by Bernard D’Mello
Christmas has just gone by, and we’ll soon be ringing in the New Year,
a time when a “profound feeling of consolation and peace” overwhelms
the faithful.  But the buzz, created by Pope Francis’ “apostolic
exhortation”, Evangelii Gaudium (EG, translated as “The Joy of the
Gospel”), issued in late November, and the subsequent clarificatory
interview by La Stampa and Vatican Insider in response to criticism
from Right-conservative quarters, has yet to subside.  There are 1.2
billion Roman Catholics worldwide, and so what Francis says makes a
difference, and this is what has upset the Right.

The EG is categorical in its critique of capitalism: “Just as the
commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill‘ sets a clear limit in order to
safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou
shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.  Such an economy
kills.”  Francis goes on to exhort his followers to say “no to the new
idolatry of money”, not to “accept its domination over ourselves and
our societies”.  His is a severe indictment of capitalism: “The thirst
for power and possessions knows no limits.  In this system, which
tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased
profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless
before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only

Predictably, there have been allegations (as if it is a crime!) that
Francis is a Marxist, to which he has replied, in his La Stampa
interview: “Marxist ideology is wrong.  But I have met many Marxists
in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”  He however
reiterates his critique of trickle-down theory: “The promise was that
when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor.  But
what happens, instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically
gets bigger and nothing ever comes out for the poor.”

There is a lot more about Francis that makes a difference, for
instance, his now well-known statement about gay priests: “If someone
is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”  With
this Francis has certainly done a lot in “persuading hearts and minds
in opening to LGBT people . . . globally”, as The Advocate, the oldest
gay rights magazine in the United States, put it when it named him its
“person of the year”.  But as regards ordaining women to the
priesthood and on the question of abortion, progressive change is
still far, far away.  On abortion, Francis reiterates the Church’s
“concern for unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among
us”, though he does acknowledge the “profound anguish” of women when
“the life developing within them is the result of rape or a situation
of extreme poverty.  Who can remain unmoved before such painful

As regards the role of women in the Church, all Francis reiterates (in
the interview) is that they “must be valued, not ‘clericalised'”.  But
as one of Latin America’s most prominent liberation theologists,
Leonardo Boff, puts it, “how important the feminine voice is for a
non-patriarchal and therefore more complete conception of God and of
the Spirit that flows through all of life and the universe”.  To put
it rhetorically, was Mother Teresa unfit to be a priest?  After all,
women priests will think of faith from a woman’s perspective and this
will surely enrich the Church.

The EG is more than 50,000 words long, and we only read it in parts,
but after putting it down we were reminded of what Einstein once said:
“A new type of thinking is essential if mankind [humankind] is to
survive and move to higher levels”.  This in the context of the Church
would also encompass reinterpretations of the Bible.  For instance, in
the New Testament, the words of Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13:
“And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three, but the
greatest of these is charity”.  But charity in the vision of Saint
Paul and the liberation theologists does not mean just giving alms.
It means acting in accordance with one’s conscience taking full
account of the fate of one’s fellow beings.  It is not a question of
merely people as a whole, every individual matters.1  Francis refers
to politics as “one of the highest forms of charity, in as much as it
serves the common good”.  And here he comes back to economics, and how
the Church needs to work to “bring about a new political and economic
mindset which would help break down the wall of separation between the
economy and the common good of society”.  Does this sound very much
like the Hungarian socialist and economic anthropologist Karl Polanyi?

So what is Pope Francis doing?  Jorge Mario Bergoglio seems to have
overcome his rigid authoritarian approach, the one he was known for
during the years in which Argentine went through its most horrible
times, and with this change of heart and mind, he has overcome his
irrational suspicion of liberation theology.  It surely must have
required a lot of humility to accept that the path blazed by the
liberation theologists is the one the Church ought to take.  The
Church has to put itself on the side of the people, come to the
people’s defence, as Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador,
assassinated on March 24, 1980, would have said.  Is this not the very
path which is linked with the tradition of Jesus and the Apostles?


1  See Dirk J Struik, “People Are Important: A Mathematician’s Faith”,
Monthly Review, January 1998, pp 48-52.

Bernard D’Mello is deputy editor, Economic & Political Weekly, Mumbai.
An earlier version of this piece first appeared as an editorial in
the EPW in its issue of December 28, 2013.


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