Dear Pope Francis,
God bless you and your work to shift the emphasis of the Church away from the rules and regulations and the “thou shalt not’s”, and back toward love of God, and love of neighbor.
I pray this leadership continues. The stories of your shoes, your $5 watch, your ‘new car’ – rather than the Popemobile, your more modest living quarters, private pastoral visits, your embrace of the man with neurofibromatosis or “Elephant Man’s Disease” – all these things help me understand why you were a surprise to the world, and an easy choice for your fellow cardinals.
Your recent document to Catholics has been read by the media here in the United States as a criticism of free markets, rather than the economic inequality and poverty that frequently results from unfettered over-the-top capitalism.
I hope you are not in doubt, Pope Francis, that the free market system best generates the most goods and services for the greatest number of people.
The only people who could claim with a straight face that socialism or communism is a better economic system are First-World academics.
Capitalism, absent perfect and perfectly-generous capitalists, does result in inequality and poverty.
It is also noisy and chaotic, like democracy. But it has brought great progress to human beings, and continues to do so.
The progress in Asia, in particular, in the last thirty years as a result of more open markets has been dramatic.
Churchill said, “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”
To the extent that the Church, clergy AND laity, can work to remind each other of our need to love our neighbors, we can further reduce that unequal sharing of blessings and make sure that all human beings have their basic needs met.
After all, the set of questions we will all face when our time on earth is done is highly personal: "Did YOU feed the hungry? Did YOU clothe the naked? Did YOU visit the imprisoned? Did YOU tend to the sick?"
The question is NOT: "Did you lobby for larger government programs to take care of the obligations implied by the command that we love our neighbor, and did you pay your taxes?" The obligation is personal, not communal, nor even on the family.
The principal author of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, said, “That government is best which governs least.” Many Americans, including many conservative Catholics, believe that.
Research confirms that many such conservatives put their money where their mouth is: increased levels of giving of “time, talent and treasure” in the US coincide with four factors: strong religious beliefs and practices, skepticism about the government’s role in economic life, strong family life and values, and personal entrepreneurism. (Who Really Cares, Arthur Brooks, 2006.)
As an Argentine, with its uneven economic and political history up to this day, you may not have been exposed to a vibrant and healthy market economy, peopled by a fair number of Christians who attempt to live the gospel.
Or perhaps, as another writer has suggested, you have chosen your words in a way designed to ‘stir the pot,’ and get Catholics thinking and talking about fulfilling the gospel obligations.
But free markets exist here, and so it is my hope that you will work closely with socialist AND capitalist Christians to help fulfill the message of the gospels.
And I hope you will continue to re-order the values and assets of the Church, using its wealth to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned and tend to the sick.
Perhaps a building moratorium (or a new approval process) for costly Church projects would be in order.
My telephone number is on the hard copy of this letter sent to you, Pope Francis, in case you wish to talk to me. I will continue to pray for you daily, that God gives you the strength and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to lead our Church.
*Kevin Conboy is a retired lawyer, who served most recently as a partner with the global firm of Paul Hastings LLP. He has taught on an adjunct basis at Emory University and the University of Georgia Schools of Law, and at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. He is also a member of the Global Irish Network and has served for eight years as the President of the Irish Chamber of Atlanta. The opinions expressed are of his own.The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.