Samuel Gregg, Director of Research at the Acton Institute, joins host Al Kresta on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon to discuss the level of discomfort that some conservative Catholics have felt in recent months with the pontificate of Pope Francis. Is the pope a liberal, as he is sometimes portrayed by the media? Does he hold to longstanding teachings of the Catholic Church? Gregg and Kresta address these and other issues, and take calls from listeners in this half-hour long interview.
In the latest edition of First Things, Acton’s Director of Research Sam Gregg discusses how adherence to Catholic social teaching does not require a limited economic viewpoint. In fact, such a limited vision, or blindness as Gregg states in the article’s title, is what holds back development in many parts of the world. (Please note that the full article is available by subscription only, but is excerpted here.)
Gregg recounts how the aggressive or “Tiger” economies of East Asia have resulted in positive changes, despite problems such as endemic corruption.
To be sure, not everything is sweetness and light in East Asia. Memories of the region’s severe financial meltdown in 1997 linger. More ominously, China’s mammoth banking system is a hopelessly run extension of its government. The same banks are heavily and rather incestuously invested in propping up thousands of underperforming Chinese state-owned enterprises. That’s a recipe for trouble. Corruption remains an endemic problem, most notably in China and India, which rank an unimpressive 96 and 134, respectively, in the World Bank’s 2014 Ease ofDoing BusinessIndex, while Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand are ranked in the top twenty.
Nonetheless, the overall benefits of greater economic liberty in East Asia can’t be denied. In 2010, the Asian Development Bank reported that per capita GDP increased 6 percent each year in developing Asian countries between 1990 and 2008. Christians should especially consider how this growth has contributed to the reduction of poverty. The ADB estimated that between 1990 and 2005 approximately 850 million people escaped absolute poverty. That is an astonishing figure.
Writing in The Detroit News, Rev. Robert A. Sirico looks at Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation, the “much talked about, but little-read” document titled “The Joy of the Gospel” with a special emphasis on how the pontiff understands the problem of poverty. The president and co-founder of the Acton Institute notes how Francis “speaks boldly through effective and moving gestures.” Excerpt:
It is no surprise that the man who took as his model and name the model of il poverello of Assisi would place the poor as a central concern of his pontificate: their dignity, their rights and their sustenance. Yet, the spontaneous gestures and the impromptu manner in which they are displayed ought not to beguile us into thinking this pope is offering a superficial dichotomy between left and right; between capitalism and socialism. To think that any pope, but especially this pope, is animated in his concern for the poor and vulnerable by a particular political ideology is to miss him completely.
While renouncing the notion that the market alone is sufficient to meet all human needs, Francis is also prepared to denounce a “welfare mentality” that creates a dependency on the part of the poor and reduces the Church to the role of being just another bureaucratic NGO. The complexity of his thought surprises some, on both the Right (some of whom worry, needlessly, that he is a liberation theologian) and the Left (who are already using his words to foment a political “Francis Revolution” in his name). Such tendencies reveal a rather anemic understanding of this man but also of Catholicism, which has historically been comfortable balancing the tensions of apparent paradoxes (Divine/human; Virgin/Mother; etc.). It is too facile a temptation to collapse 2,000 years of tradition, commentary and lived experience into four or five politically-correct hot button sound bites that are the priority, not of the Church, but of propagandists with an agenda.
Read “Pope Francis, without the politics” by Rev. Robert A. Sirico in The Detroit News.
So is Pope Francis a closet liberation theologian, or someone with strong sympathies for the school of thought? It’s a question that’s been raised many times since Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s election to the papacy in March. Most recently, the New York Times weighed in on the subject. While discussing the tone adopted by Bergoglio since becoming pope, the NYT article claimed that Francis has “an affinity for liberation theology.” “Francis’s speeches,” the article argues, “draw clearly on the themes of liberation theology.” It also suggested that “Francis studied with an Argentine Jesuit priest who was a proponent of liberation theology.”
I’m afraid, however, that if one looks at Francis’s pre-pontifical writings, a rather different picture emerges. Certainly Bergoglio is a man who has always been concerned about those in genuine material need. But orthodox Christianity didn’t need to wait for liberation theology in order to articulate deep concern for the materially poor and to remind those with power and resources that they have concrete obligations to the less fortunate. From the very beginning, it was a message that pervaded the Gospels and the Church’s subsequent life.
Gregg goes on to point out that Pope Francis is no fan of “contemporary capitalism,” but that does not in turn make him a liberation theologian. Instead, it is likely that Pope Francis speaks to the Church rooted in “a teología del pueblo (theology of the people).”
Michael Severance, operations manager of the Istituto Acton in Rome, recently wrote an article for the World Catholic Report explaining why Pope Francis was a historic choice and examining what we can expect from his papacy.
He points out that “this past week proved a historic week of firsts:”
We now have the first Jesuit pope. And the first pope named Francis. He is the first non-European pope since Gregory III, an eighth-century Syrian. And we now have the very first pope from the Americas.
We have also witnessed a pope who is shunning what some critics perceive as Vatican tinsel and niceties during these economic hard times.
Francis has refused to ride in the pope’s private car (preferring the shuttle bus) or to wear red shoes and a fur-lined cape, or mozzetta, opting for ordinary black shoes and a white cassock.
This is the first time in a very long while that we have listened to a pope who readily quips in public and frequently includes off-script interjections to prepared remarks—at his first Mass with his brother cardinals, then a second time during his first press conference with journalists on Saturday, then a third time during his Sunday sermon at the Vatican parish of St. Anne, and again only a few hours later at his noontime Angelus, when he preached from his apartment above St. Peter’s Square. Not even John Paul II was at such ease with humor and his own words so early on in his pontificate.
Since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was somewhat unknown before he was elected Pope, Severance has compiled a brief profile of Pope Francis, focusing the pope as a pastor, thinker, and advocate for the poor. (more…)
Acton Institute President Rev. Robert A. Sirico has been in Rome all week for the Papal Conclave, and joined host Hugh Hewitt on The Hugh Hewitt Show yesterday afternoon to discuss the new pontificate of Pope Francis. What kind of a man is Pope Francis? What will his priorities be for his pontificate? What is his view on markets? All these questions and more are explored in the conversation.
Listen to the full interview here:
Director of the Istituto Acton in Rome, Kishore Jayabalan, and Acton Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, were recently featured on Ave Maria’s Al Kresta in the Afternoon to discuss the selection of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires as Pope Francis.
Jayabalan was in St. Peter’s Square for the announcement and he says that the mood in Rome was quite different than it was in 2005. Despite the thousands of people in the square, it was very quiet; most people were very surprised by the selection. Kresta points out that Bergoglio “understands the importance of identifying with the people” and Jayabalan believes that the new pope will get “back to the basics of Christianity” and “recover the true spirit of Christianity.”
Listen to the full interview here:
Gregg was also in the middle of the action in Rome. He describes Bergoglio as “simple,” “very spiritual,” and a “solid theologian.”
Listen to his comments here:
Please note that the clip does not end prematurely; Gregg did not return to the show after the break.