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Commentary :: Social Welfare
This economy kills!: Pope Francis
24 Dec 2013
The Cold War in internal church policy may be coming to an end. A religion without mysticism is merely a philosophy. Mysticism is a specifically modern form of faith. God's presence is no longer self-evident or plausible to the entire world. Francis' church is a hospital in the open air under the open sky.

By Fred Schmid

[This article published on 11/29/2013 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

“This economy kills,” writes the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, in his first apostolic exhortation titled “Euangelii Gaudium” (Joy of the Gospel). On the day of its proclamation, the Latvian government resigned because of the collapse of a supermarket roof and the 54 deaths. Planning errors and moonlighting in the construction are presumed. In 2009 the national building commission was dissolved in the course of the austerity measures that were to bring Latvia out of the crisis. The structure was built two years ago.

The dominant economic system is “unjust in its roots,” Francis said. It is “incredible that no one gets excited when an old man forced to live on the street freezes to death while a slump on the stock market makes headlines. No rebellion occurs when “a child dies of hunger somewhere in the world every five seconds” (former UN special ambassador for the right to food Jean Ziegler) while the US destroyed 138 million tons of corn in 2011. There are a billion starving persons in the world; 180 million pre-school children do not have enough essential food. 100 million children could be freed from hunger for an investment of two billion euros (FAZ, Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung newspaper 6/8/13). On government order, nearly 40 percent of the corn harvest is made into ethanol in the US. Food in the tank instead of on the plate is the motto of this system.

The person is only desired as a consumer “who can be used and then thrown away.” Those excluded are “rubbish or trash” – abandoned to destruction – not only in the third world far from the capitalist metropolises. The third world catches up with the first world. In the meantime this system also kills in vast numbers in Europe, for example in the framework of the savings dictates and austerity decrees of the Troika (European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF).

The drastic lowering of living standards in periphery countries does not only appear in curtailed consumption, starving to death and hunger rations. The ordered cuts in the social systems and in the public health system are very incisive. “What is the difference between the IMF and a vampire?” the Iceland health minister Gudjun Magnusson asked at the 2009 European Health Forum in Bad Gastein after learning the IMF demanded 30 percent cuts in the health sector after the Iceland banking sector collapsed. “A vampire stops sucking blood when one is dead” (SZ, Sueddeutschen Zeitung newspaper 7/3/13). The IMF bled white whole countries. “It must hurt,” Chancellor Merkel said in the 2010 negotiations on the first Greek relief package and the ordered austerity measures. It hurts so much that it kills. The epidemiologists David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu gathered data and statistics for years analyzing how economic crises and forced savings affect the health of the respective populations. The two health economists concluded the much-cited “bitter medicine” of austerity politicians is pure poison, not medicine. The core thesis of their book “The Body Economic” is “recessions can hurt. But austerity kills” – recessions can be painful but the austerity policy kills (quoted according to SZ 7/3/13). They prove this with many drastic case studies. In 2009 Greece had to cut its health budget from 24 to 16 billion euros. “Afterward the HIV rate skyrocketed because not enough needles were distributed to drug addicts. Child mortality rose 40 percent (ibid). In the following years, the health budget was cut again. As a result, chronic sicknesses, cancer, heart circulation problems and diabetes increased dramatically. The IMF resolved that only 6% of the GDP be spent for health. In Germany it is more than 10 percent. Dozens of hospitals were closed through the austerity programs while hospital admittances increased because of more sicknesses. 35,000 clinic positions were eliminated since 2009. 40 percent of the population cannot visit a hospital any more because they have no health insurance. Both authors are critical of the austerity program. “The side-effects of the treatment are catastrophic and often deadly. No positive benefits can be seen. But the Troika and the German chancellor insist that it “must hurt” in the future – for the recovery of the market economy. Pope Francis severely condemns the “tyranny of the idolized market.”


By Fred Schmid

Poor persons in Germany have a much lower life expectancy. As Dr. Roland Habich (Berlin) explained at a press conference “2013 Data Report,” persons in the lowest income sectors die 11 years earlier than men in higher income groups. For women the difference is 8 years. The risk of a poor state of health rose by a factor of 3.2 (men) and 2.2 (women). Poverty has increased in the crisis since 2007.


By Otto Kallascheuer

[This article published in November 2013 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

No monarch of the world, whether elected or not, has full power authority like the Roman bishop in the Catholic Church (since the First Vatican Council). President Obama may find reasons for war and draw “red lines” as much as he likes. To go to war or make changes in the American constitution, he needs the consent of the Congress.

But the pope – if he wants – can completely rebuild the power architecture of the Catholic Church. The current holder of the office could have something like that in mind. We do not know. Pope Francis’ consultations with the newly instituted “G8” – group of experts of eight cardinals from all the continents on the necessary structural reforms of the Catholic Church have only begun. All the remarks of the new pope go in the direction of a flatter hierarchy of the salvation institution – a more intensely “horizontal church.” However his innovations in the past – the traditionalists moan, not only at the Vatican court [1] – seem to amount to a stylistic adjustment to the expectations of the mass media! The personal view of the Roman Pontifex maximus on God and the world is crucial for the future church regiment. Characterizing the ecclesiology and political theology of the pope ex post is easier than in actu – or before they become practical.

John Paul II was also a media pope. However his picture of the church was that of an ecclesia militans in the showdown with the powers of the Antichrist: first, the communist collectivist atheism – and then the individualistic capitalist hedonism. Putting the church in the limelight as a “great movement for human rights,” making it fit for battle in defense of human dignity is important to both. The breathless – almost Pauline – charisma of the Polish pope up to his last wordless gasp at the window before the eyes of the faithful and cameras of all the world was one of his most important weapons in this battle. The apocalyptic “now!” was its rhythm. The time is near or at hand!

On the other hand Benedict XVI’s picture of the church (like Cardinal Ratzinger in the past as head of the Congregation of Faith) referred to the treasure of faith endangered by the secularization of the western modern age. For Pope Ratzinger, the essential medium of proclamation was not in a competition between faith and reason but in their concordance, in the dialogue with those who believe differently, unbelievers or despisers of religion. Such a dialogue has a different time economy than the evangelizing mass movement, the religious event or meeting. [2]


But stop! The church does not have unlimited time for discussions, the new pope says in his first detailed interview with a dozen Jesuit journals from all over the world. Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s picture of Jesus Christ’s church is like an “evacuation hospital after a battle.” “The ability to heal wounds and warm the hearts of people” is central. Everything else can wait. First a close diagnosis of the salvation-historical dangers of the modern age and secularization is necessary. First, heal the wounds of those healing wounds… Three times Pope Bergoglio repeated that, the first Jesuit on the chair of St. Peter in dialogue with his Jesuit brother Antonio Spadaro, the editor of the oldest Italian journal (“La Civilta Cattolica is in its 164th year) and author of a “cyber theology” for the Internet age.

The two greatest evils in the world of today are the unemployment of youth and the loneliness in which our society leaves seniors, Francis said in an interview with “Repubblica.” [3]

The Jesuit order’s time regime was the first thing that impressed him in the priest seminary: distinction, precision and patience. A “Franciscan” inspired church of the poor under Jesuit leadership does not aim at a political upheaval. No, the revolution of hearts needs patience and an eye for distance. Bergoglio speaks (in “La Repubblica”) of “humility and ambition.” He uses these qualities to resolutely and permanently advance church reform. Max Weber’s responsibility ethic could be an analogy in the worldly realm.


“The gift of distinction” as the most important Ignatian virtue demands a calm hand. Episcopal love does not improvise or force; it demands persistence. That is the realism of the Society of Jesus often provoking in its history the reproach of relativism. [4] Jesuits know and accept the sluggishness and lethargy of human historical learning processes. “The wisdom of distinction removes the necessary ambiguity of life and helps us find the right means that are not always the same as what appears big and strong.”

Pope Francis’ debut in world politics did not begin with recourse to principles like Benedict XVI in his address before the UN. [5] Bergoglio’s Querela Pacis in the prayer of angels at St. Peter’s Square on September 1, 2013 was a cry of pain. “How much suffering, destruction and distress were brought into this martyred country (Syria) by the use of weapons - especially against civilians and the unarmed! I think of the many children who will not see the light of the future!”

The medium of his message was not an appeal to reason but an exorcism. In Matthew’s gospel those demons can only be expelled with the weapons of prayer and fasting.

The difference between Bergoglio and Ratzinger is clear. The message of the heart does not need any rationalization. Philosophers could speak here of an a priori of suffering or compassion. The medium of conversion is prayer, not reason. Stopping and recalibrating the heart are carried out physically in fasting.

Bergoglio’s ecclesiastical “now” is unavoidable. This is the pragmatic sense of distance of the Good Samaritan who washes and lifts up his neighbor, transferred to the healing of souls, not the Kairos of the Apocalypse. The last battle is not being staged. The struggle continues. No heavenly host helps us against the devil. The devil is a form of Christian theology that Bergoglio talks about – unlike most Christian theologians.


What does it mean “to seek and find God in all things”? Francis adopts this maxim of St. Ignatius of Loyola. “God is revealed in time and is present in the processes of history,” Pope Bergoglio says. God is only perceived with a spiritual sense or in spiritual sensuousness. “Encounter with God is not an empirical Eureka.” God is found in the breath of the spirit as the prophet Elijah sensed. In this lightness God is at the same time semper maior, always greater than all worldly power and always ahead of all our plans – “like the almost tree in Sicily that is always the first to blossom.” [6]

The personal God can be found in the mystery of every human person. This person – whether homo- or heterosexual, divorced, sinful or fallen – must be protected from “spiritual interference in their personal life” by the church hierarchy. Through his language, Bergoglio has carried out a change of direction, a turn that concerns the pragmatic of proclamation, not dogmatics.

Francis’s opinions for the poor, war refugees and boat people at Europe’s borders – and against the worldwide worship of the idol of money – are theologically more conventional but are no less politically pregnant. That unemployment for years goes along with a violation of human dignity – as Pope Francis explained to unemployed miners from Sulcis – is a firm experience, not a new sociological or theoretical discovery.

Like his Polish predecessor, the new pope is a traditionalist in the poverty question. He does not put all forms of poverty (lack of bread, lack of acknowledgment, poverty in spirit) under a generic term, as the catholic “world ethicist” Hans Kung urges. [7] No, there are concrete priorities for Bergoglio. First of all, we fight hunger, oppression and violence. Afterward we may discuss gender problems and celibacy.


Is Bergoglio’s theology a political theology or even a liberation theology? I remain skeptical here. Many theologians hope for this who suffered unjustly a quarter of a century ago under Karol Wojtylas and Joseph Ratzinger’s Cold War against the politically risky Latin American theology of liberation.

What does it mean when Pope Francis celebrates mass with Gustavo Gutierrez, one of the founders of Latin American liberation theology? [8] This means simply the Cold War in internal church policy may be coming to an end. Every liberation theologian is not ultimately a follower of Fidel Castro.

The theologians to whom Pope Francis appeals plead for a very different tradition. They were certainly not apolitical. Who would have argued that for Ignatius of Loyola? In his conversation with “La Civilta Cattolica,” Bergoglio emphasizes: they were mystics more than dogmaticians. They opened themselves to the experience of the other and the foreigner. [9]

The Jesuit missionaries of the early modern age surpass the borders of Christendom. Father Matteo Ricci tried to find or even invent the Christian message in the interior of an advanced foreign civilization in China – in Chinese Confucianism… In the so-called rite-conflict [10], the order’s founder Ignatius and Bergoglio’s favorite Jesuit, the Ignatius scholar Petrus Faber [11] sought God under the conditions of a modern age whose cosmos is no longer filled by God. They formulated a Christianity – similar and different than the Reformers – for the arising “secular age” without the pre-given canopy of a holy cosmos. [12] These mystics were critical for the church, Pope Francis stresses. A religion without mysticism is merely a philosophy. [13]

The mentality historian of the early modern age Michel de Certeau, one of the thinkers of the present esteemed by Bergoglio (and naturally a Jesuit), defines “mysticism” as a specifically modern form of faith. [14] Seeking God in all things means ultimately God is not there from the first. God’s presence is no longer self-evident or plausible to the entire world. Francis’ church is a hospital in the open air under the open sky.
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