January–February 2015        

Pope lashes the “Golden Calf”

Bernard Murphy

For Pope Francisco Bergoglio, economic inequality is the world’s biggest problem. And he sees capitalism as being at the centre of inequality.
     As liberation theology was not exactly flavour of the month in the second half of the twentieth century with most of the solidly conservative Irish Catholic hierarchy, many socialists here will find it strange to have an unexpected ally in the Vatican. Yet in the following short extracts, taken directly from his Apostolic Exhortation, a 67-page manifesto published a year ago, the Pope doesn’t mince his words.
Inequality is the root of social ills . . . As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.
     We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the “invisible hand” of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth . . . a better distribution of income . . . The economy can no longer turn to remedies . . . such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.
     [Some people] continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world . . . a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power . . . The culture of prosperity deadens us.
     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 market-place and financial speculation and reject the right of states charged with vigilance for the common good . . . A new tyranny . . . unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules.
     Money must serve, not rule . . . The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! . . . The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money . . . lacking a truly human purpose.
     Today’s economic mechanisms promote inordinate consumption, yet it is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric . . . Inequality eventually engenders a violence . . . new and more serious conflicts. Some . . . blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles . . .
     Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless . . . Masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape . . . Such an economy kills . . . It is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points.
     Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods, to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new . . . Those excluded are no longer society’s underside . . . no longer even a part of it . . . but the outcast, the “leftovers.”
     In a culture where each person wants to be bearer of his or her own subjective truth, it becomes difficult for citizens to devise a common plan which transcends individual gain and personal ambition . . . freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth.
     The fact that a Latin American Pope (from Argentina) expresses himself in such clear socialist terms will not surprise readers of Socialist Voice, who are aware of the contribution that liberation theology, with its “option for the poor,” has played in the twentieth-century liberation struggles of Latin America. This theology was defined as being subversive of US interests in Central and South America in the handbook of the notorious School of the Americas, where techniques of counter-insurgency and torture were taught to the military of the repressive regimes of the region. In these conflicts many priests, nuns and lay faithful paid with their lives for their full commitment to the fight, in many instances taking up arms, “to attain a way of living which is more humane, noble and fruitful” for their congregations.
     Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation honours the memory of these martyrs and should give Catholics everywhere a clear political dimension to their faith.

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