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Fox News’ Adam Shaw Gets Pope Francis Wrong

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AFP Gabriel Bouys

Daniel Schwindt - published on 01/25/14

Pope Francis is not a Marxist, he's... a Catholic.

Remember the recent kerfuffle about Rush Limbaugh calling Pope Francis a Marxist? And then there was the Fox News piece calling him “the Catholic Church’s Obama.” You probably thought that storm had blown itself out, considering Limbaugh’s prompt backtrack and the fact that no one took Fox’s article too seriously, as it was written by Adam Shaw, whose portfolio as a critic consists mainly of video game reviews.

Unfortunately, we weren’t that lucky. Yesterday Fox News had Shaw back on the case. This time we are told that Pope Francis is declaring outright war on the American Way. The first sentence is all you really need to read to see where things are going:

“Pope Francis has declared war on those who aspire to provide a better life for themselves and their families, expressing the misguided snobbery of a man for whom money has never been an issue.”

It just gets uglier. Soon we’re informed that Francis has a “peculiar dislike for prosperity,” that he harbors a violent “disdain for those who are not content to soak in poverty or to submit to socialism,” and that he is a really just a representative, not of the Magisterium, but of “rich European liberals.” (How he contracted those attitudes all the way from Argentina, we are not told.) Francis’s ignorance, according to Shaw, is also compounded by the fact that he is just another one of those “clergymen who have not had to work to provide a better life for their families.”

Shaw concludes by exhorting the pope to “stop making broad judgmental statements about those striving for success and bring himself back into conformity with Catholic social teaching and reality.”

It always strikes me as bizarre when a confessed Catholic publicly berates the pope about “conformity” with Church teaching. But here we are. So what are we to make of it? Where is this hostility coming from?

First, we have to wonder which sort of “conformity” he is demanding from the pope. Which documents, which popes, which part of the catechism, is Francis contradicting? Shaw is strangely silent on this point. He is more than willing to quote the pope and condemn what he has quoted, but he provides nothing but a brief condemnation of socialism—which Francis gladly affirmed—from the vast body of Catholic social teaching to defend what he says. There are two possibilities here: One is that he hasn’t bothered to read the documents. The other is that he has read them, but found that they offer him no support.  Since I have no way of knowing what Shaw has and hasn’t read, I’ll simply focus on the second possibility, because it is true regardless.

For example, one of Shaw’s main grievances seems to be the notion of “redistribution.” I only say this because of his repeated and violent condemnations of Francis’s “crude and naïve trust in the goodness of politicians to redistribute wealth.” I don’t really know that Francis in any way promotes any sort of inherent goodness in politicians; but if he did use the word “redistribution,” he would only be echoing his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who said in Caritas in Veritate:

“Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.”

Benedict, in fact, uses the term “redistribution” no less than eight times, just in this one encyclical. But perhaps Shaw forgot that, or missed it in his readings.

But then, surely he would know that, redistribution aside, Francis’s other remarks were only echoing John Paul II, who said in Centesimus Annus that justice “demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.” And John Paul II was only echoing Pius XII’s Quadragesimo Anno: “Free competition, however, though justified and quite useful within certain limits, cannot be an adequate controlling principle in economic affairs.”

Pope Francis doesn’t hate the market—he hates market ideology, and the two are very different things. If you miss that, you’ll misinterpret everything he says and does, and in doing that you’ll lose a valuable and loving pope. Don’t let the media noise rob you of that gift.

G.K. Chesterton said that “The Catholic Church is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” That’s all the Pope is doing. That’s all every pope seeks to do.

Daniel Schwindt is an independent scholar who works and lives as a contemporary peasant in central Kansas. He is the author of The Pursuit of Sanity.

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