not good.  At the heart of the economic system there must be man, man and woman, and everything must be at the service of man. But instead we have put money in the center, the god of money. We have fallen into the sin of idolatry, the idolatry of money...  I am very concerned about the unemployment rate of young people, which in some countries exceeds fifty percent. Someone told me that 75 million young Europeans aged under 25 are unemployed. It is a barbarism. We are discarding an entire generation to maintain an economic system that no longer holds, a system which, in order to survive, must fight wars, as great empires have always done. Since we cannot have a third world war, we fight regional wars. What does this mean? It means that they manufacture and sell weapons, and so the budgets of the idolatrous economies, the major worldwide economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money, obviously, are healed. This sole thought deprives us of the richness of diversity of thought and therefore of a dialogue between people. Proper globalization is wealth. Bad globalization cancels the differences. It is like a sphere, with all points equidistant from the center. An enriched globalization is like polyhedron, all united but each retaining its peculiarity, its wealth, its identity. And this is not happening

Bear: The Pope is right to be concerned about the world economy, which puts money in the center instead of man. Capitalism turns people into individual economic units, atoms adrift in a formless void of consumerism. (Not that the Bear has a better alternative, but he is not blind to the problems of capitalism.) It is right for the Pope to draw attention to broad failures and misuses from the Catholic standpoint. His description of good vs. bad globalization is initially confusing, but he is talking about a globalization that erases all cultural differences (sphere) versus on that retains them (say, a 20-sided polyhedron).

Pope Francis apparently believes that arms manufacturers keep the economies of some countries going, and that regional wars are fomented for economic purposes. These economies, according to Pope Francis "must fight wars" to survive. This sheds light on recent critical comments he made about arms manufacturers. But is there any truth to this belief?

Defense trails Health and Human Services and Social Security in the U.S. budget, and no defense company (e.g. Lockheed Martin) cracks the top 20 companies. At least as far as the U.S. is concerned, Wal Mart is a bigger threat than General Dynamics. It seems odd that the Pope would make such a bold statement, because surely the Vatican has access to economic information. If every assembly line for bombers, fighters, tanks and machine guns was closed down, there would be some economic disruption, but the U.S. economy would hardly collapse.

Sometimes one wonders where Pope Francis' mental universe came from, because it does not always correspond to reality. His statements occasionally conjure an image of J.P. Morgan in his private zeppelin hunting the poor for sport with solid gold bullets. Economic inequalities are traced to the sins of individuals, rather than problems of various economic systems. Once again, his language sounds prophetic: a Jeremiah condemning the powerful classes of his day for the oppression of the poor.

Next: Pope Pius II and antisemitism.


  1. Thank you! I was totally confused by the sphere/polyhedron analogy, but now it makes sense.

  2. Well done. You have more energy than I do of late.

    1. Funny you should mention it. This is the first time in this iteration of SCB that it has felt like work. I'm sure next week I'll be back to normal.


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