Perhaps you’ve already heard the news that Pope Francis is a socialist and a communist, a rumor that was finally established as truth in his address yesterday to the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (or, as we usually call it in our family, the “UNSCEBFC”). Perhaps you’ve read the speech; perhaps you haven’t.
Whatever the case, here’s a fun little exercise: identify the pontiff’s statement about redistribution from the following texts:
1) “The principle of solidarity, in a wide sense, must inspire the effective search for appropriate institutions and mechanisms, whether in the sector of trade, where the laws of healthy competition must be allowed to lead the way, or on the level of a wider and more immediate redistribution of riches and of control over them, in order that the economically developing peoples may be able not only to satisfy their essential needs but also to advance gradually and effectively.”
2) “Peace, however, is not merely a gift to be received: it is also a task to be undertaken. In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:9).”
3) Every contract is a human matter, conducted by people and directed towards serving people. Only then will the market forces, set up, and periodically revised and diversified, be able to play their beneficial role: for they will function under the responsibility of individuals and peoples who are free, equal and linked by solidarity, and under the regulation of moral norms that are binding upon everybody. Healthy competition of this sort is in its turn conditioned by ‘a wider and more immediate redistribution of riches and of control over them’ … . It is thus in this perspective that one must clarify and resolve the painful problem of the debts that weigh upon the poorer countries, the problem of common funds, the problem of a more adequate and more effective institutional framework of worldwide solidarity.”
4) “In a climate of solidarity and mutual understanding, the Government is seeking to support initiatives that aim to encourage the fight against poverty and technological backwardness at both the national and international levels. On the other hand, the policy of the redistribution of domestic income has facilitated greater well-being among the population. In this regard, I hope that a better distribution of income will continue to be encouraged and that greater social justice for the good of the population will be reinforced.”
5) “It should be remembered that the reduction of cultures to the technological dimension, even if it favours short-term profits, in the long term impedes reciprocal enrichment and the dynamics of cooperation. It is important to distinguish between short- and long-term economic or sociological considerations. Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country’s international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development.”
6) “The economic well-being of a country is not measured exclusively by the quantity of goods it produces but also by taking into account the manner in which they are produced and the level of equity in the distribution of income, which should allow everyone access to what is necessary for their personal development and perfection. An equitable distribution of income is to be sought on the basis of criteria not merely of commutative justice but also of social justice that is, considering, beyond the objective value of the work rendered, the human dignity of the subjects who perform it. Authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen.”
7) “Public spending is directed to the common good when certain fundamental principles are observed: the payment of taxes as part of the duty of solidarity; a reasonable and fair application of taxes; precision and integrity in administering and distributing public resources. In the redistribution of resources, public spending must observe the principles of solidarity, equality and making use of talents. It must also pay greater attention to families, designating an adequate amount of resources for this purpose.”
If you guessed “None of the above”, you are correct. Those seven quotes are from the following sources:
1. St. John Paul II, Redemptor hominis (1979)
2. Benedict XVI, “Celebration of the World Day of Peace” (2012)
3. St. John Paul II, “Message to Mr Gamani Corea, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development” (1979)
4. Benedict XVI, “Address to H.E. Mr. Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa, Ambassador of the Federative Republic of Brazil to the Holy See” (2009)
5. Benedict XVI, “Caritas in veritate” (2009)
6. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, par. 303
7. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, par. 355
Pope Francis said the following yesterday:
The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus teaches us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others. Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus to change jobs nor does he condemn his financial activity; he simply inspires him to put everything, freely yet immediately and indisputably, at the service of others. Consequently, I do not hesitate to state, as did my predecessors (cf. JOHN PAUL II,Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 42-43; Centesimus Annus, 43; BENEDICT XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 6; 24-40), that equitable economic and social progress can only be attained by joining scientific and technical abilities with an unfailing commitment to solidarity accompanied by a generous and disinterested spirit of gratuitousness at every level. A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.
Notice that Francis refers to “economic benefits,” which is not the same thing as simply taxing the wealthy more and giving the money directly to those who are poor. Catholic social doctrine is a bit more complex than that, even if many news outlets stated that Francis advocated the “redistribution of wealth”. My point here, in brief, is merely to show that Francis was hardly being radical, Marxist, or breaking with his immediate predecessors in his comments, especially when read in proper historical and doctrinal context. In addition, Francis also said the following:
Today, in concrete terms, an awareness of the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters whose life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death must lead us to share with complete freedom the goods which God’s providence has placed in our hands, material goods but also intellectual and spiritual ones, and to give back generously and lavishly whatever we may have earlier unjustly refused to others.
As usual, when reading such addresses, it is essential to understand the context and to appreciate the continuity involved because both of those will be ignored by the vast majority of pundits and media folks, either because they are trying to push a certain ideological/partisan angle, or because they simply don’t know much or anything about the context and continuity.