When the Pope departs from the religious spectrum and addresses political matters in a misguided way, what do the faithful do?
When mainstream media outlets report on issues of religion, usually Christianity and specifically Catholicism, it’s always good to take what they report with a grain of salt. It’s wise to automatically deduct 50 IQ points immediately, because what will follow is usually uninformed and spun to be advantageous to the political left. It was the media, after all, who said Pope Benedict wore green vestments in solidarity with the environmental movement…ignoring that green vestments are the standard color of vestments for the liturgical season of Ordinary Time (which makes up most of the liturgical calendar).
This same axiom applies to the current Pope Francis, and his statements. Yet, there’s a far more troubling trend here. Whereas the media did not like Pope Benedict – as evidenced by their breathless pearl-clutching on him being a Nazi (he wasn’t), among other things – Pope Francis certainly gives them more ammo for their leftist arsenal with minimal effort on the media’s part. Pope Francis has made many statements that are both troubling and disheartening to Catholics who lean conservative on the political spectrum. His most recent target is, again, libertarianism.
This is not a new thing. In an article from The Week, Elizabeth Stoker writes that the Pope’s advisor, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, is correct when he says libertarianism is incompatible with Catholicism. “The elimination of the structural causes for poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed… The hungry or sick child of the poor cannot wait… Many of these libertarianists do not read the social doctrine of the church,” said the Cardinal in a speech back in 2014. Kevin D. Williamson, writing at National Review, took this stance to task. Pope Francis is in stark contrast to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who battled communism after living under it for most of his life.
Writing at Reason, Stephanie Slade says (emphasis added):
I don’t doubt for a second that Pope Francis cares deeply about the least of his brothers and sisters. But I deny that his chosen prescriptions would do anything but make the problem worse. This is not a bad time to be reminded that popes aren’t infallible, according to Catholic doctrine—instead, they are possessed of the ability to deliver infallible teachings on matters of faith and morals. As I pointed out in my piece, “In practice, such ‘definitive acts,’ in which a pope makes clear he’s teaching ‘from the chair’ of Jesus, are almost vanishingly rare.” Arguably, though, the pope’s remarks today to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences do pertain to faith and morals. He seems to be arguing that an outlook that places the individual above “the common good” is morally suspect.
Stoker says that Catholicism recognizes no personal property rights, and that’s wrong. The Church teaches that private property is derived from nature, not man. In the Catechism (#2402), private property is considered “legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs” and the Second Vatican Council (“Vatican II”) confirmed in Gaudium et Spes (71) that “private property or some ownership of external goods confers on everyone a sphere wholly necessary for the autonomy of the person and family, and it should be regarded as an extension of human freedom” (emphasis added).
History is full of examples of the state – the thing that Pope Francis wants to use to end structural poverty – not only extending and worsening poverty (look at Venezuela), but of systematically and intentionally undermining and destroying the Catholic Church and killing its priests and faithful for opposing the state (as well as any others who opposed or threatened the state). Marx – Communism’s father – called religion the “opiate of the masses,” and states like the Soviet Union and modern North Korea, took Marx’s view to heart and destroyed religious dissenters. There are also plenty of examples of the state actively working to stop individuals and religious organizations from performing duties to the poor, including regulating shelters out of operation, and destroying food meant for the poor and hungry because it wasn’t properly licensed.
Pope Francis’ attacks on libertarianism also contradict Catholic teaching regarding subsidiarity, and the personal, private nature of charity. Forced charity – the kind that comes from government – isn’t actual charity. It is laziness, and passes the burden for caring for the “least of these” on to others. It allows us to shirk our Christian responsibility to our fellow man in favor of letting Leviathan bureaucracies do the heavy lifting for us. Charity, after all, is defined as “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity” and government fails on that front. Libertarianism is not at odds with collectivism or community – it just rejects that those two concepts be defined or controlled by the state. Collectivism and community should be a voluntary relationship between people. It’s almost as if the Pope and his advisors have no knowledge of libertarianism beyond Ayn Randian stereotypes.
What does a faithful Catholic do when they are also politically libertarian? It certainly is difficult to see the Holy Father take your political ideology to task, especially when that ideology is formed by your faith. After all, many Democrats are open statists who love abortion – in fact, they’ve made supporting it a requirement for anyone who wants to run for office – and many Republicans are stupid statists in their own right. A philosophy that allows us to live and share of our time, talent, and treasure free from oppressive government is therefore more compatible than either of the two divisive political parties. It’s hard not to feel unwelcome in the Catholic Church now, when the Pope works as a mediator in Venezuela – where the people are poor and starving in a nation that was once thriving and prosperous – but calls the “invasion” of libertarianism a “grave risk” and “fallacious paradigm” that “minimizes the common good.”
This writer certainly has her doubts about her place in the Church these days. Why should I – and individuals who think like I do – bother when we’re treated with such disdain? I’ve been reminded on Twitter that Popes come and go, but the Church remains. And it’s true there have been more disastrous Popes in the past (although they, and the faithful, benefited from a lack of social media). I’ve gotten offers to jump ship to different denominations – they’re kind, but I’m a convert to Catholicism for a reason. I have a great parish priest who has been a source of wisdom and comfort through personal troubles. I have good friends who are Catholic and – now that my youngest is going to begin Sunday school this fall – I will have time to get involved with my parish again, maybe as a Catechist myself. And I remember that this past Sunday, my middle son made his First Communion. His understanding of that significant milestone is beautifully simple: that’s Jesus he’s receiving. That’s what brought his family together for him this weekend, and that’s what should keep libertarian Catholics like me returning to Mass each week.
On top of that, we should be driven to act. The driving force of libertarianism is the individual over the state, and this should compel us to work as individuals and a group to prove to the Pope we do, in fact, practice the charity he claims we lack, toward the common good in a way that gives more people access to liberty and prosperity.