Pope Francis is Wrong about Money, Poverty, and Justice

Pope Francis has received numerous accolades from the faithful. One area where Pope Francis gets poor marks is in economics.

It’s hard to take economic advice from someone who has taken a vow of poverty, never owned a business, and lives off the donations of people who have not taken a vow of poverty and who own and/or work for businesses that make it possible for the Vatican, College of Cardinals, and the Roman Catholic Church in general to operate.

In his Te Deum homily, Cardinal Bergoglio, Pope Francis, told the story of Zacchaeus who is described as a “chief” or “head”  tax-collector and “rich” (Luke 19:1–10). The Pope called on Christians everywhere to find the Zacchaeus in all of us.

Zacchaeus was employed by the Roman government. He made his money from taxing people beyond what Rome required. He kept anything that Rome did not demand of the people being taxed. Being the “chief tax collector,” it’s most likely that he got a piece of the action of the tax collectors who worked under him. That’s what made him rich. He was a government agent and a thief. He had a spiritual problem.

When Zacchaeus met Jesus and heard His message, he repented and was willing to pay a four-fold restitution to those he defrauded. Businesses don’t tax people. Governments do. You and I don’t have the governmental authority to extract money from people. Very few of us have anything in common with Zacchaeus unless we’ve used government power to defraud people.

If you’re a politician who votes for a progressive income tax, then you’re a Zacchaeus.

Joseph of Arimathea was also a “rich man” (Matt. 27:57) and is described as “a good and righteous man” (Luke 23:50). Being rich is not a sin. Being a thief and using government authority and power to steal in the name of “social justice” for the poor is a crime.

The liberal National Catholic Reporter says that Bergoglio, Pope Francis, “has supported the social justice ethos of Latin American Catholicism, including a robust defense of the poor.” I’m all for defending the poor. In fact, I want people who empower the Zacchaeuss of our world to be stripped of their power. Justice needs an objective standard. “Though shalt not steal” is a law that applies to the free market, the State, the rich, and the poor.

The National Catholic Reporter went on to quote Cardinal Bergoglio approvingly:

“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least. The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.

“The former Cardinal placed a strong emphasis on the distribution of wealth, not the creation of it. Spiritually he places emphasis on identification with the poor and the spiritual benefits of living a life of poverty.”

Money (capital) is not the deciding factor in determining whether people will prosper. Capital, as David Chilton writes, “did not just spring out of nowhere.” Some nations have very little in the way of natural resources (e.g., Japan) and yet outperform nations that have an abundance of natural resources. Why? Economics P.T. Bauer offers a number of reasons:

  • lack of interest in material advance, combined with resignation in the face of poverty;
  • lack of initiative, self-reliance and a sense of personal responsibility for the economic future of oneself and one’s family;
  • high leisure preference, together with a lassitude often found in tropical climates;
  • relatively high prestige of passive or contemplative life compared to active life;
  • the prestige of mysticism and of renunciation of the world compared to acquisition and achievement;
  • acceptance of a preordained, unchanging and unchangeable universe;
  • emphasis on performance of duties and acceptance of obligations, rather than on achievement of results, or assertion or even a recognition of personal rights;
  • lack of sustained curiosity, experimentation and interest in change;
  • belief in the efficacy of supernatural and occult forces and of their influence over one’s destiny;
  • insistence on the unity of the organic universe, and on the need to live with nature rather than conquer it or harness it to man’s needs, an attitude of which reluctance to take animal life is a corollary;
  • belief in personal reincarnation, which reduces the significance of effort in the course of the present life;
  • recognized status of beggary, together with a lack of stigma in the acceptance of charity;
  • opposition to women’s work outside the household.1

Liberalism — feel-good liberalism, guilt-ridden liberalism — believes that wealth redistribution is the answer. In reality, poverty is “aggravated by foreign aid and irresponsible charity.” It’s also aggravated by American-style wealth redistribution schemes that mainly keep the poor impoverished.

  1. P. T. Bauer, Dissent on Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971, 1976), 78–79. Gary North quotes this same list of anti-development attitudes in his essay “Free Market Capitalism” published in Robert G. Clouse, Wealth and Poverty: Four Christian Views of Economics (Downers Grove, IN: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 50. Quoted in David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulation, 3rd ed.  (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, [1911] 1985), 219. []