Global poverty: The bless and blame game

Are we to blame?

There has been a tension present in Christianity ever since Jesus' said 'blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.' Who or what does Pope Francis really see as the culprit in holding back the poor, asks America magazine.

When, and where, will the poor inherit the Kingdom of Heaven? In paradise? In the here and now? Depending on one's world view, Jesus' words are a call to economic revolution and the widespread redistribution of wealth or a justification for economic inequality and laissez-faire capitalism. In the United States, many seem to view Jesus' words as a promise to the poor that one day we'll make it up to them.

Pope Francis, who saw the Argentine economy shrink by a third in only four years at the turn of the millennium, has raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers in recent months by referring to American-style capitalism as 'a new tyranny' and the equivalent of idol worship for the way it exploits the poor.

Other prominent Church leaders have gone further: 'This economy kills,' Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras recently told an audience in Washington, D.C. 'That is what the Pope is saying.'

For some American Catholic public figures accustomed to a close alliance with the Vatican on all matters but war, it has come as a bit of a shock to be compared to the high priests of Ba'al.

In fact, a prominent American prelate recently argued that Francis wasn't referring to American-style capitalism at all in his condemnation of this new idolatry: '[W]hat many people around the world experience as "capitalism" isn't recognisable to Americans. For many in developing or newly industrialised countries, what passes as capitalism is an exploitative racket for the benefit of the few powerful and wealthy.'

Prescinding from the question of how many Americans see our current system as exactly such an exploitative racket, there is another problem with this argument: Francis' own words. 'We discard a whole generation to maintain an economic system that no longer endures, a system that to survive has to make war, as the big empires have always done,' the Pope noted in a recent interview with La Vanguardia. 'But since we cannot wage the Third World War, we make regional wars. And what does that mean? That we make and sell arms. And with that the balance sheets of the idolatrous economies—the big world economies that sacrifice man at the feet of the idol of money—are obviously cleaned up.'

Of course, Francis is no economist, nor do his remarks have any binding force. But we shouldn't fool ourselves as to who he thinks are the tormentors of the poor, or who are the idolaters. He is not blaming the banana republics and crony capitalists of the Third World. He's blaming us.

- James T. Keane

Read full article: American Idol (America magazine)

RELATED:

Full Text of Pope Francis' Interview With 'La Vanguardia' (National Catholic Register)

Pope says communists are closet Christians (The Globe and Mail)

To understand Pope Francis 'we must think like Latin Americans', prefect of CDF says (The Tablet)

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