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Tuesday, 17 December 2013 07:29

Pope Francis vs. Rush Limbaugh: Swatting Away the Smack-Down King

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FistThere is no doubting that Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina) is a different kind of Pope; kinder, gentler, friendlier, less judgmental, living simpler, more open, humbler and much more media savvy than many of the previous occupants of the Holy See. Although some progressives are leaping out of their Chuck Taylor All-Stars to get on board Pope Francis' social justice Pope-mobile – and there's nothing wrong with that -- it remains to be seen whether anything concrete comes out of the Pope's critique of trickle down economics and capitalism run amok.

By making his pronouncement he has accomplished at least one thing: he has exposed some of the conservative critics of the Catholic Church's social justice agenda for being hypocritical blowhards. For those who see the Pope focusing on the poor as part of a larger public relations campaign to rebuild the reputation of the Church, the Pope's exhortation ("Evangelii Gaudium") on economic issues has already accomplished several things; news about the Church's financial and sexual scandals have all but disappeared from view.

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In an interview over the past weekend, Pope Francis – recently named "Person of the Year" by Time magazine, and The Advocate, a publication focusing on LGBT issues -- responded to the attack on him by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

On his program, Limbaugh said "Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as 'a new tyranny.' He beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document ... setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church. In it, Pope Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the 'idolatry of money.'"

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Limbaugh claimed that the Pope's critique of capitalism was "pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope." Limbaugh also maintained that "this Pope makes it very clear he doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism and so forth."

Taking the high road in a wide-ranging interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa newspaper, Pope Francis defended his remarks: "Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don't feel offended." He added, "There is nothing in the exhortation that cannot be found in the social doctrine of the church."

Pope Francis went on to say that "There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. I wasn't speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the 'trickle-down theories' which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefitting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church's social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist."

(For an excellent take on Pope Francis, see "Who Am I To Judge? – A radical Pope's first year," by James Carroll in the December 23, 2013 New Yorker magazine.)

Limbaugh had his defenders. Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights said that his organization "has never, ever, ever been after anybody for criticizing the pope or priest or a bishop. We get involved when you hit below the belt, when you start becoming insulting. He didn't like the pope's views on economics. Rush Limbaugh is entitled to that."

In a posting on lezgetreal.com, Bridgette P. LaVictoire pointed out that Donohue's "below the belt" standard was strictly a matter of interpretation: "Donohue went after anyone who dared to criticize Pope Benedict XVI and the Bishops and Priests who supported him. Of course, Donohue was busy defending Benedict and those particular members of the Catholic Church who were going after social issues such as homosexuality, same-sex marriage and abortion. Those are issues that, to Donohue's dismay, Francis has been less than willing to go after aggressively."

Earlier this week, Rush Limbaugh told his radio audience that "I've never seen the left come to the defense of a Pope or the Catholic Church like I have seen them come to the defense of the Pope and the Catholic Church this time."

Limbaugh maintained that even though the left disagrees with the Pope on a host of issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage, it hates Limbaugh so passionately that the Pope is getting a free pass at Limbaugh's expense.

He said, in his characteristic understated manner, that "Rush Limbaugh, [is] leading more leftists to the Catholic Church, [and] leading more progressive leftists to the teachings of the Catholic Church than any modern media figure."

If progressives are returning to the church, let us hope that it is because the church, under the guidance of Pope Francis, continues to focus its attention to social and economic justice issues than culture war issues.

(Photo: Kurmis)