Monday, January 27, 2014

To Fox News on Pope Francis: Every Disagreement Is Not a War

Adam Shaw, an editor for, a self-identified Catholic who writes about Anglo-American and Catholic issues, posted to Fox News’ site last week his take on Pope Francis and capitalism, Pope Francis' War on Aspiration.

Here follows my response to Mr. Shaw.  Fox’s site doesn’t allow for comments, so you won’t see it there.  But I did send it to Mr. Shaw as an e-mail.  I have yet to receive a response.

In your post, you say, "The pope’s snub of the struggle for prosperity is a typically derisive attitude toward the American quest for self-development, and an attitude that is often encountered among rich European liberals, or, in this case, clergymen who have not had to work to provide a better life for their families."

While your next paragraph clarifies that you focus on the family part (as opposed to the "Clergymen who have not had to work" part), the facts suggest otherwise when it comes to whether this pope 'had to work' or not, knows privation or not:
1.  The Pope was born in the 1930's.
2.  He has described his own family's loss of everything during that time, in which his own father had no money and no job prospects.
3.  He worked as a janitor and a bouncer, as well as a chemical factory worker before entering seminary.
Not a Catholic myself, I am no defender of the Pope as pope.  But to dismiss his thoughts and views because he does not have children to support, while perhaps noteworthy, is not dispositive.  Even you do not think so, or you would not study the teachings of anyone who did not share your own life experiences, which would mean that you could not be a Christian, Jesus himself having not had (at least to our knowledge) a family himself.

Did he have 'credentials' necessary to speak about that which he did not know from personal experience?  The problem I see is in your logic more than in your own personal conclusions.  Agree with him; disagree with him, but it's problematic, I think, to dismiss Pope Francis because he does not have the life experiences you deem necessary from which to draw.

You then accuse him of 'blundering in', implying that his writings on capitalism, socialism and poverty arise in a vacuum of ignorance.

Consider, please, that the very dismissal you accuse him of you do yourself:  ignoring his context as you say he has ignored yours.  This pope is a man of South America.  Liberation theology, coming specifically out of the Central and South American context, did not arise in a vacuum.  It arose out of the context of massive exploitation of the peoples there economically, socially, politically and spiritually.  This pope speaks the language of liberation theology, a theology that is explicitly about experience.  His people have experienced capitalism first hand in a radically different way that we living in North America have.  It is from that context that he makes his conclusions.  They need not be yours.  But dismissive insults do little to further the dialogue.

Further along, you state, "Yet it is those evil capitalist Catholics who pay for the churches, fund the hospitals, the schools, the soup kitchens and everything else that allows the Church to actually help the poor."

I have to admit that one stunned me.  Having visited Catholic churches around the world, I have observed every stripe of believer, from every type of country with every type of government, contributing to the church and its work.  That includes 'capitalist Catholics', but it also includes non-capitalist Catholics.  To infer that somehow, the Catholics of the United States (which was how I 'heard' what you said) are THE source of the wealth and largess of the Catholic church is to (a) ignore history -- a whole lot of that wealth is compounding interest on the investments of centuries and (b) succumb to the pride of the wealthy -- where would you be without me?  (as a citizen in these United States, I consider myself to be one of the wealthy, so I'm speaking from inside the ball park here).

Finally, your closing quote, "Francis must stop making broad judgmental statements about those striving for success and bring himself back into conformity with Catholic social teaching and reality."  makes me smile -- sadly, but smiling I am.

'Francis must . . . bring himself back into conformity with Catholic social teaching' -- what on earth are you talking about?  I, for one, would really like to know.  You're surely not referring to Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement.  Or the Nuns on the Bus.  Or the Berrigan brothers.  Or Oscar Romero.  Or Gutierrez.  Or Lech Walesa.  Or St. Francis himself.  Or Claire.  Or virtually any of the medieval monastics, who themselves eschewed wealth.  So really, what 'teaching' are you referring to?

You call the pope back to 'reality'.  What I hear (and this is speculation on my part, admittedly) is a young man in a capitalistic country who feels personally attacked by the words of the principal spiritual as well as earthly leader of his faith.

As a person of faith myself, might I offer some unsolicited advice (trust me, it's biblical):  when something said by another of faith makes me angry or uncomfortable, my first steps should not be to tell them why they're wrong.  My first steps should be self-examination (think plank and mote here), as I ask myself why these words spark such a negative response in me and seek out my own fault.  It's perhaps the hardest thing for any human being, including we Christians to do:  to intentionally engage in a wee dose of humility.

Because you are a fellow Christian and because you have such a broad public venue for your own thoughts and musings, I beseech you to do that work first.  It might just take you to a different place.

I know it smacks of pride on my part to presuppose that you haven't prayed, meditated, reflected, listened, etc. before coming to and publishing these thoughts of yours.  I make that inference based not on what you said, but based on what you didn't say, for you did not say anything about his context, except in dismissive tones.  You did not say anything about the southern (hemisphere) context out of which he comes.  You did not acknowledge the journey, let alone the autonomy and context, of the other.

I pray that in future, you will.

Yours in Christ,
Beth Pyles

[And what I didn't say then]  This should have been the main point rather than a post-script.  My lapse.

Living in the United States and having a job, family or no family to support, puts you and I ahead of a healthy percentage of the world's population.  It is, may I gently suggest, a bit presumptuous for either you or I to speak 'on behalf of'' the poor or identify ourselves as such, as you at least implicitly do when you refer to your challenges in providing for your family.  That is not to say you don't have challenges.  It is to say that those challenges are nowhere near the challenges of poverty and it is less than honest to say or think that they are.  That life may be difficult does not make one a victim.  That life's difficulties are unjust and threaten to take away life itself does.

Alas, and not surprising, a quick Google search revealed no quotes, comments, articles, blog posts, or analyses of Pope Francis' take on economics by anyone who is actually poor.  I wonder what they make of your Pope?


  1. Bravo, Beth. Personally, I think Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air to Christians the world over. This post is very enlightening, and I can only hope that Mr. Shaw reads every word.

    I block all of FoxNews on my Google news site... and refused to watch Fox on cable when I had it. Some of what I've heard about their commentators/editors, etc. - like Mr. Shaw's article - give Christianity a bad name.

    Keep up the good work!

    Peace and love,

    1. Marilyn, Thanks! Defensive reactions are always a good reminder to me to check my own as well -- I continue to be surprised at the level of anger aimed at this pope by certain practicing Catholics in the public realm. Hope they'll be moved to self-examination as well. Peace out, Beth