I’ve noticed that we seem to get the popes that match our times—a harmonic resonance between popes and other public leaders of the day.

That doesn’t mean that popes are overtly political, although there’s really no way for a pope to retreat completely from politics, unless he speaks on ritual matters only and never ventures into more general statements. To paraphrase Madonna (not the Madonna, but Madonna Ciccone), we are living in a political world.

No matter how hard a Pope tries to speak non-politically, politics enters the equation nearly every time he opens his mouth, unless he’s talking Church business. Even then, what he says can have political repercussions.

That said, I think that Pope Francis got somewhat political on his recent visit to the US. As the first pope ever to address an American Congress, what he’s said about politics in the past seems relevant:

“I always was interested in politics,” Pope Francis told a journalist from his native Argentina last year. That interest was developed in childhood…

As a teenager, Jorge Mario Bergoglio would drift between local political party offices as he listened to discussions. He was drawn to being a priest, but felt the tug of a political calling, too.

…In Argentina, they speak of him as the most talented politician since General Juan Perón.

The author of that article, Austen Ivereigh, is a British writer who specializes in the subject of the Catholic Church. He has written a biography of Pope Francis called The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.

More from Ivereigh:

The idea of organizing society around the autonomy of the sovereign individual repels [Pope Francis]…

…he describes sink-or-swim capitalism — in which the elderly and the unemployed are condemned to poverty — as “an economy that kills.”

…In his address in Bolivia to workers in the informal sector in July, he warned that “once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions…it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another…”

Very few people would recommend elevating capitalism to the status of “an idol.” But isn’t it apparent by now that the greatest amount of “enslaving” that’s been done in the last century in connection with “capital” has been at the hands of governments that want to abolish it, and that have insisted upon “social justice”—of which Francis also sometimes speaks?

It sounds as though Francis is positing some semi-Rousseauvian state of nature in which humans would be exhibiting fraternity, would have an unruined society, and would not be “set against one another,” were it not for the existence of unchecked capitalism. A large part of this vision probably isn’t political but comes from the faith-based idea that “unchecked capitalism” (where does the Pope think that’s operating, anyway?) when curbed should be replaced by religion and the charity that Christianity preaches.

Ivereigh writes about something that may shed some light on why the Pope visited Cuba during his trip:

Francis does have a distinctive political outlook, one that is shaped by his experience as a Latin American Catholic nationalist whose thinking matured in the 1960s…

“Cuba vs. US” was the Manichean choice of the time and has poisoned Latin American politics since, but the Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio rejected this polarity. He was a Peronist: anti-colonial, pro-worker, offering a “third way” between capitalism and communism that was true to Latin America’s Christian-humanist traditions…

While in Cuba, Pope Francis has been helping to build a pluralistic Cuba resting on nationalist-Christian foundations. In a 1998 book reflecting on Pope John Paul II’s visit to the island, [Francis] wrote that neither “neoliberalism” nor “communism” reflected what he called “the soul of the Cuban people,” a phrase he used in his speech arriving at Havana airport on Saturday. A new politics has to be forged in Cuba, one that takes the original national-popular ambitions of the Revolution and combines them with a social democracy that cares for the vulnerable.

In other words, it appears as though he wants a kinder, gentler Cuban revolution. Good luck with that; the history of socialism is very poor on that score, to say the least. It’s been pretty lousy in the economic sense, too.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.