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Pope Francis and Economic Inequality (REVIEW ESSAY)

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From flickr.com: thierry Ehrmann le 112 me est Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis), painted portrait DDC_7823 {MID-250990}
thierry Ehrmann le 112 me est Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis), painted portrait DDC_7823
(Image by Abode of Chaos)
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) February 18, 2018: Sooner or later, Pope Francis (born in 1936, as Jorge Mario Bergoglio) will die. When he dies, the Koch brothers and other economic libertarians will most likely celebrate his death and say, "Good riddance!" You see, Pope Francis is the most prominent critic on the planet of economic globalization and economic inequality. Many American liberals and progressives are familiar with his criticisms of economic globalization and economic inequality. No doubt he has heard the cry of the poor. No doubt economic inequality is a big problem. No doubt he has put his talent for publicly scolding people to good use.

Unfortunately, Pope Francis does not appear to have heard the cry of the poor victims of priest-sex-abuse, even though he may have met with some of them. Or at least he has not yet effectively addressed the problem of priest sex abuse by effectively revising canon law to deal with it more effectively -- as he still should.

In any event, as Pope Francis sees the global situation, economic globalization and economic inequality contribute to an emerging new form of colonialism -- and what I would style as its de-humanizing and de-personalizing spirit. But the old forms of colonialism were no good, because of their de-humanizing and de-personalizing spirit, and they had to be rejected and replaced. Similarly, the emerging new form of colonialism is no good either, and so it also needs to be rejected and replaced. But how, and with what kind of approaches? Clearly Pope Francis is on the side of the angels in his clear-sighted view of our contemporary global situation. But will the approaches he advocates work effectively? Your guess is as good as mine. But my guess is that they won't work effectively -- that is, they will most not likely not deliver the changes that he seems to expect that they will deliver.

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However, in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I will give Pope Francis credit for formulating a coherent set of approaches and for having the courage of his convictions to advocate them to any and all people who might listen to him -- or at least to all people who might be subjected to listening to him whether they want to or not. No doubt there is a mind at work in Pope Francis -- which is more than I can say about President Donald J. Trump. (I admit that that is setting the bar rather low. Trump appears to be oriented to volatile reactivity to entertain his most ardent supporters.)

Now, American economic libertarians such as the Koch brothers tend to regard economic libertarianism as a pseudo-religion that inspires their blind faith in its pseudo-theological marketplace tenets. But Pope Francis is committed to a real religious belief system (Roman Catholicism) that happen to have a remarkably well-developed theology, including the theology of the people that was developed in Argentina after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis was born and raised in Argentina and became a Jesuit priest and then a bishop and then an archbishop and then a cardinal there, before the cardinal-electors elected him to serve as the pope.

Now, the theology of the people developed in Argentina is a distinctive subset of the liberation theology that was developed in Latin America after Vatican II, as the lay theologian Rafael Luciani explains in his new book Pope Francis and the Theology of the People, translated by Philip Berryman (Orbis Books, 2017). His book includes end-notes that are both bibliographic notes (Spanish-language sources are over-represented) and discussion notes (pages 157-191) and an index (pages 193-199). I found some of his discussion notes very informative.

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Rafael Luciani is from Caracas, Venezuela. However, at the present time, he teaches at Boston College, the Jesuit university in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. In my estimate, Rafael Luciani's book deserves to be widely read by Americans of various religious traditions and widely discussed -- and criticized. For example, the author deserves to be criticized for not even mentioning the priest-sex-abuse scandal and cover-up by the bishops.

Disclosure: For many years now, I have not been a practicing Catholic. I am a theistic humanist, as distinct from an atheistic humanist (also known as a secular humanist). When I was in the Jesuit order in the Roman Catholic Church (1979-1987), I did my graduate studies in theology at the University of Toronto. I promise to try to explain everything I say here as clearly as I can.

Now, conservative American Catholics tended not to like liberation theology. Unfortunately for the liberation theologians in Latin America, Pope John-Paul had a strong reaction to their use of any terminology that he considered to be Marxist terminology -- or in the spirit of Marxist terminology. Marxist thought is strongly utopian. According to Rafael Luciani, utopia represents "an expectation of a future place of well-being" (page 74). But Roman Catholic thought is not utopian, even though the canonized Roman Catholic saint and Renaissance humanist Thomas More famously wrote a book titled Utopia.

Now, with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XIII) as his enforcer, Pope John-Paul II made life miserable for liberation theologians and would-be practitioner of liberation theology in Latin America. But Pope John-Paul II elevated Archbishop Bergoglio in Argentina to the rank of cardinal. Evidently, in the judgment of the pope, Archbishop Bergoglio was not tainted by the liberation theology in certain other countries in Latin America. However, as Rafael Luciani explains, Archbishop Bergoglio was steeped in the theology of the people that had emerged in Argentina -- free of Marxist terminology.

Now, Vatican II was a watershed. After the council's documents were officially promulgated by Pope Pius VI, and translated into various languages, well-educated Roman Catholics throughout the world read them and commented on them, and certain Roman Catholic theologians in various parts of the world undertook the task of amplify the challenges to the church faithful expressed in those official documents.

American Catholics and non-Catholics may remember the 1960s for the election of then-Senator John F. Kennedy in 1960 to be the first Roman Catholic Irish-American president of the United States, for his tragic assassination in 1963, for the black civil rights movement, for the Vietnam War, for the assassinations in 1968 of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, for President Lyndon B. Johnson's decision in 1968 not to seek re-election, for the police riot in 1968 in Chicago at the time of the Convention of the Democratic Party there, for the election in 1968 of former Vice President Richard M. Nixon to be the president of the United States, and for the emergence of the so-called "second wave" feminist movement.

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For a discussion of Dr. King's theological thought, see Rufus Burrow's book God and Human Dignity: The Personalism, Theology, and Ethics of Martin Luther King, Jr. (University of Notre Dame, 2006). Dr. King's theological thought is similar in spirit to the theology of the people that emerged in Argentina in response to Vatican II.

My favorite scholar is the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) characterized his work as phenomenological and personalist in cast. As Rafael Luciani explains the theology of the people that emerged in Argentina after Vatican II, it is personalist in cast.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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