Why Pope Francis wants us to stop worshipping capitalism


GWEN IFILL: Pope Francis’ upcoming visit to the U.S. next week is generating huge interest and expectation.

Part of that excitement is rooted in the different tone the pope has taken on a number of issues, from marriage to the role of women in the church. But he has also issued a tough critique of capitalism and called for more action on climate change.

We kick off our coverage of the pope’s trip, which will continue all next week, with a look at those issues from our economics correspondent Paul Solman.

The Economy Kills

SINCE HIS ELECTION IN 2013, Pope Francis has been widely praised. But in this interview, conducted by Italian journalists Andrea Tornielli and Giacomo Galeazzi before the release of the encyclical “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis speaks about the environment and economic justice; his perspectives on these topics have elicited harsh criticism from some.

How important is it for Christians to recover a sense of care for creation and sustainable development? And how do we ensure that this is not confused with a certain environmentalist ideology that considers humanity the real threat for the well-being of our planet?

Pope Francis: For the protection of creation we must overcome the culture of waste. Creation is the gift that God has given to humanity so it can be protected, cultivated, used for our livelihood, and handed over to future generations. The vocation to take care of someone or something is human, before being Christian, and affects all; we are called to care for creation, its beauty, and to respect all creatures of God and the environment in which we live. If we fail in this responsibility, if we do not take care of our brothers and sisters and of all creation, destruction will advance. Unfortunately, we must remember that every period of history has its own “Herods” who destroy, plot schemes of death, disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation.

But when humanity, instead of being custodian, considers itself to be the master, it ... moves toward destruction.

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Once Pope Francis Knows U.S. Capitalism He Will Love It, Says Catholic Theologian-Economist

Photo via giulio napolitano /

Photo via giulio napolitano /

The Rev. Martin Schlag is a trained economist as well as a Catholic moral theologian, and when he first read some of Pope Francis’ powerful critiques of the current free market system he had the same thought a lot of Americans did: “Just horrible.”

But at a meeting on May 11 at the Harvard Club, Schlag, an Austrian-born priest who teaches economics at an Opus Dei-run university in Rome, reassured a group of Catholics, many from the world of business and finance, that Francis’ views on capitalism aren’t actually as bad as he feared.

Turning Money Into Media

AS ICE CREAM entrepreneurs, Jerry and I have been on a journey that has led us squarely to the conclusion that, while there are many ways that a business can use its power to improve people’s quality of life, the most effective lever for economic and social justice is the government.

Business can use its voice to influence government for good. But too often big corporations use the system of unlimited political “donations”—a system that John McCain calls “legalized bribery”—to skew the government in favor of their own narrow self-interest. That’s why I’m devoting my time and treasure to hacking at a root cause of injustice: big money in politics and crony capitalism.

A nationwide poll of small-business owners commissioned by Small Business Majority found more than three-fourths (77 percent) of small employers say big businesses have a significant impact on government decisions and the political process, whereas a mere 24 percent say small businesses have a significant impact on the process.

The same poll shows 85 percent of small-business owners (the real “job creators”) support efforts to get big money out of politics. This is consistent with other polls that say 80 percent of Americans—Republicans, Democrats, and independents—agree there is too much money being spent to influence elections and lawmakers.

People are right to view their representatives askance. A recent study affirmed that having money does, in fact, lead to increased access and influence in Washington. Researchers found that representatives were more likely to meet with people donating money than with a regular constituent, and laws were more likely to reflect wealthy special interests rather than the public interest.

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COMMENTARY: Free Market Compensation or a Rigged System?

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

In a marketplace unfettered by ethical restraint, a sense of duty, concern for others, or even basic shame, 25 hedge fund managers gave themselves a 50 percent pay boost in 2013.

Never mind that hedge funds’ performance, on average, tanked for the fifth consecutive year.

These 25 men wanted big bucks, so they took them: a total of $21 billion. All for managing wealth that someone else created and, except for a few, not managing it particularly well.

The top earner paid himself $3.5 billion for 2013.

Anti-Poverty Efforts Need A Biblical Answer, But It's Not Socialism, Says AEI Panel

Lindsey told The Christian Post that he saw the book as part of his "lifelong passion and calling" to "write biblical theological truth" regarding "personal and public life." Lindsey also told CP that he "came from a more left-oriented perspective, sort of Jim Wallis and Sojourners and Ron Sider." "I still appreciate much of what they taught me, but I think probably the great turning point was reading Michael Novak's book Spirit of Democratic Capitalism and other things that sort of opened my eyes that there was more to the story than what I've been told," said Lindsey.

Asked to Embrace Capitalism, the Dalai Lama Demurs

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, speaks to the American Enterprise Institute. RNS photo: Lauren Markoe

Some of the brightest pro-business minds in the nation prodded the Dalai Lama on Thursday to offer a warm endorsement of capitalism.

But during an appearance by the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the world’s most stalwart and, in conservative circles, respected free enterprise think tanks, they came up short. 

The Dalai Lama was the star participant in a morning of panels on “moral free enterprise” and “human happiness.”

Asked by AEI President Arthur Brooks and Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard whether he agrees that the free enterprise system is the most moral of economic systems, and why he thinks the U.S. is the richest nation on earth, the Dalai Lama answered in broken English with his own question: What do you mean by rich?

Pope Francis' Message For Washington

"Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words" is a quote widely attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It also seems to be the motto of Pope Francis. Instead of just talking about abstract doctrines, he consistently lives out his beliefs in public ways that have grabbed the world's attention. His example of humility, compassion, and authenticity resonate powerfully in Washington, where cynicism is rampant, pride remains even after the proverbial falls, and an ideology of extreme individualism has overtaken a significant faction within our politics.