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Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 27, 2023
Pope Francis greets the crowd during the general audience on Oct. 13, 2021, at the Vatican (CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

“I do not condemn capitalism in the way some attribute to me. Nor am I against the market [economy],” Pope Francis stated in El Pastor, a new book by the Argentine journalists Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin just published in Buenos Aires. “Rather,” he explained, “I am in favor of what John Paul II defined as a social economy of the market. This implies the presence of a regulatory authority [‘pata reguladora’], that is the state, which should mediate between the parties. It is a table with three legs: the state, capital, and work.”

“In no part of the Bible is there a commandment to produce poverty,” Pope Francis stated. He explained that the beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit” means “the person who is not attached to riches.” But, he added, “in no way is it bad to produce wealth for the good of all,” indeed, “to produce it is an act of justice. And for that justice to be complete, it has to be distributive.”

The book, El Pastor: Desafios, razones y reflexiones de Francisco sobre su pontificado” (The Pastor: Challenges, reasons and reflections of Francis on his pontificate) reviews many of the main issues to which Francis devoted his attention over the first 10 years of his pontificate, which will mark its anniversary on March 13.

“I do not condemn capitalism in the way some attribute to me. Nor am I against the market [economy],” Pope Francis stated in El Pastor, a new book by two Argentine journalists.

Pope Francis clarified his position on the economy—a position that has been misunderstood by many commentators, especially in the United States—in conversations with the Mr. Rubin and Ms. Ambrogetti, who wrote the first interview-based book with him, titled El Jesuita, when he was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires and which became a best-seller when he was elected pope. This new book reviews several of the main events of this pontificate, enriched by the conversations of the journalists with Pope Francis over these past 10 years.

In the book, Francis identified the bigger problem with today’s economy as speculation in the financial world. “In a certain way, capitalism is almost a thing of the past,” Francis said. “Of course, one thing is the saving, the investment that is so important for production and for the creation of employment. But speculation is another thing that, in my opinion, is like the [contagious disease] of saving and investment (el sarampión del ahorro y la inversión).”

Pope Francis repeated what he has said many times before: “The devil enters through the pocket, corruption begins with money, and with money consciences are bought.” He said this also happened in the church, “to say it in a clear way, in the I.O.R. [the Vatican bank] I had to cut off heads.”

He affirmed that state aid to the unemployed should be such as “to not affect the culture of work,” emphasizing that “work gives dignity to people.”

“It is one thing to live from charity and another to earn one’s living with one’s own effort,” the pope said.

Pope Francis repeated what he has said many times before: “The devil enters through the pocket, corruption begins with money, and with money consciences are bought.”

Francis remarked that “the middle class is is in extinction in many countries” and recalled that in the past this social group included “the worker who had a job and wanted his son to go on to study.” But, he noted, this aspiration has become more complicated “when there is a brake on social mobility.”

In addition to economic themes, Francis also spoke about the defense of life, abortion, the family, migration, politics, care of our common home, trade unions, the impact of the reform of the Roman Curia, the opposition to his leadership in the church, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

In the book, Francis responded to allegations frequently made against him in Argentina by political operatives or in the media and flatly denied that he was a Peronist. “I was never affiliated to the Peronist party, nor was I a militant or sympathizer of Peronism,” he said. “To affirm that is a lie.”

At the same time, he raised the question: “But what is bad about having a Peronist conception of politics?” To those who accuse him of receiving many Peronists in audience in the Vatican, Francis responded: “I received them, and I also receive everyone. But, sometimes, there are some who make political gain out of this.” He mentioned the example of one candidate for political office who attended his Mass in Santa Marta and afterward asked if he could have a photo with him. Francis said he agreed on condition he would not exploit the photo. The man assured him he only wanted it to share with his family. Afterward, however, he said photos of their meeting were plastered across Buenos Aires as part of the candidate’s political campaign.

Pope Francis revealed that he has “no fear of death” but said, “I ask God when the hour comes that what happens does not pain me.”

Many have wondered why Francis has visited 60 countries over the past 10 years but has never visited his homeland. But when the two journalists raised this question with him, the pope responded that a visit is still on his agenda. “The proposal to visit Argentina is still valid; it’s not right to say that I do not want to go,” the pope said. He recalled that he had planned to visit Argentina, Uruguay and Chile in November 2017 but he had to cancel that because of elections in Chile.

Asked about fact that some sectors of the church reject persons who declare themselves to be homosexuals, Pope Francis said, “To those who suffer the rejection of the church, I let them know that it is a rejection by persons of the church.”

Responding to questions about the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, Francis said such abuse “is not only a crime but a very serious crime that does irreparable damage and requires severe condemnation.” He said: “the process [to combat it] that started in the church before my election is producing results,” noting that the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on clerical sex abuse published in 2018 “detected few cases after 2002.”

In the book, he again confirmed that he had written a letter of resignation soon after his election that would take effect “if I was to suffer an infirmity that prevented me from continuing [my ministry as pope].” Pope Francis, moreover, revealed that he has “no fear of death” but said, “I ask God when the hour comes that what happens does not pain me.”

Mr. Rubin and Ms. Ambrogetti had asked Pope Francis what he thought the profile of the next pope should be. He said, “I responded without hesitation: a pastor.”

In the introduction to this 352-page book, Pope Francis praised the two journalists for their “perseverance.” He recalled that Mr. Rubin and Ms. Ambrogetti asked him to do interviews for the first book, El Jesuita,in 2001, but at first, he was not convinced; they had to wait many years to get his agreement. Trust then developed between them, and so when he became pope in 2013, they again asked him to work on a follow-up book, and El Pastor is the result.

Francis recalled that earlier, when he was about to be made cardinal in 2001, Mr. Rubin and Ms. Ambrogetti had asked him what he thought the profile of the next pope should be. He said, “I responded without hesitation: a pastor.” He added, “It was difficult to imagine at that moment that 12 years later, I would become that pastor!”

He explained that to be a pastor means “to be the one who is at the head of the people to indicate the way, in the midst of the people to live their experience, and behind the people to help the stragglers and, sometimes, to respect their intuition for finding the best pastures.”

Pope Francis added: “This is what I have tried to do since I was ordained a priest and in these years of the pontificate, always with the firm purpose of being faithful to God and to the church and helpful to Catholics and to all people of good will. By explaining, proposing, listening, asking pardon when appropriate, and serving. And fundamentally, always, with the closeness of heart. And throughout all these years, by means of the Holy Spirit, peace never left me.”

(Translation from the Spanish by the author, based on extracts of the book that were available at time of writing)

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