New York Times religion reporter Laurie Goodstein took a strange angle on Pope Francis's upcoming visit to the United States in her front-page report Sunday, using the liberal pontiff's first trip to America to bash American-style capitalist hegemony and the country's supposedly arrogant, insular view of itself -- "Francis Is Coming to America After Avoiding It for 78 Years."
Goodstein assured readers that the Pope "is not opposed to all America represents. But he is troubled by privileged people and nations that consume more than their share and turn their backs on the vulnerable. The message he will probably deliver when he comes, they say, is that the United States has been blessed with great gifts, but that from those to whom much is given, much is expected."
....When he travels this month to Washington, New York and Philadelphia, the visit will be his first to the United States. Both of his most recent predecessors, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, traveled to the United States before rising to the papacy. Other Catholic prelates from around the world have come for fund-raisers, speaking engagements or global Catholic events, like World Youth Day in Denver in 1993.
But Francis, a former archbishop of Buenos Aires, had steered clear of the United States, which has the world’s fourth-largest Roman Catholic population. Something of a homebody, preferring to hang out with the poor than the rich and powerful, he has waited until 78 to visit the economic giant that likes to think of itself as the center of everything.
Goodstein showed some Strange New Respect to this particular powerful religious figure, whose general distrust of money-making and nationalism must resonate with liberal Times' staffers. Certainly more than the philosophy of Francis's predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, whom the Times treated with disdain.
Those who have known Francis, both before and after he became pope, say the reasons for his absence have everything to do with his distinctive identity. He is a Latin American critical of the United States’ economic and political hegemony, a Jesuit of Italian ancestry who looks more to Europe than to North America, a Spanish speaker who is not all that comfortable speaking English, and a pastor who disdains “airport bishops” -- his term for prelates who spend more time jetting around the globe than serving in their dioceses.
He is not opposed to all America represents. But he is troubled by privileged people and nations that consume more than their share and turn their backs on the vulnerable. The message he will probably deliver when he comes, they say, is that the United States has been blessed with great gifts, but that from those to whom much is given, much is expected.
That's the point where a conservative would point out that in a free market system those "gifts" are actually earned, not passively divvied by a higher body, as in a socialist or communist regime. Of course, no such inconvenient figures appear in Goodstein's report, only representatives of the Catholic hard-left.
“I think what he criticizes in the U.S. is the absolute freedom and autonomy of the market,” said the Rev. Juan Carlos Scannone, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Colegio Máximo, a prominent Jesuit college near Buenos Aires. He taught the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would become Francis, as a seminarian and became a friend. “We should admire the U.S.’s democracy and the well-being of its people, but what Bergoglio would criticize is the consumerism: that everything is geared toward consumerism.”
Francis has long been troubled by what some Argentines of his generation call “savage capitalism.” They see the United States as the home of mining companies and agribusinesses that chew up natural resources, as the military power that propped up dictators during the Cold War and as the neighbor that tries to close its border to migrants fleeing hunger and violence.
Goodstein quoted Rev. Richard Ryscavage of Fairfield University who invited us to see Pope Francis “in the context of many Latin Americans who see the United States as really a problem, not actually a positive force in the world.”
He has also frequently denounced a global economic system that values “profit at any price,” and a colonialist structure that “reduces poor countries to mere providers of raw material and cheap labor” -- a critique widely interpreted to include the United States.
Goodstein devoted precisely two words to the Pope's socially conservative stances:
And many Americans relate to Francis. In a poll conducted last month by the Public Religion Research Institute, two-thirds had a favorable view of him. Polls also reveal, however, that he has work to do to persuade Catholics to adopt his views on combating climate change, ending abortion and welcoming immigrants.
But for a pope who speaks through his gestures, his itinerary in the United States conveys his message. After Francis addresses a joint meeting of Congress in Washington on Sept. 24, he will be driven directly to a lunch with homeless, mentally ill and immigrant clients of Catholic Charities, which will be held under tents set up on a street. Instead of lunching with legislators in the halls of power, he will break bread with the poor.