Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Marxist Pope?

I don't know any more about Jorge Bergoglio--now Pope Francis I--than you do. The name hadn't crossed my radar screen until today. The Church believes it is guided and protected by the Holy Spirit. I sure hope they're right because in purely human terms the selection is a disaster.

A few days ago, I told my wife that I thought the pope would be from Latin America. I was correct, but he's as close to an Italian as you can get without being from Italy. Further, he is 76 years old. So he's too old and too Italian to be a significant change agent in the Church. This is a very conservative (in the bad sense of the word) choice that will not serve the Church well.

He's conservative in the theological sense as well. He's opposed to abortion and birth control, and also opposed to gay marriage (and even gay sex). This affirms longstanding Catholic dogma, totally consistent with their world view. For Catholics, life and personhood are sacred, and anything that compromises an individual's integrity is morally wrong.  To complain about the pope's opinions on those subjects is to argue that the pope shouldn't be Catholic. It's silly.

You can call me a fake Catholic if you want. I accompany my wife to Mass on most Sundays--she's the one who's devout--and I don't mind doing so. I even take communion. But I don't really believe it. I can't buy the life-after-death stuff, which renders the rest of the story rather irrelevant. For all that, I am not anti-Catholic.  I think the Church is mostly a force for good in the world, and I really do wish it well.

Which is why I'm disappointed they've made such a poor choice for pope.

While there is no arguing with his stands on faith and morals, one can dispute his economics. Though he's a Jesuit, he has chosen the name of Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th Century founder of the eponymous order. For those of you who are unchurched, St. Francis was heir to a very wealthy family. He took his inheritance and gave it all away to the poor. The Franciscan rule is no friar can possess anything more than what they need to survive for that day. Anything in excess must be given away. Franciscan priests take strict vows of poverty to this very day.

The church I attend is run by Franciscan priests--they dress in the trademark brown robes and sandals, and live simply and modestly in the church rectory. I doubt their cash income exceeds $10K annually. But they're not poor, at least not in the sense that St. Francis was poor. Unlike St. Francis, they don't have to beg for their daily meal. They get medical care, and they can count on support in retirement (the oldest priest is well into his 80s). The rectory has electricity, hot and cold running water, along with flush toilets. Collectively they own a car. They are all very well educated. I even occasionally see our parish priest at Starbucks buying a cup of coffee.

Now I'm not accusing them of hypocrisy--if anybody is a hypocrite it's me. Far from it--few people will voluntarily give up family, marriage, and career to earn $10K per year in a job that offers few or no opportunities for advancement. There's a reason why so few people go into the priesthood. I simply point out that in 21st Century America it is completely impossible to live like a 13th Century monk. In our society, nobody--I mean nobody--not even the most derelict homeless bum, is as poor as St. Francis.

So we read about Father Bergoglio, who moved out of the archbishop's mansion into a small apartment. And instead of being driven to work, rode the bus. Despite being a Jesuit, he voluntarily followed the Franciscan path of poverty. One reads that he was a voice for the poor, or a supporter of the poor, or endorsed the cause of the poor.

Between the lines, I read that he's pro-poverty. And that is precisely the problem.

I think St. Francis was the ur-Marxist. He believed that the cure for poverty is simply for rich people to give all their money away. That may have made a little bit of sense in 13th Century Italy, but it makes absolutely no sense today. In modern capitalism, rich people and poor people are simply not in competition with each other. Rich people (at least those outside of government, and excepting crony capitalists like Solyndra or Goldman-Sachs) get rich because they produce goods and services that improve the standard of living for everybody. Henry Ford, Sam Walton, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and many more, all made stuff the improved our lives. It is simply ridiculous to think they got wealthy at the expense of the poor. Quite the contrary, they got wealthy because they made the poor richer.

So I fear Pope Francis' economic views will perpetuate the same, evil fiction that Marxists propagate--that rich people are rich because they stole the money. It is just nonsense on stilts. And it is destructive nonsense--it enables the whole pro-poverty crowd, from the relatively benign Cristina Kirchner, to the masterful crook Fidel Castro, to the truly psychopathic Che Guevara, to the evil demagogue Hugo Chavez. These are people who dedicated their lives to impoverishing their nations and peoples, and the Church should have nothing to do with them.

Of course proto-Marxists exist on other continents besides Latin America, but Latin America seems especially prone to the disease. This is why I am disappointed that the Church chose a pope from that continent. It is a Really Bad Idea. 

I sure hope the Holy Spirit is paying attention.

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