Politics can be a force for good

Pope Francis: Politics Can Still Be a Force for Good

Uncategorized, Wisdom of Pope Francis

This week in Wisdom of Pope Francis, I get into another section of chapter 5 in the pope’s encyclical, Fratelli Tutti. Here, Pope Francis addresses the need for international organizations that bring countries together to “acquire real teeth.” Also, politics has an important role to play in the world. Politicians, if they can do it right, can fulfill their lofty callings of working for the common good. Lastly, where does the local church fit into all of this?

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Wisdom of Pope Francis – Episode 15


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Pope Francis offers advice and encouragement, reminding us of the meaning of Lent and offering practical advice on how to deepen our experience of it. He gives his perspective on the practices of almsgiving, fasting and prayer while also diving deeper into the meaning of the virtues of love, hope and faith in this season. Read his message
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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Wisdom of Pope Francis. We’re continuing chapter 5 of Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, or letter, to the church and world. In this next section, he addresses this idea of international power.

He brings up the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, when banks were bailed out and, at least in the United States, a housing price bubble burst. And he makes the point that, even in light of the crisis, things didn’t change much. He makes the point that real change means, among other things, effectively distributing power.

This is a really interesting idea to me because, in the United States, the question has largely been one of whether we should redistribute wealth or not. Should we tax the rich more and spread the money around? Or should we let the rich keep their money because they will pour it into the economy?

And Pope Francis seems to bypass that issue. The real issue is that there are a handful of people making all the big decisions. As he implied earlier in the chapter and says explicitly here, when big economic, political, technological and defense-related policy is being sorted out, all the group affected by those big decisions need to be at the table helping shape that policy. This is at least what I gather from what he says.

In light of this, he goes on to say that he wishes the United Nations and other international institutions could be reformed so that they “acquire real teeth.” Now, the idea of giving the UN or some international organization “real teeth” can sound a bit ominous. And it should, if by that Pope Francis meant that the Illuminati should take control of world affairs. That’s not what he means.

Pope Francis is always heavy on the point that an organization like the UN can be helpful in so much as it gives a voice to all nations and all peoples so that no culture is trampled on. It is also beneficial in so much as it helps address global issues that no one nation can handle on its own.

This brings to mind this practice among the super-rich of finding “tax havens” to stash their money. Many politicians, I imagine, are afraid of raising taxes for this reason. They are afraid corporations and the rich will just take their money elsewhere. The historian Rutger Bregmen, speaking at Davos, said that we don’t talk enough about how we could solve so many of the world’s problems by making sure the rich pay their fair share and plow that money back into good education, good healthcare, back into the people.

If countries worked together to decide on, say, a minimum tax rate for people making over a million dollars a year or for corporations, how far could that go to bring in desperately needed funds for essential services in many countries? Especially countries in the developing world? How could laws be rewritten to make it so that companies cannot simply off-shore their money somewhere financially pleasant?

This is just one example of a way in which, not single countries or a handful of countries, but a large representative chunk of nations could possibly address systemic international problems.

All of this makes me wonder also what the role of the church is in all of this. I grew up surrounded by a church culture (not Catholic) that was warm towards the idea of limited government and low taxes. I will take care of myself, thank you very much. It wasn’t the government’s job to sort out societal problems. That was the job of individuals and social groups, which meant really that it was the job of the church.

But to place the burden of even a city on the back of its local churches seems a bit a much, right? I mean, first, if the church really is supposed to solve social ills, make sure the poor are all fed and the sick taken care of, why haven’t we done it by now?

The answer to that might be that we have not lived up to our calling. There’s a whole lot of truth in that. But maybe also, we haven’t done it because we can’t do it. That’s what government is for. That’s what politics is for. It allows for, not just Christians, but people of all faiths or no faith, to band together to work for the common good.

This brings me to the next point Pope Francis makes which is that politics, at it’s best, is meant to be a noble profession.

For many people today, politics is a distasteful word, often due to the mistakes, corruption and inefficiency of some politicians…. Yet can our world function without politics? Can there be an effective process of growth towards universal fraternity and social peace without a sound political life?

He says a little later,

In the face of many petty forms of politics focused on immediate interests, I would repeat that true statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good…. Once more, I appeal for a renewed appreciation of politics as a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.

We can love each other on an individual level, and we should. But Pope Francis says we can also love each other on a group level, and international level. Again, if I am my brother’s keeper, then a country is a brother country’s keeper. If loving one another on a micro level is right, then loving each other on a macro level is right as well.

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(Check out this Rutger Bregman video mentioned in the episode)

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3 thoughts on “Pope Francis: Politics Can Still Be a Force for Good

  1. In an ideal world, a body like the United Nations could be harnessed for the good of all. In reality, it is largely run by the bureaucracy which favours ideologies of the left, imposing abortion and contraception, as well as the LBGTQ agenda and the culture of death wherever it goes. The last thing to do is to give it more power.
    I was pleasantly surprised to read recently that in the US, the top 1% of taxpayers, earning 21% of total gross income, pays 40% of total Federal Income Taxes, whereas the bottom 50% pay 3% of the same (2018). This top 1% paid more in income taxes than the bottom 90% of taxpayers combined.
    In my view, the safest way to have aid to the poor reaching them would be to pay money directly into their bank accounts, and that would reach only people who are in a relatively advanced economy. For the rest, the best I can suggest is Catholic Mission, where aid goes where it is most needed, for the poorest of the poor, including schools and spiritual development.

    1. “In my view, the safest way to have aid to the poor reaching them would be to pay money directly into their bank accounts”. It’s interesting how that view is gaining more traction, from UBI to Romney’s new bill in the US advocating for giving $2-300 per child per month to families. They may be part of the answer. I agree that the UN and other international and national bureaucracies can be corrupt and lean towards policies we don’t agree with as Catholics, but this doesn’t stop us from trying, say, to have meaningful political life in the US or joining a group that is full of people of different faiths or no faith for some common cause. Maybe the UN just needs to be infiltrated with more solid Catholics. 🙂 On the tax issue, let me say the example in there was mine and not Pope Francis’. I am very grateful for the large amount of funding that comes from the wealthy, and I don’t truly know what the answer is with taxes. We should be grateful, but at the same time, I think of this quote from St. Basil the Great: “When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.” In the 50’s in the US, the tax rate on the super rich was as high as 90% and the country flourished.

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