"Souped up Marxism" is a charge which the wealthy world seems inclined to hurl at Roman Pontiffs. Paul VI certainly suffered from this in the aftermath of Populorum Progressio, and the people we loosely call 'neocons' have again dug into the same rather dog-eared Rhetoric Bag in their response to the social and economic observations in our present Holy Father's Evangelii gaudium. This reaction to Pope Francis' words about poverty and exploitation is inevitable. And it seems to me that questions of War and Peace belong to a neighbouring area of discourse. Here, again, the World is not always anxious to accept papal guidance. I recall George Weigel ... you remember him ... the biographer of B John Paul II, who praised almost everything his hero did or said, but complained that the Polish pope was strangely unenthusiastic about Western military adventures in Islamic countries. "No more war, no more spiral of violence" was the cry of B John Paul II, which was admirably taken up by Pope Francis during the dark days when the Obama was trying to cobble together a coalition to regime-change in Syria without too much American expenditure on body bags.
It seems an eternity ago now, doesn't it ... That happy evening when, just for once in a while, Britain's own lethargic, neutered, venal House of Commons actually for once did something laudable which had results in terms of global politics. The picture, caught by the television cameras, of Cameron scampering grim-faced along the Treasury Bench to phone the news of his abject failure through to his 'friend' Barack was truly a sight for sore eyes ... but I digress.
Liberation Theology is a part of the Church's Magisterium which could do with development, and it doesn't worry me in the least that Gutierrez has been to Rome. The old Liberation Theology was not interested in looking at the Church's Tradition and Scripture and asking what teaching may be discerned there with regard to the Poor; instead, it came with a ready-made ideology which it had borrowed from secular and revolutionary sources, and sought tenuous ways of attaching it to the Christian Tradition. That, we can do without. We are, happily, not now so naive. We no longer seek to idolise a Fr Camillo Torres, who abandoned his altar to die as a member of a guerrilla band. The CDF's two documents on Liberation Theology - the first apparently negative, the second much more balanced - are still in place as part of the resources upon which the Roman Magisterium can draw. We now know that a Theology dealing with the economic malaise needs to grow organically from the Tradition. Because there are still Poor and there are still economic systems which maintain their poverty; and the Church, from the time of Leo XIII, has not wanted in such circumstances to be saying nothing. Indeed, centuries before Leo XIII the Church had her teaching on Economic Sin, commonly known as Usury. As a soppy old Englishman, I even wonder if Chesterton and his Distributivism might have a contribution to make.
And we have the Church's very ancient tradition with regard to the Just War. The Magisterium of B John Paul II increasingly suggested that wars in the modern world need to work very hard indeed to be able to snuggle under the umbrella of the 'conditions' elaborated by the Church's tradition. And the deployment of these principles by deeply traditionalist moralists such as Germain Grisez and his collaborators, demonstrating the immorality of both nuclear warfare and of the policy of nuclear 'deterrence', should attract the attention of the Magisterium. Yes ... I know ... Obama and Putin currently have little interest in mutual extermination, so worrying about the 'Nuclear' question can look like an archaic, 1960s, preoccupation. But an American protectorate in the Middle East continues to build up its nuclear arsenal unrebuked and to threaten any regional competitor it fears might try to do exactly what it has, with ruthless determination, done itself. This is bound up with the continuing merciless oppression of the Palestinian people, which fuels militancy and terrorism throughout the Islamic world and brings bloodshed to our streets. It is also fueling a process by which the Christian communities of the Middle East, more venerable and ancient than Islam, are being driven out and even murdered. The long-standing desire of the Curial bureaucracy to achieve a concordat with Israel ought not to prevent the Vicar of Christ from speaking prophetically. Above all, we must not allow certain interests to bully us into a fearful silence by the threat of accusing us of anti-semitism.
The Vatican, as Stalin memorably observed, has few military divisions. But the world has rarely stood as much in need of the clearest moral guidance. Guidance in these ethical areas would help the world to understand that Christian morality is not solely about sexual ethics. Not that this will make the Pope popular: those with 'liberal' agendas in sexual and 'life' matters may not always be the same people as those who are prepared for their own creature comforts to be threatened by a more equitable world economic order. 'Liberals' may turn out to be surprisingly conservative when it comes to holding on tightly to the loot.
The Holy Father's friend Cardinal Hummes whispered to him, just after the election, "Do not forget the poor". I pray that the Holy Father will continue to take that advice seriously. To be frank, I do also pray that he will take the traditional precautions which have prepared the way for utterances of the papal Magisterium; there have been signs in the first nine months of this pontificate of a tendency to speak hastily and unecclesially. This is not what popes are for.
Just as our beloved Pope Benedict was given to the Church in order to rebuild the bridges of continuity stretching back from the 'Conciliar Church' to the 'Church of all Ages', so I believe that the areas of Poverty and Peace may be what Francis has been raised up to address. Benedict's repair work was and is and always will be absolutely and totally essential, and any move to dismantle any of it would precipitate a crisis of unpredictable but extensive seriousness. But, despite one or two faux pas, I do not believe that Pope Francis has either the inclination or the intention of doing that. Our duty now is to be open to a pontificate which has its own creativity. We must not think the less well of it simply because it does not merely repeat the excellences of the last one.
Our prayers and our words should support Pope Francis.