Pope Francis is presenting the universal Church with a dilemma from which it might never really recover, especially from a credibility standpoint. While all Catholics agree on the need to feed the hungry, provide for the poor and in general promote the general prosperity of all peoples, the message coming from Pope Francis is alienating many Catholics, especially American Catholics. The root of the Pope’s inability to effectively communicate the Church’s humanitarian mission is directly associated with his extraction from a country that has been a socialist failure both politically and economically. Argentina under socialist policies did not really thrive economically and still harbors some of the largest sections of poverty in the southern hemisphere. The Holy Father, a life long resident of this system of government, and in some regards an advocate for socialism in action is taking the same message of potential Catholic disaster to all of the places he visits and reflects the same sentiments in his apostolic writings as well. Laudado Si, the papal teaching on the role Catholics should play in the preservation of the environment fails to integrate the long held teachings of the Catholic Church that both economic revival and development work in communion with a respect for the environment as a reflection of God’s Creation and man’s responsibility to maintain, preserve and develop the same environment. Most recently, Catholics have started criticizing the precepts of Laudato Si, not especially based on its intrinsic message, but because it minimizes and indirectly criticizes the positive effects that economic capitalism has in the role of offsetting the state of economic poverty. This type of backhanded criticism strikes a chord that is not quite harmonious with the typical American Catholic, especially since the American Catholic Church is one of the most generous group of Catholics that support the Holy See. The emerging dualism within the words and actions of the incumbent Holy Father practically suggests there is a disconnect between traditional Catholic theology and how it integrates effectively in a global economy and global culture that supports and often comes at odds with the teachings of the Bishop of Rome. Pope Francis’ remarks often make light of established Catholic practices that are established and rooted in moral and ethical teachings and are often diminished with papal commentary such as,”…who am I to judge!” This previous example refers to the Pope’s commentary on same sex relationships after the landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court. While it is true, not one of us has the proper disposition to judge the internal character of what motivates an individual’s lifestyle or actions, the Bishop of Rome should not be so cavalier in his attitudes when commenting to the press on the subjective and objective nature of the sin of homosexuality. Please understand, my filial devotion and respect for the Holy Father is paramount to my personal exercise of my faith, and I would in effect, “take a bullet to save the life of the Holy Father,” there are more geopolitical and theological issues at stake besides my obedience to the person of the Pope. The Church at the current time it seems is walking a very fine line between theological and political matters. While the Church by its very nature is indeed called to be part of this dynamic interaction between global politics and spiritual matters. What Catholics do not need is more confusion regarding their role in the world as both Catholics and good global stewards either politically or socially. The Holy Father’s ongoing campaign to highlight the needs of the poor and those that are impoverished is indeed calling attention to the many problems of consumerism that causes global poverty; it is also offensive to many faithful Catholics that while not poor and impoverished are suffering from other manifestations of poverty, such as poverty of the spirit, poverty of hope or most evident a growing sense of isolation between economic classes that is proving to be a point of despair for many Catholics especially those in the United States where this condition is nurtured and thriving.
In most of the articles I publish, my direction is towards understanding the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes is indeed prophetic in its understandings of the problematic state of the world in the late 20th century, and indeed is inspired in the understanding of how the Church needs to interact in the 21st century in order to take a prominent role as the, Light of Christ, leading all peoples towards the final eschatological reality of life in Christ. Pope Francis was not a Council Father at Vatican II. Since his pontificate initiated he has with much credit raised topics of concern over globalization, consumerism, ecology and the plight of global poverty to a new level of understanding for the world to firstly react, then understand and potentially solve the perils that come with the emergence of globalism and the demise of the Church’s isolation in some parts of the world. However, the methodology with which the Holy Father conducts his activities towards raising apparent awareness of these issues frankly have an underlying sense of liberation theology, tempered with the appearance of Argentine socialism in order to obscure the direction in which the Church’s political and social teachings are headed. Contemporary Catholics, globally want a Pope that not only represents the long held teachings of the Catholic Church but one that embraces tradition as well. As early as Saint Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, the Church’s responsibility in preserving the world as a reflection of God’s Creation was apparent in papal teachings. All of the subsequent popes, (with the exception of John Paul I) have elaborated the critical importance the Church and its members play in our responsibility to preserve our common earthly home. Blessed Pope Paul VI in Populorum Progressio, article 34 outlined clearly the role Catholics have in sustaining Creation through all aspects of our lives:
Organized programs designed to increase productivity should have but one aim: to serve human nature. They should reduce inequities, eliminate discrimination, free men from the bonds of servitude, and thus give them the capacity, in the sphere of temporal realities, to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and to develop their spiritual endowments. When we speak of development, we should mean social progress as well as economic growth.
It is not enough to increase the general fund of wealth and then distribute it more fairly. It is not enough to develop technology so that the earth may become a more suitable living place for human beings. The mistakes of those who led the way should help those now on the road to development to avoid certain dangers. The reign of technology—technocracy, as it is called—can cause as much harm to the world of tomorrow as liberalism did to the world of yesteryear. Economics and technology are meaningless if they do not benefit man, for it is he they are to serve. Man is truly human only if he is the master of his own actions and the judge of their worth, only if he is the architect of his own progress. He must act according to his God-given nature, freely accepting its potentials and its claims upon him.
Saint Pope John Paul II in his address for the World Day of Peace in 1990 challenged Catholics to embark on a new awareness of ecology:
IN OUR DAY, there is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened not only by the arms race, regional conflicts and continued injustices among peoples and nations, but also by a lack of DUE RESPECT FOR NATURE, by the plundering of natural resources and by an progressive decline in the quality of life. The sense of precariousness and insecurity that such a situation engenders is a seedbed for collective selfishness, disregard for others and dishonesty.
Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, people everywhere are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past. The public in general as well as political leaders are concerned abut this problem, and experts from a wide range of disciplines are studying its causes. Moreover, a new ECOLOGICAL AWARENESS is beginning to emerge which, rather than being downplayed, ought to be encouraged to develop into concrete programmes and initiatives.
Even Pope Benedict XVI considered the preservation of the planet as a critical component in the struggle against relativism. Benedict often spoke about ecology in relationship to the Church and the Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist:
“The eucharistic form of life can thus help foster a real change in the way we approach history and the world. The liturgy itself teaches us this, when, during the presentation of the gifts, the priest raises to God a prayer of blessing and petition over the bread and wine, ‘fruit of the earth,’ ‘fruit of the vine,’ and ‘work of human hands.’ With these words, the rite not only includes in our offering to God all human efforts and activity, but also leads us to see the world as God’s creation, which brings forth everything we need for our sustenance. The world is not something indifferent, raw material to be utilized simply as we see fit. Rather, it is part of God’s good plan, in which all of us are called to be sons and daughters in the one Son of God, Jesus Christ (cf.Eph 1:4-12).” — Sacramentum Caritatis (par. 92), 2007.
However, the matter of concern for the environment was not presented as something that is intended as a subject that places Catholics against other Catholics as a pseudo-subset within the Church. Pope Francis’ pastoral approach towards the environment and the understanding of global poverty often places Catholic communities at an oppositional stance towards Francis’ admonitions. The Holy Father is indeed on the right path towards spreading this message of global eradication of poverty and the need to embrace environmental stewardship, but the rhetoric needs to be appropriately redirected towards other critical needs of the global Catholic Church. Catholics do not want to embrace a theological ideology of sublime socialism as a prerequisite for effective membership in the Church, they want a Church that distinctively proclaims the Gospel through the hierarchy of which the Pope is the head to lead them to spiritual, emotional and temporal satisfaction without being condemned for being born into an age of excessive consumerism and effective capitalism. If Pope Francis sees both of these factors are derogatory factors that exclusively affect the pursuit of the spiritual life, he will effectively alienate and then isolate the same faithful members of the Church he had hoped to effectively reach with his pastoral message.