Evangelii Gaudium and its Conservative Critics

I have yet to share my response to the pope’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. This is not because I don’t think it’s important, but because I’ve been busy reading and thinking about it. I still haven’t finished studying it–it’s more than 200 pages–but with the ongoing criticism from conservatives threatening to confuse the issues, I don’t want to wait until I’ve finished it to state my position on it.

The first thing I want to mention is its attempt to reinforce basic principles, while preparing a better way for the Church. For that reason, I think it might provide a model of sorts for what I’ve been trying to figure out here. There are obvious differences: Pope Francis’s exhortation is directed to the Church; I’ve been trying to describe community as the source of effective political representation. My basic assumption has been that political representatives should have roots in the community and share some of its material interests. This would assure they can be counted on to protect those interests. To be clear, this was never suggested in the pope’s exhortation, however, the question of how that might might be arranged will probably bring out the critics, as it brought out recent accusations from within the church that the pope is a Marxist. With that in mind, I would like to begin by saying, as he did, I’m not a Marxist or a socialist.

There are several remarkable statements in this document. As I understand it, it acknowledges that change is necessary in the Church, including changes to its ‘structure’. It also demonstrates sympathy with the problems of our secular nation and presents a desperately needed criticism of ‘unfettered capitalism’. You would think the need would be evident even to conservatives, but this is the part most singled out by critics.

There have been admiring responses to this address as well, some of them from the left, but others from members of the Church. I’ve sensed that Catholics are unsure about how to discuss it with a secular audience, but I think it can and should be discussed. We just need to discover the best way to do that. In other words, we need to have the conversation about the conversation.

When I began writing here I hoped to talk about positive things as much as possible. Then the Arab Spring and NATO collided in Libya and there haven’t been many hopeful things to talk about. This may be changing, first in the U.S. government, and now in the Catholic Church.

The humility of the pope’s exhortation is perfectly suited to these dangerous times, and the act of expressing this vision for the future is a generous thing, especially when the road map isn’t entirely clear on all points. I’ve spent a fair amount of time here, writing about the importance of a good conversation. This is what I had in mind.

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