Will the Catholic Church Base Itself in the ‘Dispossessed?’
Pope Francis calls for putting the poor and the planet first. What does it mean?
A pope who speaks for the poor and the planet and says he wants to clean house in the Catholic Church, getting rid of the glitz and glamour and putting priests back on the street in sandals. What does it mean?
In the U.S., no one likes to think they’re “the poor,” but the word used in the bible actually translates “the dispossessed” — the class of people who had something once, but had it taken away by the wealthy.
In the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire was forcefully expanding its economy into the Middle East, replacing self-sufficient village farming with hacienda agriculture. It was creating a brutal new world of landed oligarchs and landless peasants — some forced into slavery, others forced to look for work in the wretched slums of the cities.
Today another process of dispossession is underway. People are being dispossessed of their jobs, their homes, and forced out of their very countries in a cataclysmic shift orchestrated by the obscenely rich and by the governments they buy.
Behind that change is the revolution in technology that is pushing human beings out of one job after another, replacing them with computerized robots and machines. Now the cost of labor is not what it takes to keep workers alive and healthy, but the cost of the machines that replace them — about $3.50 an hour and going down.
In another world, having our work done by machines would be paradise — with society producing enough to supply all human needs with much less human labor, and more time for everybody to spend with their friends and families.
But under the current regime — the capitalist oligarchy — the opposite is true. Under their control, the “rise of the robots” means loss of jobs, declining wages, less food, higher rents, doubling up, homelessness, going from one country to another looking for work — a new slavery. And this time the oligarchy has little reason to keep the slaves alive.
Today the challenge for the Catholic Church — and for all churches and other institutions — is to center themselves in the dispossessed.
They must envision a new world in which everybody has enough (and peace breaks out because of it), and they must organize themselves to bring that about. Like Old Testament prophets — like Jesus — they must go up against the ruling class, and unfortunately their leaders must be prepared to pay the price.
When Jesus brought forth that vision, organized around it, and carried it into Jerusalem, the Roman-backed oligarchy had him executed as a revolutionary — Rome used the cross only for executing rebels. When Archbishop Oscar Romero called on government troops to lay down their arms as Salvadorans rose against the U.S. backed oligarchy, he too was assassinated.
Pope Frances has called on all Catholics — indeed, all the world — to end our poverty and defend our planet. With the brutal truth-telling of the prophets, he points to the cause of our misery: the global economic system of the oligarchs and the worship of material things that it engenders. He well knows the price he may pay for doing so — among his first acts, he moved to sanctify Romero.
Still, Pope Francis travels openly among the people. By making the poor and the planet our top priority, he is returning the church to its roots. That is why his call is so radical and why it is necessary for the faithful to assure that his vision is realized – and that every priest and bishop follows in his footsteps.