The quote: "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."
The news: On Tuesday, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation — a type of document used to communicate papal views to the wider Catholic world — that roundly condemns global economic conditions and the recent financial crisis, and takes the invisible hand, trickle-down economic policies, and even austerity measures to task.
The pope starts out strong and doesn't let up. He begins with the above quote. He goes on to decry the idolatry of money and the growth of inequality‚ which he describes as "the root of all social ills" and a "tyranny ... which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules."
Francis describes our current system as an unethical "rejection of God" that inspires violence and unbridled consumerism, as much as it "deadens us" inside.
Pope Francis' suggestions for enabling "money to serve, not rule?" He calls on believers and politicians to recognize the interconnectedness of humanity, to put the human needs of the world's communities ahead of short-term economic gain, and — wait for it — to effect structural changes to the global economy.
In a passive-aggressive touch, he concludes by saying that he doesn't mean to offend: "My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent, and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble, and fruitful."
We can only imagine that, as he wrote the above, Francis thought to himself, "Well, this should be interesting." As will Thanksgiving dinner with our Catholic relatives.
The background: Apostolic exhortations like the one released today generally follow a gathering of bishops at the Vatican called a synod. Such synods were established in 1965 as part of the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council. While apostolic exhortations function as papal policy papers, they're also tasked with summarizing the matters the synod discussed. To that end, while the Pope's words may represent his personal beliefs, they also convey the outcome of an October 2012 meeting about "the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith."
In short, the exhortation is a press release for the kinder, friendlier Catholic Church's wildly successful, and ongoing, public relations campaign.
Not including the introduction or bibliography, Francis' exhortation, titled "The Joy of the Gospel," clocks in at 48,252 words and 224 pages — making it slightly longer than Slaughterhouse-Five. As you might imagine, the lengthy document ranges widely. Rather than simply disparaging the inherent flaws of global capitalism (that's just chapter two, section one), Francis touches on subjects stretching from internecine Catholic quarreling, to the nature of evangelization, to the role of the church in troubled urban centers, to "temptations faced by pastoral workers," a subject that this article will not touch with a 10-foot papal ferula.
The takeaway: Francis' condemnation of inequality might be strongly worded, but it shouldn't be cause for panic about the pope's socialist leanings, or whether or not he was born in Kenya. The exhortation's ponderings on economics fall well within the Church's overall messages of compassion and community engagement. As the Atlantic points out, while pope's message may be tinged with socialism insofar as it cites rampant capitalism as causing suffering, it in no way conforms to Marx's bloviation about historical cycles and worker revolts, nor does it prescribe any sort of role for the Church as a Leninist vanguard, nor will Francis be replacing the obelisk outside St. Peter's Basilica with some kind of Stalinist monument.
In fact, opprobrium aside, Francis' declamation is reminiscent of the touchy-feeliest portion of the UN Charter, which promises to promote, "higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress" in order to create "conditions of stability and well-being" around the world. The only difference is that Francis had the globus crucigers to call out the causes of the instability, inequality, and poverty that we should strive to correct.