(Photo: Reuters/Giampiero Sposito)
In his first major written work as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis denounced the world's "tyrannical" economic system while urging further support for the poor, arguing that the church must be poor and be for the poor.
Francis criticized "ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation," which he attributed to an "idolatry of money" – much like he has done in the past, when he blasted the free market system and claimed that a global "cult of money" was holding the world captive.
The Vatican leader added in his 50,000-word "apostolic exhortation" that the current economic system is "unjust at its root."
"How can it be 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?" Francis asked. "This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless."
The pope, who throughout his ministry has focused on issues affecting the poor and needy in society, insisted that he wants to see a church "which is poor and for the poor," noting that the disadvantaged often reflect the suffering of Christ.
"They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them," he stressed.
"The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the center of the Church's pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them."
The Roman Catholic Church leader also addressed the topic of abortion in depth, calling for protection for the unborn, whom he called "the most defenseless and innocent among us." On this note he criticized laws seeking to deny them their "human dignity" and attempts to "do with them whatever one pleases."
"Yet this defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right. It involves the conviction that a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems," Francis contended.
"Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be. Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, 'every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offense against the creator of the individual.'"
The document spoke on a number of other topics, including Christianity's relations to Judaism, interreligious dialogue, and the relationship between science and faith.
"The Church has no wish to hold back the marvelous progress of science. On the contrary, she rejoices and even delights in acknowledging the enormous potential that God has given to the human mind," Francis wrote.
"Whenever the sciences – rigorously focused on their specific field of inquiry – arrive at a conclusion which reason cannot refute, faith does not contradict it. Neither can believers claim that a scientific opinion which is attractive but not sufficiently verified has the same weight as a dogma of faith."
The Vatican leader concluded the apostolic exhortation with a prayer to the Virgin Mary, asking her to "obtain for us now a new ardour born of the resurrection, that we may bring to all the Gospel of life which triumphs over death," as well as pray so that the church "may never be closed in on herself or lose her passion for establishing God's kingdom."
The full Apostolic Exhortiation can be read on the Vatican's website.