After Pope Francis last week issued <em>Evangelii Gaudium</em> -- including a stinging critique of capitalism -- some on the right could barely contain their contempt. Others politely disagreed and started spinning.
December 2, 2013

Pope Francis last week issued Evangelii Gaudium, or Joy of the Gospel, an "apostolic exhortation." Less than an encyclical on church doctrine, Evangelii Gaudium nonetheless stamps papal authority across Francis' recent speeches. The National Catholic Reporter likened it to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

For conservative pundits it's more of a nightmare:

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. [54]

Commenters looking for moral wiggle room at Free Republic debated the accuracy of the translation -- not of the whole document, just the passage above. A National Review critic argued that nobody said markets were sufficient to bring down poverty. Still, people working sweat shop jobs in developing nations are less impoverished. Those who lost jobs in this hemisphere? Well, those are the breaks.

The "creative destruction" of capitalism, defenders argue, is a net positive. There will be winners and losers, sure. But hey, global income inequality is actually falling (the way customers' average wealth rises when Bill Gates walks into a bar). Others have contended for decades that the excluded are still waiting because they are shiftless, lazy, imprudent, extravagant, negligent, etc., proving Francis’ point about the present economy being soul-killing.

Amidst exhortation to church renewal, Francis charges that the idolatry of money opposing "any form of control" by nation states has led to an exponentially widening prosperity gap. [55]

A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. [56]

Francis insists, “Money must serve, not rule!” [58] Could he mean trade deals that erode national sovereignty? Not to some conservatives. A quarter century after the Berlin Wall fell and they declared Saint Ronald of Reagan had slain the Evil Empire, they’re still look for Reds under their beds. You wanna see tyranny? cried a critic at Breitbart. Lenin favored state control.

The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them. [189]

Whoa, Nellie! A critic at Forbes wrote that "despite the fact that I was well and expensively educated by the Benedictines to be a good Catholic gentleman I’m afraid that my reaction to it is barely controlled rage." Naturally, Rush Limbaugh vented his:

I've gotta be very caref-- I have been numerous times to the Vatican. It wouldn't exist without tons of money. But, regardless, what this is -- somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.

Lesser Limbaughs also rushed headlong to the market’s defense. On Fox Business, Stuart Varney unconvincingly defended selfishness:

Capitalism, in my opinion, is a liberator. The free choice of millions of people is the essence of freedom. In my opinion, society benefits most when people are free to pursue their own self-interest. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it is not. When individuals are free, we collectively are better off in every way, financially and spiritually.

Perhaps the vicar doth protest too much.

Meanwhile, ordinary people seem to get income inequality, Pope Francis, and just how far down the slippery slope his critics are. Attendance is up in Italian churches.

Francis' message threatens economic hucksters and unreconstructed Cold Warriors. It exposes the men behind the curtain. And they're not kindly, well-meaning old men who are just poor wizards. Last week they were more transparently venal than usual.

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