Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

Pope Francis & Rush Limbaugh

12-08-2013Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Pope Francis' new apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Gospel of Joy) apparently has brought not joy but irritation to some. The exhortation covers a lot of ground as it is some 200 pages most of it reiterating long-standing Church teaching on issues such as the sanctity of human, life, marriage and the family. That in itself irritated those who were hoping for the Pope to change some of these teachings. Not happening. But the bigger irritation was caused by the Pope's critic of capitalism and free-markets.

Apparently this caused radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh to throw a spittle-flecked hissy fit. While I'm not a listener (because I can't take the anger that the show gives off) I usually admire Rush's logical way of making his case. But this time I think he got it wrong or at least Pope Francis' vision wrong. One of the problems with the text of the Apostolic Exhortation is the questionable quality of the English translation. There is no official Latin version of the text so it looks like it was written in Spanish and translated from Spanish into English. As we learned from our study of the new translation of the Roman Missal translations can subtly change the meaning of a text or at least not express the original intention of the author clearly.

Here's the Spanish text:

54. En este contexto, algunos todavía defienden las teorías del «derrame», que suponen que todo crecimiento económico, favorecido por la libertad de mercado, logra provocar por sí mismo mayor equidad e inclusión social en el mundo.

And the official English text:

"In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world."

The problem lies in the translation of the phrase "por si mismo", it shows up in the English text as "inevitable" but is better translated as "by itself". Hence:

"In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will by itself succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world."

So despite what Rush Limbaugh claimed the Pope is not condemning capitalism or free markets nor endorsing socialism. He rather is calling our attention to the fact that societies need a variety of policies to make sure that economies operate fairly. A free market economy just won't do that on its own but needs some interventions. But most of all Pope Francis is challenging all of us to remember that the work of justice requires our own individual efforts. In other words we can't leave it up to nor be content with allowing the economy to magically take care of the poor or disadvantaged in our societies. So things like social welfare programs are at times needed at least temporarily. But more important still is the work of charity that we all must engage.

Anyway maybe that's more than you would want to know but this little section of the letter entitled, "No to an Economy of Exclusion" has caused lots of confusion and misunderstanding and set commentators heads spinning. That of course is unfortunate since the Pope's intention was to steer us away from the negativity that so often marks our lives and to challenge us to engage the joy of the Gospel that offers hope and a positive vision for human flourishing.

The modern Popes from Leo XII on have all written about the economy, the most complete being John Paul II's Centesimus Annus. All have rejected communism and clearly stated that the Gospel is incompatible with socialism. That being said the teaching of the Popes on economic matters is always in the context of morality: how ought we to organize our society so that it is more reflective of Biblical values which envisions a just sharing by all in the world's resources? Sometimes it is hard for us in America to handle criticism of capitalism but we should remember that while we so often benefit in many places in the world there has been no "trickle-down". I think that is the perspective Pope Francis has.

If you want to study more about integrating biblical principles with free-market principles the Acton Institute is an excellent resource (

Love, Fr. John B.

P.S. To help our economy at OLMC please use Gift Cards from our Food for Thought Program for your Christmas Shopping.