“I dream of a ‘missionary option,’” Francis writes, “that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world, rather than for her self-preservation.” In particular, Francis calls for a church marked by a special passion for the poor and for peace. The theme of change permeates the document. The pope says rather than being afraid of “going astray,” what the church ought to fear instead is “remaining shut up within structures that give us a false sense of security, within rules that make us harsh judges” and “within habits that make us feel safe.”
Much of the document, following longtime Catholic social teaching, condemns soaring economic inequality and the “tyranny” of market capitalism. Here’s a representative passage:
Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
This is a Pope attacking Reaganomics! I’d also note that among the long-held tenets of Catholic social theory is universal healthcare. How to achieve universal healthcare is up for grabs among Catholics; but the moral need for universal healthcare isn’t. Michael Sean Winters argues that Francis is “encouraging us to view service to the poor differently” than we might expect:
It is not, first and foremost, about securing our own salvation, a case of our moral status. It is about something deeper.
It is about a genuine “culture of encounter” in which the faithful encounter the poor not only because we are commanded to, but with the awareness that the poor hold a privileged place in God’s love. We will meet Christ when we “go out” to meet the poor. The privileged place the poor are accorded in the Gospels, must translate into their receiving a privileged place in the heart and mind and work of the Church if we are to remain faithful to the Gospels, if we are to be continually be nourished by the Lord, if our Eucharist is to be a worship in truth, not isolation. That vision permeates the text.
Yglesias loves the Pope’s emphasis on poverty, and makes a completely inarguable point:
I’ve heard a number of conservative Catholic commentators remark numerous times that it’s silly for left-wing people to be highlighting Pope Francis’ thoughts on economic policy because all this stuff has been Catholic doctrine for a long time. I think this misses the point. Obviously a new pope isn’t going to make up a new religious doctrine from scratch. But when you have a corpus of thinking and tradition that spans centuries, it makes a great deal of difference what you emphasize.
I remember very clearly having been an intern in Chuck Schumer’s office and attending with the senator, some of his staff, and a wide swathe of New York City political elites an event at St Patrick’s Cathedral to celebrate the posthumous award of the Congressional Gold Medal to Archbishop John O’Connor. His successor, Archbishop Egan, delivered an address that went on at length about O’Connor’s charitable work, but on a public policy level addressed almost exclusively the Church’s support for banning abortion, for discriminating against gay and lesbian couples, and for school vouchers. That was a choice he made about what he thought it was important for people to hear about. Pope Francis is making a different kind of choice.
And, in case you were wondering, Jimmy Akin explains just what an “apostolic exhortation” is:
It’s a papal document that, as the name suggests, exhorts people to implement a particular aspect of the Church’s life and teaching. Its purpose is not to teach new doctrine, but to suggest how Church teachings and practices can be profitably applied today… It is one of the more important papal documents—more important, for example, than a Wednesday audience or a homily. As it is of a pastoral nature rather than a doctrinal or legal nature, though, it is ranked lower than an encyclical or an apostolic constitution.
Read the whole document here. I’m going to do it when I wake up.
(Photo: Pope Francis delivers his speech during a meeting with young people on September 22, 2013 in Cagliari, Italy. By Franco Origlia/Getty Images.)