Pope Francis and Moral Justice

Posted by on Jul 10, 2015 in Essay | Comments Off on Pope Francis and Moral Justice

It was one of the strangest sights I had seen in my twenty-four years: Vietnamese nuns in traditional black and white habits riding in the back of a garbage truck.

This was in 1970, and I was in a jeep on my way to the U.S. Army base in Can Tho, Vietnam, where I would be working as a chaplain’s assistant. I asked the chaplain about this, and he said they were searching through the garbage for anything of value that they could sell on the black market. The money was for the orphanages they ran for abandoned children of American soldiers and Vietnamese girls. Because the children were mixed race, they would never be accepted by the Vietnamese society. Those women, those nuns, were doing everything possible to care for, to love, those infant outcasts, even if it meant riding in the back of garbage trucks. It was the most vivid example I had seen of Christians who lived their beliefs.

With the publication of his encyclical “On Care For Our Common Home,” Pope Francis not only lives what he believes, but is showing what can be done when a religious leader dares to use his position to challenge powerful interests.

These “interests” are multi-national corporations and family dynasties who control a large percentage of wealth in the Western nations. Over the decades, they have convinced many Americans that Christianity and capitalism are synonymous; the godlike “invisible hand of the free market” left unregulated, will eventually cure all social problems, that politics and morality are not even kissing cousins, and that profit at all costs is not only legally required, but morally responsible.

Then along comes Pope Francis, who has the gall to state that not only have humans caused global warming, but adds that this is a symptom of a greater moral problem: an economic system that blindly pollutes and destroys the environment in the pursuit of profit. It is a system that disregards the health and welfare of our brothers and sisters in every nation. He is, in the Biblical sense, a prophet: someone who speaks truth to power.

Of course, Power never wants to hear the truth. Some politicians hoping to become the next President quickly revealed why they are part of the problem. They chastised the Pope–cautiously of course–for meddling in politics; he should stick to moral issues, they said. As if their political stances are not based on the moral views to which they frequently refer in their public utterances.

But perhaps they are revealing the truth: perhaps their political stances lack moral foundations and are merely calculations for raising money, or energizing their “base.” The destruction of earth’s environment, the pollution that contaminates our air and poisons our water, the populations who live in desperate poverty as their nations’ resources are stripped away by corporations–these are not moral problems, they say. These are economic problems, they say.

Pope Francis would disagree. He has written to all of us, believers and non-believers alike, in every nation. Pay attention, look past the fog of political dissension and economic theories, and find where your moral compass leads you. Then gather up your courage and follow.