Academic journal article Independent Review

Pope Francis, Capitalism, and Private Charitable Giving

Academic journal article Independent Review

Pope Francis, Capitalism, and Private Charitable Giving

Article excerpt

On March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, became Pope Francis, the Roman Catholic Church's 266th bishop of Rome. From the start, the leitmotif of Francis's pontificate has been concern for the poor. The Boston Globe noted, "Francis' top priority has been to reach out to the world's poor and inspire Catholic leaders to go to slums and other peripheries to preach" (Winfield 2013). The New York Times reported, "Francis has placed the poor at the center of his papacy" (Yardley and Romero 2015).

Speaking in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, in 2015, Pope Francis said, "Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment" (2015a, 3.1).

Concern for the disadvantaged is reiterated in his book The Name of God Is Mercy (2016), his first book as pope: "We have received freely, we give freely. We are called to serve Christ the Crucified through every marginalized person. We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge" (98). This statement follows closely his homily on Ash Wednesday of 2014: "Gratuitousness should be one of the characteristics of the Christian, who aware of having received everything from God gratuitously, that is, without any merit of his own, learns to give to others freely. Today gratuitousness is often not part of daily life where everything is bought and sold" (Francis 2014b).

To his considerable credit, Pope Francis has emphasized the moral responsibility to give to those less fortunate. But a careful review reveals that voluntary private giving is not the charitable "giving" the pope often speaks of. The pope instead emphasizes government redistribution and a larger role for international organizations in facilitating transfers. Unfortunately, the approach he advocates generally results in more human suffering, not less, thus undercutting his call to help the poor.

Pope Francis on Government Redistribution

Pope Francis calls for an expanded role for government redistribution in efforts to alleviate poverty, especially for more government-to-government transfers and more activism by international organizations.

Speaking at the United Nations (UN) in May 2014, Francis said, "A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world's peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State" (2014a, emphasis added). He views government redistribution as both legitimate and necessary to combat poverty; thus, his solution includes forcibly redistributing money and wealth from the rich to the poor: "I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity [Doctor of the Church John Chrysostom, a fourth-century saint]: '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'" (2013, 57).

The pope puts much faith in the ability of international organizations such as the UN and its associated agencies to help solve major social problems. Speaking to the UN General Assembly in September 2015, he said, "The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast-paced changes" (2015c).

The pope favors a more active role for international organizations to facilitate government redistribution and to regulate businesses: "The international financial agencies should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion, and dependence" (Francis 2015c). …

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