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The antagonism between Catholicism and capitalism is as old as the Church itself. The Cold War obscured this fact as long as the Vatican viewed Communism as a bigger threat than the profit motive. One threat dead, Pope Francis has restored the Church’s mission as capitalism’s chief critic.
This isn’t going over so well in some circles. Many members of the church hierarchy view Francis’s rehabilitation of Latin American clergy who spread liberation theology as a dangerous sop to the pseudo-Marxist Bolivarian regimes of his native South America.
In the United States, where the favoured candidate for the Republican presidential nomination is a convert to Catholicism, the Pope’s critique of capitalism is creating awkward inconveniences for a party that relies on a coalition of religious faithful and free marketeers to win elections.
Francis’s newest encyclical on climate change, which casts the fight against global warming as a spiritual as well as environmental imperative, is a clear attempt to put the Vatican’s moral weight behind a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gases. As such, it is generating political waves that exceed those of perhaps every papal pronouncement since Humanae Vitae banned the pill.
“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been,” Francis writes in Laudato Si (Praise Be to You), whose subtitle is On Care for our Common Home. “The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”
Many of those who are now cheering Francis’s intrusion into the political realm, summoning Prime Minister Stephen Harper to heed the Pope, would be quick warn the Church to mind its own business when it comes defining reproductive rights. Their sudden conversion to the merits of papal encyclicals smacks of cafeteria Catholicism, if not crass political opportunism.
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