Pope Francis gave another shoot interview (1), and already everyone is screaming. The Pope endorses moral relativism! The Pope says we should no longer try to bring people to Christ and His Church! The Pope says unemployment is a bigger evil than abortion! I'm not going to focus on the first two. Fr. Z covers the first one sufficiently. As for the other, the only people who really think that are those who have never actually done apologetics or evangelizing to begin with. (Hint, if your goal in these endeavors is to convert people, you are going to have a really low rate of success. I will probably expand on this later) It is the third one I have an interest in.
This is the following statement everyone seems to be freaking out about.
The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don't even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crashed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.
Your Holiness, I say, it is a largely a political and economic problem for states, governments, political parties, trade unions.
"Yes, you are right, but it also concerns the Church, in fact, particularly the Church because this situation does not hurt only bodies but also souls. The Church must feel responsible for both souls and bodies."Everyone seems to be focusing a lot on the bolded part, and, par for the course, ignoring everything else quoted. He's talking to an atheist. He says that at this moment, the biggest danger is not just unemployment and loneliness, but rather what they signify. What good is a society if they can't take care of their elderly, and also cannot provide any hope for the future? Everyone is stuck in the tyranny of the present, which is a very nasty and brutish tyranny. When Peter gave the Gospel, he didn't call for people to save themselves from events that already happened or from the world to come, but to save ourselves "from this wicked and perverse generation." (Acts 2:40) The world hasn't changed much in 2,000 years. If all we have to live for is the present, then things pretty much suck for the young and the old. Society has always mitigated that by providing for the elderly, and offering hope for the young that they can advance.
That really isn't the case anymore. (If it ever was to begin with.) The Global Financial Collapse of 2008 changed everything. Unemployment has become nearly permanent for the youth, and across the globe the elderly have mostly been abandoned by their families. (Or worse yet, euthanasia.) To make things worse, the young and the elderly realize this. My generation isn't optimistic about the future. They are downright dystopian about it, because for many of them, there isn't any hope to advance in their life. As many governments have enacted austerity in the wake of the crisis, the elderly have frequently been a casualty, as their personhood is reduced to numbers in an acturial table. If you happen to be elderly and poor, well good luck.
In such a situation, it is next to impossible for the Gospel to take root. People won't look to an eternal home when they don't have much a chance of surviving in the present. Many will say this isn't the Churches business, as these are primarily political and economic concerns, not those of the Church which are spiritual. Francis rightly rejects this line of thought, insisting that the damage unleashed by these forces impacts not just bodies and political states, but first and foremost it impacts souls. In these words, one finds an echo of Leo XIII in that most splendid of papal encyclicals, Rerum Novarum.
Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect their temporal and earthly interests. Her desire is that the poor, for example, should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and better their condition in life; and for this she makes a strong endeavor. By the fact that she calls men to virtue and forms them to its practice she promotes this in no slight degree. Christian morality, when adequately and completely practiced, leads of itself to temporal prosperity, for it merits the blessing of that God who is the source of all blessings; it powerfully restrains the greed of possession and the thirst for pleasure -- twin plagues, which too often make a man who is void of self-restraint miserable in the midst of abundance; it makes men supply for the lack of means through economy, teaching them to be content with frugal living, and further, keeping them out of the reach of those vices which devour not small incomes merely, but large fortunes, and dissipate many a goodly inheritance.Mankind has abandoned the Gospel, and as a result, has abandoned the things which society depends on. Secular society has tried for centuries to come up with an alternative to the Church in promoting the welfare of society. So far, it has failed miserably. This is becuase the Catholic Church has a unique experience in this manner. She has rich and poor members, and must always look out for their well being, even (and especially) when governments don't. Leo spends paragraphs 27-42 talking about how the Church more or less achieved this balance throughout history, and offered suggestions for how nation states could do the same. (Go ahead, read them. Seriously. If you take nothing else from this rant, take Leo XIII's words!)
Here's the depressing part, and something I don't think Catholics have really come to terms with. One of the reasons the Church was able to be such a balance was because she had extensive networks built up throughout society to help the poor, restrain the avarice of the rich, and use a leveling power to bring the two together. Almost all of those institutions are gone due to the Crisis in the Church of the last five decades. Nobody can afford them anymore. In other manners of social assistance, even most Catholics are free to let the welfare state help the poor instead of their own networks. Here in America, the last bastions of those old networks (Catholic hospitals) are now faced with closing their doors unless they violate their religious belief. As these institutions have disappeared, so has the Churches moral voice in society. Without that voice, the state has only been too happy to substitute its own wisdom, and the results ain't too pretty. Is it any wonder that such a nasty and brutish society has abortion as its primary sacrament? Is it any wonder that in such a society, the primary target of the world is the nuclear family, the only institution that can begin to fix this mess? Communism and materialism haven't fixed these problems, they've only made them worse.
I don't know if this is the Pope's message or not. I also am not going to say I am optimistic about what can be accomplished by this Pope. (Hint: Even a fantastic superpope is only going to make a small dent in this problem. Leo XIII could be credibly called one of those, and the problem he saw coming in the 1890's came anyways.) I do think he has a keener understanding of socities problems than many are giving him credit for.
---- 1.) In Pro Wrestling, a "shoot" interview is where somebody breaks from the script and says what is really on their mind.