A Challenge to Pope Francis to Think and Act Differently
Sunday, May 25, 2014
Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroasters, Hindus, Humanists, Animists and Atheists can probably agree on one thing at the moment: His Holiness Pope Francis is rocking the boat more than has been done in a long time – possibly since a certain disciple credited to be the first pontiff was in a dinghy on the Sea of Galilee with his Master. “Peace, Be Still,” is not uttering forth from his lips but is the fervent prayer of many of his politically correct, consensus surfing followers who have greatly benefited from ephemeral morality. To his credit, his recent appearance in Israel has done nothing to earn him points in accommodative pandering. And, according to press statements, President Mahmoud Abbas and President Shimon Peres have agreed to join him at the Vatican on June 6, 2014 to share in a Prayer for Peace.
In his encyclical “Evangelii Gaudium” Pope Francis clearly articulated a clarion call for the world to take seriously the need to have economic justice on Earth. Upsetting the modern day aristocracy (both the religious and secular) with what talk show host Michael Savage callously disparaged as “Karl Marx in a papal outfit,” (evidencing Mr. Savage’s ignorance of the writings of Karl Marx which bear no resemblance to the Pope’s missives), Pope Francis’ comments seem to be a voice of rational morality in a world of asymmetric predation. On the other hand, advocates for donor-fueled ‘social justice’ campaigns have dared the Pope to turn the Vatican’s massive wealth reserves into a colossal entitlement benefactor. And having seen the church’s massive land expropriations around the world – robbing countless communities of their prime agriculture, mineral and energy resources conveniently surreptitiously stewarded by mercenaries upon whom the church’s wealth has been built – I am sympathetic to the call to have this pope actually emancipate stolen holdings as evidence of his joyful gospel!
But both Savage and Social Activist are reflexively responding to semantics while failing to contemplate where the Vatican should be encouraged to go. In a world defined by expropriation, generations of exterminated options are inextricably our hideous legacy. The “great American experiment” imagined by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s cannot expunge the fact that its foundational labor was indentured and enslaved, its territorial expansion was based on theft and murder, and its hegemonic dominance at present is predicated on capital manipulation – not on democratic, free markets. The Catholic Church in 2014 cannot find enough pontifical holy water to wash its hands of the complicity it has in the Crusades in which it sought to wrest control of land from the “infidel” only to find out that it was seen by the land’s occupants as infidels. And like the disputed “Nazi” confiscation of artwork during the Second World War which fueled legitimate and illegitimate claims to reparations and repatriation, the idea that you give back to today some token of what was stolen in recent and ancient past is ludicrous. The impulse for justice to be equated to recompense is simplistic and nonsensical as neither the beneficiary nor the competence of stewardship would render such impulses effective or salutatory. So, to both reflexive arguments I offer a simple plea: cool your jets and think!
What could you do with the wealth of the Vatican – both in its reserve vaults buried throughout the world and in its vast land holdings – which would actually let some version of a ‘gospel’ be experienced? Well, that’s a fascinating question and one that the good Father has not appropriately engaged. Under a simple calculation, the liquid and reserve asset ‘collateral’ of the Catholic Church would support a bank – think of a credit union – with liquid credit origination capacity of over $180 billion. Add physical land holdings and liquidity on revenue and you have a global bank which would exceed the scale and capacity of Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, HSBC Holdings, Credit Agricole, BNP Paribas, or Mitsubishi UFJ – the world’s top five banks by asset holdings. And if the church was serious, it could replace all the development banks in the world with a capital offering that, at maturity, would repatriate collateral to countries from whom it stole lands in a structured transaction ripped from the very document upon which it purports to draw its authority – the principle of Jubilee. Imagine a seven-year plan that, if executed by its own dogmatic architecture drawn from its own sacred text, would eradicate present day poverty by improving the lives of the economically “poor” by over 100%. And it wouldn’t have to change ANY of its beliefs.
Now why is this path untaken by the Holy Father? Why is he offering to host prayer breakfasts but unwilling to actually use his own biblical principles to address the injustice that he sees in others? Well, for two reasons. First, he’s running an institution that sees charity rather than stewardship as its best offering in the world. By preserving a patriarchal system, he is blinded to the very principles that built Joseph into the greatest economist of all times in the seven years leading up to Egypt’s devastating seven year famine. Second, he’s being advised by those who have a vested interest in preserving the vestiges of justice hiding under his vestments (sorry, I couldn’t resist a bit of “V”)! If he’s serious about a gospel, he should read his own book. His theology is great for boat rocking but he needs to listen to a voice that can calm the storm. So far, that message is being lost in pandering and that’s a cardinal sin.