The Course of Reason

Why the Pope is Unlikely to Do Anything That Will Help the Poor

March 22, 2013

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I wouldn't be much of an atheist blogger if I didn't write anything about the new head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis. The news that Pope Francis is a man who staunchly opposes gay marriage, and holds a (generally) conservative view of the world is just about as shocking as stating, "the Earth rotates around the Sun". To anyone surprised that the Church didn't use this opportunity to move towards becoming a more progressive institution I would ask, "Why?"

Pope Francis smiling

There's not a whole lot to say on the gay marriage issue, nothing that wouldn't be a rehash of statements about the Church's stance on this issue that have already been said over and over a thousand times.

Meet the new Pope, a lot like the old Pope. Albeit a notable difference or two. It's been well publicized that Pope Francis refused the chance to live in a traditional Bishop's residence, opting instead to live in a small apartment and ride the bus to work. For this, I can show some respect towards the man. He is following that line of think that values spiritual wealth over material wealth. He has spoken about the need to help the poor, making a plea for them in his inauguration Mass. Whether this concern for the poor will actually translate into working to solve the problems of the poor remains to be seen and Pope Francis' personal history, as well as some of his views, make me doubt that will actually happen.

An article from the Guardian's George Monibot declares that "In the war on the poor, Pope Francis is on the wrong side". I'll go into the key details of the article shortly. The main takeaway is that Pope Francis is opposed to the liberation theology movement which has acted as a guide for many poor in his native continent, opting instead for an approach that relies solely on God to solve the plight of those struggling in poverty.

Those who have been following the news surrounding Pope Francis are likely aware of the stories regarding his past and connections to the military dictatorship in Argentina. While the stories do seem a bit fuzzy at times, and the degree to which he supported the dictatorship and opposed its resistance isn't completely clear, it does appear that the Pope isn't on the side he should be if fighting for the cause of the poor is his goal. His opposition to liberation theology being the best illustration of why.

There is something of a split in the Church between those priests who adhere to the principles of liberation theology and those who have denounced it. The first significant blow against liberation theology came from Joseph Ratzinger, a.k.a. Pope Benedict. Opponents of liberation theology within the Church believe that the solution to poverty can be found through God and God alone. The best Ratzinger could come up with in response to the dictatorship in Argentina, according to Monibot, "was that priests should seek to convert the dictators and hired killers to love their neighbours and exercise self-control". Anyone who has a basic understanding of class struggle should know that attempts at conversion and appeals to good nature are about as effective as trying to get the ruling class to give up their power by appealing to reason and sound arguments. That is to say, not effective at all. The oppressors of South America's poor have demonstrated that they have no hesitation towards using violence—a fact the priests on the side of liberation theology know all too well. Yet, it was Pope Francis, back when he was leader of Argentina's Jesuits, who worked to undermine the political efforts of priests who were working to mobilise the poor in the slums.

Pope Francis, like Benedict before him, has not done enough in terms of asking, "Why are they poor?" The answer to the question must be understood in order to end the system that breeds poverty.

Does Francis' "church that is poor and is for the poor" mean working in the struggle to overcome the social structures that create wealth inequality? Or is this going to be a charitable approach? One that appears to making a difference, but does nothing to overcome the underlying reasons poverty exists? I'm betting on the latter, and even then I have my doubts. This is a Pope who has come down on the side of the oppressing class, actively opposing efforts that would lead to liberation for the poor.  And now, as Pope, he is further removed from the struggle of the poor.

Do you want to support a religious movement that works for the poor? Don't go looking to the Vatican.


About the Author: Chris Burke

Chris Burke's photo
Chris Burke holds a Bachelors in Environmental Studies: Honours Environment and Business from the University of Waterloo. Next he will be working towards a Masters of Environmental Studies in Sustainability Management. He's an active member of the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo student group. In his spare time he enjoys reading and playing music.


#1 Mike X (Guest) on Friday March 22, 2013 at 3:52pm

Well, if Jorge doesn't end up supporting the poor in any meaningful way, at least we can count on him to help pedophiles continue to be pedophiles. It's clear that the only interest of the Catholic church is to maintain the power that they have. Everything else seems to be a means top that end.

#2 JT Eberhard (Guest) on Monday March 25, 2013 at 8:51am





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