The Francis Challenge


If you’ve felt confused about our new Pope and his motivations, there’s at least one explanation circulating among the conspiracy-minded which might settle the question for you. According to the blog, Prophecy in the Making, Francis is merely a tool of the Illuminati, the worldwide cabal that secretly runs everything…

Time Francis Cover“So, have you started to wonder why Time Magazine, an Illuminati-backed, funded and controlled publication is so in love with Francis? [The reference is to Time’s naming Francis its Person of the Year.]

“It is clear that the Masonic/Illuminati have an agenda they wish to pursue with Francis as the head.”

Prophecy in the Making then dips into prophecy already made, quoting the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who in his 1948 book, Communism and the Conscience of the West, described how the Antichrist would represent himself as a “Great Humanitarian”…

“In the midst of all his seeming love for humanity and his glib talk of freedom and equality, he will have one great secret which he will tell to no one: he will not believe in God.”

Well, you can never be sure about these metaphysical things, I’ll admit. But it certainly seems to me that Pope Francis believes in God. And I really don’t think he’s the Antichrist.

However, as I noted in my posts of October 1 and October 23, he is definitely a shoot-from-the-hip kinda guy whose candor prompts a wide range of assumptions. Indeed, observers on both the left and the right are struggling mightily to paint the Pope as being firmly in one camp or the other.

According to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, International Business Editor of Britain’s Daily Telegraph

“Liberation Theology is taking over the Vatican a quarter of a century after John Paul II systematically sought to stamp out the ‘singular heresy’ in the radical parishes and dioceses of Latin America, a task carried out with dutiful efficiency by Cardinal Ratzinger at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”

Catholic Online, will have none of that. Confronting Evans-Pritchard’s claim directly, the editors of this online Catholic information service ask…

“Why does Pope Francis seem so radical then? He seems radical for the same reason Jesus appeared so radical. Our age is so saturated with corruption, moral degradation, relativism, and other errors, we have lost the capacity to see clearly when a man of simple Gospel virtue speaks and acts in the manner of the Pope named Francis. In our compromised environment, it is the right, the good and the just that appears so radical.”

Francis persists in wiggling from everybody’s grasp, causing people to wonder if he might not be quite what they thought he was — or what they would prefer him to be. The one thing which can be said definitively about this Pope is that he’s presenting us with a challenge.

In his apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Francis offered a bold critique of our market-based economic system, drawing attention to the inequalities that exist even in a world where distribution of wealth has never been broader. Clearly he has put the poor out front. And I have no doubt that his call to charity echoes Jesus’ command to help “the least of these.”

But what are the practical implications of this Pope’s demands on people who call themselves faithful (or even on those who just choose to give a damn)? How are we to translate good intentions into realistic, effective actions that — as I asked in my post of July 9 — will actually help the poor to be less poor?

And what is the best level at which particular goals can be accomplished?…

Individual and family action?
Churches and religiously affiliated organizations?
Voluntary membership groups?
Private charities and nonprofit foundations?
Corporations and other business firms?
Local communities?
Counties and states?
The federal government?

I have always recognized the imperative of charity, but I also know that government, at any level, shouldn’t necessarily be considered the actor of first resort. As I wrote in July

“The issue is not really whether tax money will be spent on the poor. That question is long settled. Remember the Great Society and the War on Poverty [the 50th anniversary of which we’ve just passed]? Rather, the issue is whether the money is being used in ways that actually help the poor….

“We’ve created a vast multiplicity of programs that provide all kinds of services, requiring gigantic administrative agencies that generate huge costs, perpetuate and extend themselves, and spur the creation of related supporting bureaucracies.

“Yet large numbers of people — many of whom have received government services over the course of decades (and whole families over generations) — remain poor, with scant prospect of altering their economic condition.”

During 2014, I’ll be revisiting this issue regularly, examining the Pope’s critique of our market-based economy and how people are responding to his call — and exploring the real-world implications of economic principles, policies and programs.

I’d very much appreciate knowing how you feel about Francis’ words, what you think your personal obligations to the poor really are, and what approaches to curing poverty you believe can work.

This blog doesn’t receive very many comments (though I know people are reading it). I’d like to change that and get a vigorous conversation going.

Please don’t assume you have to be Catholic to unburden yourself about the Pope. His unique spiritual vocation aside, Francis is a world figure whose words resonate through all religious confessions and even among people who claim no particular faith. His influence is truly global.

A good starting point in our discussion would be to read — or at least to give a quick scan of — Evangelii Gaudium, the English text of which I’ve linked below. See what you think about the Pope’s observations.

Also, feel free to tag me on anything you object to about my thoughts. I can take criticism, and I appreciate being shown where I’ve gone wrong. After all, I’m just the guy in the next pew, struggling to make sense of life, and trying — at least occasionally — to do the right thing.


Catechism (Vatican Seal)Here’s the link to the Pope’s apostolic letter, Evangelii Gaudium, at the Vatican website (you can read it online or download it as a PDF file)…


Telegraph (UK) LogoHere’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s Daily Telegraph piece in which he speculates about Francis being a Liberation Theology fan…


Catholic Online LogoAnd here’s Catholic Online saying Poo-poo on you! to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard…






  1. Jared says

    Francis has an exceedingly poor understanding of economics. Many publications, including my favorite,, debunked his claims about the quantity and manner of redistribution necessary to bring about significant lasting change in the status of the poorer classes.

  2. Brendan says

    Thank you for this very balanced article. What interests me is the question relating to poverty and how this question should be approached.

    In my opinion, there are several levels to charity. When I think of poverty, I do so on a world scale. From this perspective governments must be involved. It is really first and foremost a human rights issue.

    Most people know that there are vast resources in third world countries that are not utilised because of internal wars and power struggles. This reality need to be addressed honestly and with firmness by the international community for the common good of all who are entitled to basic living standards (at least). Exploitation of natural resources as well as labour, as well as an honest examination of how the west exploits these situations must be made a priority of the international community as well as the media. Fighting poverty at this level becomes a political issue as well as a social justice issue.

    In the west we face a widening of the gap between rich and poor. There is also a recognisable disregard for the dignity of the worker, in so far as ‘workers’ have become a means to and end, that end being profit. Little thought is given to measures that create loyalty, and little loyalty is shown by the vast majority of large companies. 

    The tax burden on the poor becomes even greater through hidden taxes that the rich can escape through tax loopholes. In a word the world of work has, to a large degree, become exploitative for the common person.

    In this environment people become expendable. People know this, they feel it in their hearts as well as their pockets. There is a sense of being desperate that is not as much articulated because the media does not emphasise injustice of this nature.

    Poverty then is more than not having enough money to live. It is a further attack on a person’s dignity, freedom, independence, confidence and self worth. This must affect society in a most negative way. It places the government in a position whereby it has a duty to insure that those in the margins are cared for as equal citizens with equal rights. It has a further duty to denounce the ‘exploitation’ of people by tackling the policies that uphold such injustice.

    In my opinion, this is the bigger picture. The problem is that people mix up personal giving with government giving. Where government payment programs are concerned, many people associate it with what they call ‘a welfare state’. The reality, as I hope I have pointed out, is different. 

    Poverty cannot be fully tackled in pockets or in the long term by welfare, there must be a fairer distribution of wealth with the backing of government, which provides and aims at helping people to become contributing members of the community. Proper training facilities, access to education, all these and more need to be considered.

    In the meantime, government has an obligation, by contrast to the real exploitation present within their particular societies, to care for the poorest, to help restore a sense of dignity, to the community as a whole for the common good. Any other option is to kick the can down the road.

    The media too also has an obligation to present a more balanced and accurate picture regarding the devastation of poverty, rather than fault those who are actually poor and not as capable of helping themselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *