The politics of Pope Francis: An anti-corruption, anti-ideology populism

The politics of Pope Francis: An anti-corruption, anti-ideology populism

Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square during the Wednesday general audience on Nov. 5, 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.
Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square during the Wednesday general audience on Nov. 5, 2014. Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

.- Most people “still don’t know how Pope Francis thinks,” says a longtime Catholic observer who believes the Pope’s approach to politics is an ordinary path that rejects both corruption and elite ideological obsessions isolated from real people.

“What he hoped for was a government rooted in the values and priorities of ordinary folk,” British author Austen Ivereigh said of the Pope's time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

“Unchecked ambition, whether for power, money or popularity, expresses only a great interior emptiness,” then-Archbishop Jorge Maria Bergoglio said in 2000. “And those who are empty do not generate peace, joy, and hope, only suspicion. They do not create bonds.”

The Pope is “a gospel radical” calling the Church to “dependence on Christ and the Holy Spirit rather than power and status,” Ivereigh said in a Dec. 6 essay in the British newspaper The Spectator.

Ivereigh is the author of a new book “The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.” He is a former press secretary for Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the now-retired Archbishop of Westminster. He is also the also founder of Catholic Voices, a U.K.-based organization which trains Catholic laypeople to present the Church’s teachings in media outlets.

He researched dozens of articles the future Pope wrote in spirituality journals from 1968 to 1992.

“The articles also show a consistent theme: the danger of detached elites in love with their own ideas, divorced from the people,” said Ivereigh, who presented his own interpretation of the Pope’s social and political thought.

In 1980, then-Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the provincial of the Society of Jesus in Argentina. He told the Jesuits that elites “do not see the real movement going on among God’s faithful people” and “fail to join in the march of history where God is saving us.”

Father Bergoglio warned against the temptation for Jesuits to have “fascination for abstract ideologies that do not match our reality.” Rather, the future Pope said, social change must be people driven, not driven by, in Bergoglio’s words, “the arrogance of the enlightened.”

According to Ivereigh, Father Bergoglio attracted “huge numbers of vocations” to the Jesuit order, but he also drew opposition from “a group of upper-class left-liberal Jesuit intellectuals” who lobbied the Jesuits’ Superior General to have Bergoglio and his allies removed.

A leader in the campaign against Bergoglio objected that he encouraged praying the rosary and touching saints’ statues in the chapel.

“This was something the poor did, the people of the pueblo, something that the worldwide Society of Jesus just doesn’t do,” the opponent of Bergoglio told Ivereigh.

Ivereigh commented:

“Given that he and his colleagues saw themselves as pro-poor progressives, it was a revealing remark. As Bergoglio used to put it, they were ‘for the people, but never with the people’.”

Ivereigh said it is “a big mistake” to assume that Pope Francis is “just another liberal in the western mold.”

He noted the Pope’s recent comments to the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, in which the Pope compared Europe to “a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant” and said that to achieve progress towards the future “we need the past, we need profound roots.”

Ivereigh saw the Pope’s opposition to “gay marriage” as an embrace of “core human realities” like conjugal marriage and a child’s need for a father and a mother. He cited the Pope’s description of “gay marriage” as “an anthropological step backward.”

The British writer categorized the Pope as “a conservative who has spent his life in opposition to the abstract ideologies of the Enlightenment.”

He placed Pope Francis “firmly within the nationalist Catholic culture of Argentina that looks back to the Hapsburgs rather than the French revolution.” This view peaked as Bergoglio came of age in the 1940s and 1950s under the government of President Juan Peron, whose support for “the ‘popular’ and Catholic values of the immigrant classes” inflicted “a humiliating defeat on Argentina’s liberal establishment.”

“For Francis, government has a deep and noble purpose: to serve the common good, to protect the vulnerable, to build up bonds of trust and reciprocity,” Ivereigh said. “What undermines it are abstract elites, disincarnate ideologies and politicians in it for themselves.”

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio criticized both the “deification of the state” and the “neoliberal evisceration of the state,” said Ivereigh, using the British term for free-market capitalism that rejects government welfare programs.

Then-Archbishop Bergoglio believed that the only way out of Argentina’s crisis of widespread bankruptcy caused by debt-fueled consumption and public corruption was “to rebuild institutions from below, invigorating civil society so that it could hold both state and market to account.”

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