In Which the Pontiff Admits That—Is There Any Other Way to Put This?—He Has Not the Slightest Idea What He’s Talking About

 

FrancisFrom an article in the New York Times about the conversation Pope Francis had with journalists as he flew back to Rome from his trip to Latin America:

[T]he pope expressed “a great allergy to economic things,” explaining that his father had been an accountant who often brought work home on weekends.

“I don’t understand it very well,” he said of economics, even though the issue of economic justice has become central to his papacy.

Hat tip–and this is significant–to the friend who pointed this out to me. You see, he’s one of the most devout and intellectually impressive priests I’ve ever met.

Published in Economics, General, Religion & Philosophy
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  1. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Western Chauvinist:

    Misthiocracy:

    …which may help explain why so few priests are willing to contradict him publicly, since I presume a large proportion of that shepherding includes decisions on personnel and staffing.

    It doesn’t help explain why lay Catholics don’t speak out, of course.

    Um, no. Pope Francis isn’t spending time deciding who pastors the local parish.

    Most priests I know don’t speak out against him because they are themselves liberals and they absolutely adore him.  Of course I do live in the San Francisco Bay Area so my sample might not be representative.

    • #61
  2. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Joseph Stanko:

    Western Chauvinist:

    Misthiocracy:

    …which may help explain why so few priests are willing to contradict him publicly, since I presume a large proportion of that shepherding includes decisions on personnel and staffing.

    It doesn’t help explain why lay Catholics don’t speak out, of course.

    Um, no. Pope Francis isn’t spending time deciding who pastors the local parish.

    Most priests I know don’t speak out against him because they are themselves liberals and they absolutely adore him. Of course I do live in the San Francisco Bay Area so my sample might not be representative.

    That, and they’re not so engaged in politics.

    I do think many of our priests are a little too taken with Francis. A little more “Jesus Christ and him crucified” and a little less adoration of Francis’s (ostentatious) humility.

    • #62
  3. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    Misthiocracy:

    a) For clarification, do you mean that you defer to the Pope’s expertise on Catholic theology and Catholic morality, or do you mean that you defer to the Pope’s expertise on Catholic theology, and also morality in general?

    b) Is the relation between macro-economics and morality not (at least somewhat) greater than the relation between acting or automotive maintenance to morality? Is there no moral component to macro-economics?

    a) I thought about leaving it at “Catholic theology”, but I added “morality” because I do think religious leaders at the Pope’s level have had extensive education in morality and ethics and often have important things to say on those general topics based on their serious study and thought.

    b) I simply chose the first two non-Pope characters that came into my head.  My point is that I have no use for the Pope’s capitalism-bashing, and that feeling is stronger now that he has confessed ignorance.  There can be a moral component to commentary on macro-economics, such as when a kleptocracy steals wealth that could be used for the benefit of its citizens.  That is the kind of criticism I like to hear from a Pope, and as it carries moral weight, it can do some good.

    When macro-economics is done right, it almost cannot help but be morally virtuous.  It is misguided to criticize a system that is the greatest poverty destroyer the world has ever known.

    • #63
  4. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Joseph Stanko:

    Jim Kearney: I don’t understand why so many conservative Roman Catholics give Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt. Should the job come with a free pass from criticism?

    Well for one thing he is the pope. He’s not immune from criticism, but I certainly do give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Another aspect of the confusion over papal infallibility is that it can easily lead to a “cafeteria Catholic” mentality. “Is it infallible? No? Then I can just ignore it!” You see this on both sides of the aisle, conservatives ignoring Catholic Social Teaching and liberals ignoring Catholic sexual morality. Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control didn’t invoke papal infallibility either, but it’s still part of the body of Church teaching. …

    Do conservatives really ignore Catholic social teaching? Conservatives see a different means to the end of helping the poor (to raise themselves) out of poverty. Teaching a man to fish, right?

    If Pope Francis conflates official (albeit non-ex cathedra) teaching with economic views which just don’t work, he is in need of correction, not dutiful obedience, yes? Liberal Catholics were never shy about expressing loud objections to the encyclicals and policies they didn’t like.

    Conservatives sometimes seem too deferential to authority, and less determined than liberals to win struggles for organizational control. Liberals understand that controlling social groups — unions, college faculties, the Supreme Court, media editorial boards, organized religions — puts wins on the scoreboard.

    I’m glad Peter posted this pointed topic, and I hope conservatives will be vigilant during the forthcoming Papal visit. For all the losses the RC Church has suffered over recent decades, its centralization around the Papacy is still a source of considerable influence in our personality driven global media culture.

    • #64
  5. user_536506 Member
    user_536506
    @ScottWilmot

    Jim Kearney: If Pope Francis conflates official (albeit non-ex cathedra) teaching with economic views which just don’t work, he is in need of correction, not dutiful obedience, yes?

    Yes.

    And I’ve finally found someone to put into sensible words my thoughts on all of this. From John Zmirak at NRO:

    I don’t have the space or frankly the heart to go into just how crude, how conspiratorial, simplistic, and uncharitable Pope Francis’s recent statements on the causes of poverty really are. For a measured account, see Samuel Gregg’s analysis at the Stream. Like Donald Trump, Pope Francis has grasped some simple truths; he has pointed to real and enduring problems that need to be taken seriously. Also like Trump he has adopted a frankly Manichean stance, looking for villains and exploiters and recklessly casting blame. Instead of sober analyses of economics and immigration, what the pope and The Donald have given us are Huey Long–level rants, which feed the worst impulses of demagogic politicians, and do nothing at all to further the common good. To say so isn’t impious. To say less would frankly be unfaithful — to our country, our church, and even the papacy itself.

    • #65
  6. Ricochet Coolidge
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    I think I said this elsewhere, but let me bring it up again.  The Pope may very well understand that capitalism is the best means of ending poverty, but he may still not find it acceptable.  The process is as important as the outcome.  If the devil were to give you a million dollars, with strings attached of course, then it would be immoral to take it.  If the devil were to give the earth a gazillion dollars and end poverty while demanding his satanic requests, it would still be immoral to accept it.  The means do not justify a utility.  If the Pope looks at western capitalism (and i’m assuming he would conflate European Keysian economics with American free market) and sees a vast loss of faith, same sex marriage, abortion, vast disparities in wealth, broken families, divorce, pornography, and a whole host of social ills, then he might conclude that western economics has made a deal with the devil, that is if he sees the economics as integral to our culture.  And a Catholic would certainly see everything as integral.  That’s how I’m reading the Holy Father.

    • #66
  7. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Manny:The Pope may very well understand that capitalism is the best means of ending poverty, but he may still not find it acceptable…

    Then what he’s saying about capitalism is an intentional lie? Now I must give him the benefit of the doubt. If he fully understood the power of capitalism to reduce poverty, he’d say so.

    No, it seems this Pope has bought into the soft socialists’ critique of money and markets. Even without a Pope-mobile, he’s inside the bubble. Hayek, Mises, and Friedman haven’t penetrated. Concepts like growth, capital investment, ownership incentives, prudent lending and moral hazard make for complex, unwieldy sermons. “You have, you must give” is an easier fit, with broad appeal to priests and peasants.

    • #67
  8. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Jim Kearney:

    Manny:The Pope may very well understand that capitalism is the best means of ending poverty, but he may still not find it acceptable…

    Then what he’s saying about capitalism is an intentional lie? Now I must give him the benefit of the doubt. If he fully understood the power of capitalism to reduce poverty, he’d say so.

    No, it seems this Pope has bought into the soft socialists’ critique of money and markets. Even without a Pope-mobile, he’s inside the bubble. Hayek, Mises, and Friedman haven’t penetrated. Concepts like growth, capital investment, ownership incentives, prudent lending and moral hazard make for complex, unwieldy sermons. “You have, you must give” is an easier fit, with broad appeal to priests and peasants.

    If we parse his words carefully, is he technically “denouncing capitalism” when he warns against “deifying the market”?

    The Ten Commandments  instruct us to not “deify” anything. In that limited sense, the Pope is merely reiterating scripture.

    The issue is that he’s singling out markets as an object of deification, and refraining from mentioning all sorts of other things in this world that may or may not be commonly “deified” to an even greater degree than are markets. Things like the power of governments, for example.

    When the Pope says, “don’t deify markets,” perhaps the proper response should be, “good advice, but I don’t believe I do that. What else you got?”

    • #68
  9. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    Misthiocracy:

    Western Chauvinist: The bulk of his time is spent shepherding the Church…

    …which may help explain why so few priests are willing to contradict him publicly, since I presume a large proportion of that shepherding includes decisions on personnel and staffing.

    It doesn’t help explain why lay Catholics don’t speak out, of course.

    If my reading here is any indication, a fair number of good Catholics have spoken out quite clearly.  Where were you when they were speaking out?

    • #69
  10. Grendel Member
    Grendel
    @Grendel

    Misthiocracy:

    Joseph Stanko:

    The doctrine of papal infallibility only applies when under certain narrow conditions a pope “defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals,” so I don’t see how a pope ever could invoke infallibility when speaking about economics no matter how confident he might be.

    I believe he could, in theory, invoke an infallible decree prohibiting Catholics from engaging in all sorts of economic activities, such as the charging of interest for example.

    Only if Anthony Kennedy were his chief theological adviser on the matter.

    I don’t know what to do with your “believe” and “theory” except to say they don’t amount to a hill of beans.  The claim of papal infallibility and of Church authority in general extends only to matters of faith (in what is known by Revelation) and morals (aligning with the Will of God as discerned by reason from God’s visible works).  Any prohibition of a practical purely economic behavior like charging interest would be so hedged about with conditions as to be nugatory.  Even in the Middle Ages, when the animus against usury was at its strongest, there was no ex cathedra condemnation of it. That animus lingers in the European and American hierarchies though it is seldom expressed, but it persists as a much stronger and obvious current among Fascists and the rest of the Left.  What unites them is the belief—with some basis, theologically—that so-called personal property actually belongs to the collective.

    • #70
  11. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    Where but Ricochet could I learn a word like nugatory?

    Must try to use in sentence. OK, here goes.

    “Don’t misunderstand me, E.B.,” Al Swearengen said to Farnum, “when I state that the value of Alma Garret’s gold claim is merely nugatory. 

    • #71
  12. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Misthiocracy: When the Pope says, “don’t deify markets,” perhaps the proper response should be, “good advice, but I don’t believe I do that. What else you got?”

    There’s a specific passage in Laudato Si that gives an example to consider:

    56. In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. As a result, “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule”.

    One example then of “deifying the market” would be to ignore externalities such as pollution that inflict harm on people and the environment that are not captured in Wall Street earnings reports or GDP calculations.

    • #72
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Grendel: I don’t know what to do with your “believe” and “theory” except to say they don’t amount to a hill of beans.

    Well, one could take them as respectful hypothetical proposals open to equally respectful response, rebuttal, and/or correction.

    • #73
  14. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Joseph Stanko:

    There’s a specific passage in Laudato Si that gives an example to consider:

    56. In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. Here we see how environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. As a result, “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule”.

    One example then of “deifying the market” would be to ignore externalities such as pollution that inflict harm on people and the environment that are not captured in Wall Street earnings reports or GDP calculations.

    Yeah, this is the kind of passage where the Pope loses me. What “economic powers” is he talking about? Does he mean wealthy nations? Is he referring to some sort of secular hierarchy responsible for pulling the strings of the market?

    Here’s what I think. I think people with impulses toward command and control want to believe someone, somewhere is personally responsible for economic inequities that exist. And the most obvious to blame are wealthy capitalists.

    I have news for Pope Francis. Poor people are not poor because rich people are rich.

    • #74
  15. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    There are many reasons for poverty. But his support of command economies is exactly what empowers tyrants and dictators of third world nations, where “we see [the worst]….environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation.”

    People of affluence do not live in effluence. Environmental deterioration is most pronounced (where humans suffer worst) in places with command economies run by kleptocrats, not capitalists.

    Ignorance of that fact is nearly inexcusable, imo.

    • #75
  16. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Western Chauvinist: But his support of command economies

    Where precisely does he say he supports command economies?  Do you have a source?  Preferably from an encyclical or other official document rather than an off-hand remark.

    • #76
  17. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Western Chauvinist: People of affluence do not live in effluence. Environmental deterioration is most pronounced (where humans suffer worst) in places with command economies run by kleptocrats, not capitalists.

    This is true, however the U.S., Europe, and other affluent countries have passed laws and created bureaucracies like the EPA that enforce rules to prevent companies from polluting our air and water.  Yes I’m aware there are various proposed market-based or common law mechanisms to deal with externalities, maybe those would be better, but simply as a mater of history it was primarily top-down government regulation that cleaned up our environment.

    It’s also worth noting that after we passed such laws our multinational corporations responded by moving most of their factories to third-world nations with cheaper labor and less stringent (or non-existent) pollution controls.  We get the best of both worlds: clean air and water where we live, and cheap goods imported from places we’ll never visit so we need not worry if their children can breathe clean air or drink pure water.

    • #77
  18. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Re #74 and #75 – sing it, Dub-C.

    • #78
  19. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Yeah, I sincerely doubt I’m going to find Francis writing “I support command economies” in any of his encyclicals. But, unless I’m mistaken, he has called for UN-like international bodies to oversee the equitable distribution of resources. Something along those lines.

    My progressive Catholic friends never explicitly say they support liberation theology or redistributive progressivism. In fact, they’ll explicitly deny it. But, the political implications underlie everything they espouse.

    • #79
  20. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Western Chauvinist: Yeah, I sincerely doubt I’m going to find Francis writing “I support command economies” in any of his encyclicals.

    But that makes all the difference, at least to me.  What he actually writes in his encyclicals — while not infallible — is part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church.  I read it carefully and take it seriously, so if he did write that only a command economy is compatible with Catholic social teaching and all other economic systems are gravely immoral I would take that very seriously and have to seriously reconsider my support for market economies and capitalism.

    Fortunately for me, he has written no such thing.  If you want to read between the lines and speculate that in his heart he’s a secret Marxist, perhaps you are right.  As long as the Holy Spirit prevents his crypto-Marxism from spilling out into explicit pronouncements in his authoritative documents his mere personal leanings don’t much trouble me.

    • #80
  21. user_536506 Member
    user_536506
    @ScottWilmot

    Joseph Stanko: What he actually writes in his encyclicals — while not infallible — is part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church.

    Joseph,

    I think you need to be careful in stating that some of the bizarre statements he puts in writing are part of the ordinary magisterium of the Church. This would mean then that

    we should be able to survey papal statements over the centuries on economics and politics, and find in them the same exquisite consistency we see in papal teachings about the natures of Jesus Christ and the sacraments

    I’m no expert on Catholic social teaching when in comes to economics, but John Zmirak has helped me to understand this isn’t so and makes the case here. I think he makes a good argument and has a follow-up here.

    Pope Francis has much to teach us, but economics and politics aren’t in his wheel house. And that is Zmirak’s point: the Holy Spirit isn’t preventing him from speaking nonsense on economics (or politics); we can see that he does speak nonsense quite a bit. And it is troubling to many who don’t understand the ordinary magisterium and infallability, and even worse, is used by those who would never listen to or obey what a pope said for their own personal agenda.

    • #81
  22. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Zmirak writes:

    Self-styled Catholic critics of the free market and “Americanism” have adopted the term “social Magisterium” to suggest that there is a coherent and morally binding body of papal teaching on politics and economics, from which we can derive specific policy initiatives and firmly condemn alternatives as “un-Catholic” or even (that dreaded word) “dissenting.”

    Some Catholics liberals do claim this, and I agree they are wrong.  How do I know?  Because the Church’s ordinary magisterium itself says so.

    The Compendium of Social Doctrine is the official Vatican summary of Catholic social doctrine, and it says:

    68. The Church does not assume responsibility for every aspect of life in society, but speaks with the competence that is hers, which is that of proclaiming Christ the Redeemer: “Christ did not bequeath to the Church a mission in the political, economic or social order; the purpose he assigned to her was a religious one. But this religious mission can be the source of commitment, direction and vigour to establish and consolidate the community of men according to the law of God”. This means that the Church does not intervene in technical questions with her social doctrine, nor does she propose or establish systems or models of social organization. This is not part of the mission entrusted to her by Christ. The Church’s competence comes from the Gospel: from the message that sets man free, the message proclaimed and borne witness to by the Son of God made man.

    • #82
  23. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    However, I think he goes too far when he proposes that encyclicals have no more authority than Catholic literature:

    We could quote a papal encyclical where it is apropos as we might a piercing insight from Dante or Walker Percy, aware that when popes spoke on economics and politics, they claimed no divine authority, but instead addressed key implications of natural law as best as their intellects and advisors advised them.

    The Compendium continues:

    70. The Church has the right to be a teacher for mankind, a teacher of the truth of faith: the truth not only of dogmas but also of the morals whose source lies in human nature itself and in the Gospel. The word of the Gospel, in fact, is not only to be heard but is also to be observed and put into practice (cf. Mt 7:24; Lk 6:46-47; Jn 14:21,23-24; Jas 1:22). Consistency in behaviour shows what one truly believes and is not limited only to things strictly church-related or spiritual but involves men and women in the entirety of their life experience and in the context of all their responsibilities. However worldly these responsibilities may be, their subject remains man, that is, the human being whom God calls, by means of the Church, to participate in his gift of salvation.

    • #83
  24. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Men and women must respond to the gift of salvation not with a partial, abstract or merely verbal acceptance, but with the whole of their lives — in every relationship that defines life — so as not to neglect anything, leaving it in a profane and worldly realm where it is irrelevant or foreign to salvation. For this reason the Church’s social doctrine is not a privilege for her, nor a digression, a convenience or interference: it is her right to proclaim the Gospel in the context of society, to make the liberating word of the Gospel resound in the complex worlds of production, labour, business, finance, trade, politics, law, culture, social communications, where men and women live.

    The competence of the Church’s magisterium extends to matters of faith and morals.  I believe the encyclicals on social doctrine should be read as part of Church teaching on morality, with specific application to the problems of the world today.  If you read the actual wording carefully, they tend to become vague and hand-wavy when it gets to the point of proposing concrete actions.  I believe this is by design, reflecting the admission that deriving specific policy initiatives would go beyond the scope of Church teaching.

    In Laudato Si I think Pope Francis tries to draw our attention to environmental issues facing the world today and urges us to do something to solve them.  We can and should debate the specifics, but we shouldn’t entirely ignore the call to action.

    • #84
  25. user_536506 Member
    user_536506
    @ScottWilmot

    Joseph Stanko: In Laudato Si I think Pope Francis tries to draw our attention to environmental issues facing the world today and urges us to do something to solve them.  We can and should debate the specifics, but we shouldn’t entirely ignore the call to action.

    Preach it brother. You just wrote Laudato Si in one paragraph. I don’t think anyone is arguing with that.

    You are correct that we should read papal social doctrine writing as part of Church teaching. But what gives people the vapors are his claims that distract from the message (such as a disturbing warming of the climatic system, or an increase in severe weather events, or warming as mainly a result of human activity, or the use of AC as self-destructive behavior, etc.).

    I’ll stand by my submission that the Pope’s many nonsensical statements on economics, environment, or politics are not part of the ordinary magisterium as you stated in comment #80 and he should be called out on them.

    • #85
  26. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Scott Wilmot: I’ll stand by my submission that the Pope’s many nonsensical statements on economics, environment, or politics are not part of the ordinary magisterium as you stated in comment #80 and he should be called out on them.

    Yes!

    • #86
  27. user_3444 Coolidge
    user_3444
    @JosephStanko

    Scott Wilmot: I’ll stand by my submission that the Pope’s many nonsensical statements on economics, environment, or politics are not part of the ordinary magisterium as you stated in comment #80 and he should be called out on them.

    Fair enough.

    It bugs me though that so many commentators — especially Catholics, who should know better — insist on “reading between the lines,” inferring specific proposals that aren’t actually in the text, then criticizing those.  It would be a more constructive conversation IMHO if everyone would stick to criticizing the actual text of the encyclicals (with citations) rather than screaming “Marxist!” every time he opens his mouth.

    I also think this ties back to a topic on the last flagship podcast, how for conservative candidates to persuade independents they must first convince them they care.  I want to persuade liberal Catholics that conservative policy proposals are the best way the help the poor, protect the environment, care for the sick, and so on.  I don’t think it helps the cause if every time Pope Francis issues an encyclical conservatives “get the vapors” as you so nicely put it and then start saying we think the entire concept of Catholic Social Teaching is a sham.  This will only reaffirm their belief that we are “cafeteria Catholics” who put GOP politics ahead of Church teaching.

    Instead we need to first emphasize our points of agreement, that we do care about the environment, before they will even listen to our policies.

    • #87
  28. user_536506 Member
    user_536506
    @ScottWilmot

    Joseph Stanko: It bugs me though that so many commentators — especially Catholics, who should know better — insist on “reading between the lines,” inferring specific proposals that aren’t actually in the text, then criticizing those.  It would be a more constructive conversation IMHO if everyone would stick to criticizing the actual text of the encyclicals (with citations) rather than screaming “Marxist!” every time he opens his mouth.

    I also think this ties back to a topic on the last flagship podcast, how for conservative candidates to persuade independents they must first convince them they care.  I want to persuade liberal Catholics that conservative policy proposals are the best way the help the poor, protect the environment, care for the sick, and so on.  I don’t think it helps the cause if every time Pope Francis issues an encyclical conservatives “get the vapors” as you so nicely put it and then start saying we think the entire concept of Catholic Social Teaching is a sham.  This will only reaffirm their belief that we are “cafeteria Catholics” who put GOP politics ahead of Church teaching.

    Instead we need to first emphasize our points of agreement, that we do care about the environment, before they will even listen to our policies.

    Well said Joseph. Thanks for pushing us on this. Keep up the good fight. May God bless you.

    • #88
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