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Matthew Fox and Luke Hansen discuss Pope Francis’ recent anti-capitalist rhetoric and whether there will be any changes to the church’s economic practices

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Pope Francis has been making headlines lately about what he’s been saying regarding income inequality, greed, and capitalism. He’s made such a splash that he’s even been named Time magazine’s person of the year.

Now joining us to get into the significance of Pope Francis’s statements are two guests. Luke Hanson is a member of the Jesuit Order and associate editor of America, a national Catholic weekly magazine. And Matthew Fox. He is the author of over two dozen books, most recently Letters to Pope Francis: Rebuilding a Church with Justice and Compassion.

Thank you both for joining us.



DESVARIEUX: So let’s jump right into the Pope’s statements about capitalism. He’s called it a “new tyranny” in his first major document released in November as being the head of the Catholic Church. Here’s what the Pope had to say. He said, quote:

“Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

It’s a very, very good question and an interesting critique.

Luke, let’s start off with you. Is this a meaningful critique? And if so, why?

HANSEN: Yeah, I think Francis is really evaluating the economy based on how it affects people. So in the Catholic vision of the economy, you have to look at it from the point of view of the dignity of the human person and whether everyone has an opportunity to participate and benefit from the economy. And Francis, from his experience, has seen so many people excluded and so many people really treated unfairly, and that’s where his critique comes from. So I think it’s driven much more by people and his own experience than it is by ideology.

DESVARIEUX: Matthew, what are your thoughts about the Pope’s statements?

FOX: Well, I agree with what Luke said, that [incompr.] experiences living in the Third World, of course, he is the first pope from the Third World, and as Luke says, he has seen a lot of poverty, as anyone does who visits the Third World. Of course, there’s a lot of poverty in our world as well.

But it comes, of course, he keeps repeating, from the Gospels, a preferential option for the poor. And he’s definitely rattling cages, and I think a lot of the right cages. He has Rush Limbaugh steaming at him, calling him, quote, a pure Marxist, unquote. And I think that that’s a pretty good, let’s just say, badge to have on your resume, an attack from Rush Limbaugh.

DESVARIEUX: At the end of the day, are we actually going to see some changes in the way the Catholic Church even conducts their own business? I mean, he’s coming out saying capitalism is a “new tyranny”. But the Catholic Church itself operates in some very capitalistic ways.

FOX: Well, that’s certainly true. There’s been for decades a tremendous scandal in their own bank. One of the points I make in my letters to the Pope is that they should just get rid of the bank. Why does a pope, why does a bishop need his own bank? It’s just asking for trouble.

But I think what’s really behind his call is a sense of morality and, I think, an invitation kind of putting winds in the sails of those who are developing alternative economics, for example with David Korten here in the United States, who’s doing tremendous work. His work [incompr.] Yes! website about establishing economics that’ll work for everybody, every human being in the world, and for the forests and the soil and the oceans and the four-legged ones. So that’s really the new vision of economics that’s completely needed and, of course, is totally lacking on Wall Street, which is only about a few humans getting rich fast.

DESVARIEUX: Just so I’m clear, so are you saying, Matthew, that you do see some hope that Pope Francis would even change the economic system of the Vatican?

FOX: Well, I think that’s part, of course, of the larger system. But yes. But, of course, the Vatican is a very modest piece of the world economic system. What really has to change, as he says, is the structures that run Wall Street and that are essentially immoral because the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. I want to turn to another statement that the Pope has made in his message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace on December 12. He also called for sharing of wealth and for nations to shrink the gap between the wealthy and the poor. He said, quote, “The succession of economic crises should lead to a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and to a change in lifestyles”. So, Luke, what’s the alternative here? What is he talking about exactly? Is this socialism? Are we talking about regulated capitalism? What’s your interpretation?

HANSEN: Well, I think at the heart of the economic message of Pope Francis, it’s spiritual. And what Francis invites us to–like, in the latest exhortation that was released a couple of weeks ago, is to encounter a God of love. And when we do that, it draws us outside of ourselves and it helps us to be less self-interested and less self-centered and more generous towards others. So I think what Francis is really speaking about is a generosity and really thinking of others before yourself.

So when he speaks to people from the wealthier nations in the world, like the United States, he has some really direct questions for people, and he challenges us to think about, you know, the excess that we have in our lives. Are we going to use it for ourself, or can we put it at the service of others?

And, again, it’s the principle about thinking who is included and who is excluded from the economic system and from life and society. And he’s asking people to be more generous, and to even sacrifice for others, which is really the heart of the gospel message. So he’s drawing from a really old tradition.

DESVARIEUX: Matthew, what’s your response?

FOX: Well, I agree with what Luke is saying. I think he’s also critiquing the nature of consumer capitalism.

Consumer capitalism, it seems to me, is essentially built on on Everest of greed, at both ends, that is to say, obviously at the 1 percent who are doing so very well, but also even among the middle class and the poor who are being fed 24/7 all the advertisements that come out, and therefore those advertisements appeal to human greed.

Now, no religion in the world, but certainly not Jesus’ view of things, countenances greed. Greed is dangerous for the human soul. It kills us from the inside out. And I think that that’s part of Pope Francis’s critique, that the very nature of consumer capitalism, including the deluge of promotions, advertising, this is bad for the soul. And, of course, it results in inequality, profound inequalities, and a lot of unhappiness.

One thing I like about this Pope is that he keeps referring to the joy of living that has been lost in a consumer capitalist context. And it’s striking, I think, that his last exhortation is entitled the joy of the gospel. It’s not about pessimism. It’s about creativity and what we could be doing together to create a world and an economic system that works for everyone, including the non-two-legged ones.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. (I hope I’m not struck by lightning after making that statement.) But I have to ask you guys seriously, though, you know, some people might look at this and say Pope Francis is pushing for all these reforms in capitalism and things of that nature, but he should really be looking within and looking at his own house and get his own house in order. And I know, Matthew, you wrote this book Letters to Pope Francis: Rebuilding a Church with Justice and Compassion. What sort of critiques did you make in this book regarding how the church operates?

FOX: Well, it’s pretty clear to everybody, of course, that the scandals over the last couple of decades, especially on the pedophile crisis and its coverup, you know, cannot be ignored in the least. And, of course, the treatment of women within the Church is scandalous also.

One thing I like about Pope Francis is that I think he’s a man, as many Jesuits are, who can learn, who can learn on the job. And I think he is learning. I think he’s quite inquisitive. I think he’s curious. [incompr.] sat down for two years with a Rabbi who’s also a scientist in Argentina. And together they dialoged and published a very fine book. And this shows that he’s a man who can learn. He doesn’t think he has all the answers, as I think the previous two posts popes acted like they had the questions and the answers. So I think he’s going to learn.

I think he’ll learn about the women thing. He’s already taken a step back around the subject of homosexuality, saying, who am I to judge. And, of course, he’s appointed an international board of of eight cardinals, tried to clean up the Curia, and so forth. So I think he’s working on the inner house at the same time that he’s trying to do his real job, which is to speak to the world about a value revolution.

One of the ideas in my book is that he and the Dalai Lama should take a world tour together. I think that the two of them together speaking about the basic value revolution that has to happen today around ecology and climate change, around justice for the poor, around an economic system that works for everyone, around gender justice, and so forth, these moral issues of our time I think can really get the attention they deserve if these two figureheads would tour together. They’d learn from each other. And this would put wind in the sales of those millions of peoples at the grassroots who are trying to work for gender justice, for economic justice, for social, racial justice and ecological justice. So I think that’s kind of a practical idea. I’d like to see him and the Dalai Lama become a tag team.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Luke, I’m going to let you have the final word. Do you think the Pope could be doing more in his own house and getting it in order, per se? What’s your opinion?

HANSEN: Yeah, I think the current structure of the Church, the way that the Church organizes itself universally leaves a lot to be desired. And what we’ve seen in the past few decades is really a centralization of power in Rome. And that’s something that Francis is appropriately pushing back on. And he–in his latest exhortation he talks about the need for a decentralization. He talks about the need for greater cooperation amongst the bishops throughout the entire world. And he insists that these bishops talk with their people and know their people and not only listen to those who they agree with. So he’s really challenging a much more–the church to be much more participatory. And there’s a lot of work to be done in that area.

And you can just tell by looking at who makes the decisions in the Catholic Church that women are excluded from almost all of those positions of authority. So Francis seems to be pushing the church in the right direction, but there’s a lot of work that remains to be done.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Luke Hansen, Matthew Fox, thank you both for joining us.

FOX: Thank you.

HANSEN: Good to be here. Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Luke Hansen is a member of the Jesuit order and an associate editor of America, a national Catholic weekly magazine. He has served as a lay legal advocate and chaplain for men, women, and children held in county jails. He lived and worked for two years on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He has visited the prison camps in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is a frequent speaker and writer on the topic, and has received awards from the Catholic Press Association for his coverage of the prison.


Matthew Fox is a world renowned spiritual theologian and the author of 32 books. He was silenced and eventually dismissed from his religious order by the recent Pope Benedict for teaching Liberation Theology and Creation Spirituality. His most recent book is "Letters to Pope Francis" wherein he challenges the pope to live up to his namesake and take a strong stand on behalf of eco justice, social justice and racial justice.  In a new book written with activist Adam Bucko called "Occupy Spirituality" he discusses how young adults are living lives of contemplation and social action and moving beyond traditional religious institutional forms.

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Matthew Fox is the author of over two dozen books, including Letters to Pope Francis: Rebuilding a Church with Justice and Compassion; Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation; and The Pope's War: Why Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved. He is a former Catholic priest who was first stopped from teaching Liberation Theology and Creation Spirituality by Cardinal Ratzinger, then expelled from the Dominican Order to which he had belonged for 34 years. He currently serves as an Episcopal priest.