International News

Pope’s Exhortation Draws Reactions from All Sides

WASHINGTON (CNS) – Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) has prompted plenty of commentary – and not exclusively from Catholic circles.

“Pope Francis is a living model of the new evangelization,” said Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis.

The pope “is showing us how to live the Gospels and reach out to the world with what every person needs, a relationship with God,” the bishop said on the day the exhortation was released. “He is leading the world to deeper faith, and the bishops of the United States happily receive this exhortation with faith and look forward to sharing it in our dioceses.”

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson called “Evangelii Gaudium” an “important and timely contribution to the cause of the new evangelization.” Anderson was an auditor at last year’s synod.

Loving Outreach for All

“It highlights his belief that the Gospel message and loving outreach of the Church are for everyone, that the Church must go outside itself and welcome those on the margins with love and healing in the spirit of Christ Himself,” Anderson said. “If this document is embraced by the Church throughout the world, it could mark a key moment for a reinvigorated new evangelization of our culture.”

“Evangelii Gaudium” “is pure Pope Francis,” said Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, Fla. “It is a challenge to the Church from a shepherd who lived and worked in a large urban environment in the new world where everything does not work or look like it might in Europe.”

“The Holy Father has addressed fundamental challenges facing the entire world, especially the poorer nations and challenges the more prosperous to an even higher level of accountability. And what he asks of nations, he also asks of persons,” Bishop Lynch said. “Because Pope Francis is so popular, one can expect fairly severe criticisms directed his way and we should be supportive of him. He knows what the poor look like, what they need and seek.”

Catholic op-ed columnists at two major U.S. daily newspapers also took stock of the pope’s words.

“Pope Francis has surprised the world because he embraces the Christian calling to destabilize and to challenge. As the first leader of the Catholic Church from the Southern Hemisphere, he is especially mindful of the ways in which unregulated capitalism has failed the poor and left them ‘waiting,’” said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

“American liberals and conservatives alike might be discomfited by the pope’s criticism of ‘the individualism of our postmodern and globalized era,’ since each side defends its own favorite forms of individualism,” Dionne added. “Francis mourns ‘a vacuum left by secularist rationalism,’ not a phrase that will sit well with all on the left. And in light of the obsessive shopping on Cyber Monday and Black Friday, here is a pope who paints consumerism in the darkest of hues.”

Noting that Pope Francis’ economic critique is no different from those of Blessed John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI, Dionne said, “The difference is that a concern for the poor and a condemnation of economic injustice are at the very heart of Francis’s mission.”

Ross Douthat, in The New York Times, said there were “merits” for Catholic conservatives’ deflections of the economic criticisms issued in “Evangelii Gaudium,” “but they still seem insufficient to the Francis era’s challenge to Catholics on the limited-government, free-market right.”

Catholic and Conservative Ideas

“This is where Francis’s vision should matter to American Catholics who usually cast ballots for Republican politicians. The pope’s words shouldn’t inspire them to convert en masse to liberalism, or to worry that the throne of Peter has been seized by a Marxist anti-pope,” Douthat wrote. “But they should encourage a much greater integration of Catholic and conservative ideas than we’ve seen since ‘compassionate conservatism’ collapsed, and inspire Catholics to ask more – often much more – of the Republican Party, on a range of policy issues.”

“The challenge for conservative Catholics, is to do somewhat better,” Douthat said, “and to spend the Francis era not in opposition but seeking integration – meaning an economic vision that remains conservative, but in the details reminds the world that our Catholic faith comes first.”