New York City, N.Y., Dec 2, 2013 / 05:53 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis’ words in “Evangelii Gaudium” touching on economic issues have elicited a range of reactions, with one columnist emphasizing their challenge to conservatives to respond generously.
“The challenge for conservative Catholics,” New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote Nov. 30, is “to spend the Francis era not in opposition but seeking integration – meaning an economic vision that remains conservative, but in the details reminds the world that our Catholic faith comes first.” “The pope's words...should encourage a much greater integration of Catholic and conservative ideas than we’ve seen since 'compassionate conservatism' collapsed, and inspire Catholics to ask more – often much more – of the Republican Party, on a range of policy issues,” he said. In his Nov. 24 apostolic exhortation on the new evangelization, Pope Francis referred to issues of economics twice – while discerning the context in which evangelization must happen today, and while discussing the inclusion of the poor in society as one of the social dimensions of evangelization. The Bishop of Rome rejected the “economy of exclusion,” idolatry of money, a ruling financial system, and violence-spawning inequality; he praised solidarity with the poor, mercy, the value of the poor, and a better distribution of income. The Pope's words were dismissed by some conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh as “pure Marxism” and “political.” But writing at Catholic Online, Deacon Keith Fournier emphasized that “his teachings are not political – they are prophetic and pastoral,” and transcend the categories of American liberalism and conservatism. “Neither can this apostolic exhortation be squeezed into the economic overlay which fuels much of the debate in the United States. Yet, just such an effort is being used by those with political and economic agendas, left and right,” Deacon Fournier wrote. “Sadly, they distract the public from hearing a desperately needed corrective and beautiful message from a pastor who has been given charge of what he properly refers to as a church without frontiers.” The deacon explained that the exhortation does not make Pope Francis a “fellow political progressive” of the American left, but neither is he defending the sort of materialistic capitalism which places capital – goods – over persons; rather, the Pope is teaching that economic issues are moral issues. “Christian Social thought needs to be rescued from those who may have used it as a kind of proof text to legitimize any political theory or economic system that fails to spring from its' fundamental view of the dignity of the human person, solidarity, authentic human freedom, economic and social justice,” he said. George Weigel made a similar point, writing in the Wall Street Journal that Pope Francis' program “is not a matter of economic or political prescription, but a revolution in the self-understanding of the Catholic Church: a re-energizing return to the pentecostal fervor and evangelical passion from which the church was born two millennia ago, and a summons to mission that accelerates the great historical transition from institutional-maintenance Catholicism to the Church of the New Evangelization.” Evangelii Gaudium is to be read as “what it manifestly is,” he said: a “clarion call” for this self-understanding of the Church. Columnist James Pethokoukis added that “it is impossible to understand the pope’s message if one fails to view it through the lens of Jesus' teachings,” and that “of course” he doesn't consider market capitalism to be “the ultimate cure to what ails humanity or the key to true human flourishing.” Douthat responded to his fellow-conservatives' objections to the exhortation, saying that “the burden is on them...to explain why a worldview that inspires left-leaning papal rhetoric also allows for right-of-center conclusions.” He emphasized that the Catholic case for limited government “is not a case for the Ayn Randian temptation inherent to a capitalism-friendly politics,” nor a case for zero regulation or redistribution, or for valuing capital over labor. “This is where Francis's vision should matter to American Catholics who usually cast ballots for Republican politicians,” Douthat wrote. “The pope’s words shouldn’t inspire them to convert en masse to liberalism, or to worry that the throne of Peter has been seized by a Marxist anti-pope,” but they do need to be integrated with conservative ideas.