The pope impresses: Francis continues to reject wealth and privilege

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For those who are Catholic and those who are not, Pope Francis I continues to surprise. You can't help but wonder whether the College of Cardinals knew what they were getting when they elected him in March.

Symbols, as the church reminds us, are never just symbols. It was powerful when the pope washed the feet of two delinquent teenage girls and a young Muslim prisoner on Holy Thursday.

Similarly, the pope's refusal to live in the grand papal apartments and his decision to reside instead in a guest house and take his meals cafeteria-style with others are unprecedented.

Some church bureaucrats must be sharpening long symbolic knives, especially when the pope says the church is too wealthy and does not serve the poor enough. He says this often.

Now Francis has criticized "unbridled" capitalism and the "cult of money." He has called for reform of the global financial system and has said government needs to tackle the causes of the economic crisis, which are rooted in money's "power over ourselves and our society."

"We have created new idols," he said in a recent address in the Vatican. "The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal."

The pope said recently that growing inequality is caused by "ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to states, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good."

Papal teachings have long criticized capitalism and Pope Francis' two predecessors said things very much like what he is saying. But this pope says them almost daily, not yearly.

And he says them with a certain vehemence. Why is it, he asked off the cuff, that when a bank fails it is a political disaster, but when a homeless man dies, the media and the world yawn?

Conservatives like to assert that Jesus was no socialist. Pope Francis, however, might disagree.



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