The new Pope’s passion for social justice and lifting up the poor has already earned him the adoration of American liberals just weeks into the Argentinian’s papacy.
In a way, Pope Francis is a progressive’s dream-come-true — a devout figure with enormous credibility among conservatives and Christians, who has used his megaphone to speak out against greed, consumerism and economic policies that alienate the poor and vulnerable.
“I think about those who are unemployed often because of an economic conception of society that seeks egoistic profit regardless of social justice,” Pope Francis told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square last month, in one of his many remarks that have caught the attention of liberals.
“As a progressive I think the Pope kinda rocks,” Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, the influential think tank with close ties to the White House, said on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher” in late May. “He’s been great on so many issues.”
Lifting up the society’s least fortunate has been a central theme for man who replaced Pope Benedict XVI in March.
“The Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them,” Pope Francis said in a May 16 speech to a group of ambassadors. “The Pope appeals for disinterested solidarity and for a return to person-centred ethics in the world of finance and economics.”
It’s a delightful change for liberals accustomed to a Catholic Church that has for the last generation focused its preachings on social conservatism, which inspired many American conservatives as they fought against abortion and gay rights.
“Pope Francis’ speech is very similar to our message at the AFL-CIO,” said Damon Silvers, policy director and special counsel for the country’s largest labor union. “The values expressed by the Pope are the values the labor movement embraces.”
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, the combative liberal activist group, praised Pope Francis’ focus on social justice and characterized his economic values as the diametric opposite of those held by the American conservative movement.
“Pope Francis is right — policy makers need to be focusing on creating jobs,” said spokesman Matt Wall. “[I]nstead, Tea Party Republicans are more focused on taking benefits away from our grandparents … than creating good paying jobs that will rebuild America’s middle class and eliminate poverty.”
In an interview with TPM, Tanden said Pope Francis hasn’t dramatically changed the conversation in Washington, but argued that he’s having a real impact in Europe, which is reeling from years of painful, counterproductive austerity measures.
She said that amidst a national backdrop where the deficit is declining and income inequality is growing, “the Pope’s comments are a huge, important development” that could have a real impact on conservatives and religious Americans. “The fact that he’s been so aggressive on social justice is something all progressives should welcome.”
Liberals hope the Pope continues to speak out along the same lines and that his teachings will give pause to American conservatives whose politics include cuts in government aid for the poor and needy.
Beyond that, Silvers sees a deeper philosophical meaning to the Pope’s remarks.
“When Pope Francis says economic policy right now in the world is undermining the dignity of human beings, I think that’s his comment on austerity, even though I don’t think he actually uses the word austerity,” he said. “But he does use another word which is very dear to us and that’s ‘solidarity’ — the idea that people are bound to another. That this connection between people is what makes life worth living, and that public policy should be about trying to reinforce ties between people and not trying to rip them apart.”