A sudden illumination of human affairs in their essentials is rare -- especially so when the structure and workings of a whole society are concerned. Normally, those occasions involve dramatic events that tear away veils and expose what has been hidden. That is not the case in this instance. Pope Francis' denunciation of predatory capitalism along with the willful disregard for its pernicious consequences has not set off any fireworks. Just the opposite. What is stunning is the tepid response -- such as it is. Media, public officials and the political class as a whole has paid it scant attention. Therein lies the revelation.
Francis has composed a papal document, Evangelii Gaudium, unprecedented for the power of its message and the brutally frank language that expresses it. His "apostolic exhortation" condemning the "idolatry of money" proclaims as a commandment that today we must "say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality." Such an economy kills." Unbridled capitalism is "a new tyranny," under the unjust rule of "King Money." It uses its overweening power to dehumanize those who don't serve its interests --fostering "a throwaway culture that discards young people as well as its older people." Francis steered clear of euphemisms and elisions in bluntly declaring that "As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems."
.He commands not just individual Christians but beseeches politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education and healthcare." Francis is moved by more than the pastoral mission to save souls; he aims to improve the conditions of his fellow beings in the here and now. He is talking politics and policy. "I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor." From a Christian perspective, from a humane perspective, it is intolerable 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."
In short, Francis has issued a challenge at once moral and political. His admonishment denies the self-serving convenience of partitioning what one feels and believes in the church pew from what one does in the profane realm. Therein lies his radicalism. Therein lies the reason why his message has evoked barely any resonance -- except for the scornful disparagement issued from the usual business apologists. That silence confirms the correctness of his appraisal. Too, it demonstrates how entrenched are the attitudes and structures of power that shape our society and tolerate its callous injustices.
How have the economic kings, our elected rulers, our masters of communication, and the American church itself reacted to Francis' plea? The mainstream media have slighted it by neglect. The New York Times ran one straight news story -- no editorial, no op-eds, no follow-up. The Wall Street Journal ignored the story completely, literally a non-event for them. The WSJ thereby showed itself true to its mission as a propaganda sheet for a dogmatic version of nineteenth century Darwinian capitalism. The Washington Post did better: a number of analytical pieces and commentaries. The New Yorker? National Journal? Time? National Review? New Republic? The New York Review of books blog? All - zero coverage. Television news has been its usual hapless self. Miley Cyrus gets more attention on her off-days.
What of our leaders in Washington and around the country? The White House has not said a word. President Barack Obama, renowned as a former community organizer, hasn't seen fit to relate it to any of his goals or programs. This despite a few recent rhetorical flourishes on the theme of inequality. When he is pictured in his pew at church Sunday mornings with head bowed in his hands, evidently his mind is not pondering the Biblical strictures: "when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed." (Luke 14:13); or, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." Proverbs 31:8-9; or, "If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered." Proverbs 21:13
Mr Obama does play golf with Jamie Dimon.
Nor have we heard from those church-going Methodists, the Clintons, whose family foundation is supposedly dedicated to uplift on a worldwide scale. Nor are there words of solidarity from Democratic Congressional leaders. As for the Republicans - we instinctively know the answer.
Then there is the American Catholic Church. Its cardinals are not known for their circumspection on matters of public policy - certainly not when it comes to abortion, gays, or contraception. They brim with righteous indignation. They lobby, they pronounce, they threaten Catholic office-holders with excommunication. They use the altar as the bully pulpit. On Francis' message, though, their silence is awesome.
The most powerful Catholic prelate, Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan of New York, appeared on television this Sunday morning. It was the perfect occasion to express solidarity with his Pope and to reinforce the Holy Father's message. Instead, Dolan chose to spend his time on a weary reiteration of his unbending opposition to accommodation on any of the three issues that compose his triangle of evil. Of course, the American bishops cannot support the Affordable Care Act as long as it includes coverage for abortion. They "bristle' at it because ''it's excluding .... the unborn baby." Cardinal Dolan, by contrast, has a cozy relationship with Michael Bloomberg and the Wall Street tycoons whose record on the needy leaves something to be desired.
The Gospels, as we know, make no reference to contraceptives, abortions or gays. When Jesus extended his embrace to the poor, the lame and the sick, he did not add a proviso that they first conform to the Vatican's loyalty tests to dogma that were a late add-on.
This past week we have seen America as it is. A country of many virtues - but one that is a plutocracy by any reasonable measure. Moreover, we have seen a country that takes that as an incontrovertible given.