Pope Francis asked the fundamental question about the root of ills in society and the answer he gave was inequality, an answer that terrifies the handful of wealthy people who own most of the assets on this planet, while the vast majority struggle to survive. If the Pope delivered a message of "spiritual" equality as a right for all people, then the wealthy elites, the media, politicians and pundits acting as apologists for the wealthy would not have a problem. But crossing over from spiritual equality into material one poses a major threat to the status quo. Now that Communism is no more, here comes a Pope who dares to interpret the word of Christ literally and dares to apply it to the realities of peoples' lives.
Pope Francis is actually taking the Vatican and by extension the Catholic Church to its popular base that has been diminishing partly because of scandals, but also because of the increasing secularization of society that deems religion anachronistic in the age of space travel when there are scientific explanations for everything. The Papacy's history in the last fifty years is not particularly a shining example of purity and spirituality, but rather an institution serving political purposes that are arch-conservative, an institution mired in sexual scandals without end, an institution with all kinds of banking-money scandals linking it to corrupt politicians and even to the mafia. For Pope Francis to take over and reach beyond the traditional elites that the Vatican has been interested represents a common sense move imbedded in the instinct for survival and competition with other institutionalized religions.
Pope Francis has deliberately decided to sideline the conservative leaders of the Catholic church, including US bishops historically reactionary and opposed to social justice, largely because the decadence and corruption of the institutions rests with the conservative elements of the Church hiding behind the veil of respectability. That Pope Francis recognizes the decadence of society rests in the hierarchy of the institution, in the hierarchy of the political and financial world and media is a testament to his pragmatism, not Socialism as critics have insisted. Although he insists that he has no political ideology, he is clearly against the concentration of wealth and rise in poverty, for he too knows that a tiny percentage of the world's population owns the lion's share of wealth, while one-third of the planet's people linger in abject poverty.
It is absurd that the Catholic Church has the power to transform the politics of any nation, though it is equally absurd for politicians to go against a strong religious institution. With 1.2 billion faithful behind it, of which 78 million are Americans, the Papacy is a powerful institution but under the leadership of Pope Francis it is only expressing the concerns about the decadence and injustices of capitalism that people already know. Catholics live in the real world and see what is happening around their neighborhood as well as around the planet, where human life has no value but money is the new God to worship.
American talk-radio show hosts known for their extreme right-wing propaganda have devoted a great deal of their work to defame Pope Francis as a Marxist, merely because he speaks of human-centered values, instead of capital-centered ones; because the Pope warns against the hypocrisy of clergy in a manner not that different from Martin Luther 500 years ago; because he argues that the Church is not the walls of the cathedral or its clergy, but the people and their daily needs. Is there any doubt that the critics of Pope Francis would crucify Jesus Christ because he too would dare question the unjust institutions of our time?
Besides attacking the injustices of the political economy and social structure, Pope Francis has also tackled the controversial issues of women's rights and sexual orientation. Conservatives, preferring to live secret lives of hypocrisy while openly advocating rigid restrictions on woman's right to choose and sexual orientation, are upset that Pope Francis has addressed abortion and gays by deviating from the traditional condemnatory position of the church. Preferring to have scandals involving clergy swept under the rug and to turn a blind eye to the reality of abortion, conservatives question where the "populist Pope" is headed when he goes out of his way to reexamine the church's position on such issues while embracing the prostitutes, prisoners, the poor and even non-Catholics as though they were human! In short, conservatives are confused why Pope Francis is acting in the manner Christianity calls him to act. Why deviate from a centuries-long tradition of popes aligned with dictators, the very wealthy, the corrupt elites for interested in having the masses remain docile under the cross.
Conservatives detest that Pope Francis has been apologetic for the institution that has a very long history of scandals that have been well publicized, and even the United Nations has acknowledged as legitimate concerns when it comes to children. That the Vatican has agreed there is no excuse for child abuse is one thing, but that it has called for an even stronger UN is offensive to conservatives that see the UN as an evil international organization trying to protect the rights of defenseless people around the world. Not only did Pope Francis admit that there are too many scandals to mention and that they have been very costly in terms of money and reputation, he has actually sided with the critics that the institution must change. The critics, including UN, favor greater respect for children, human rights, and interfaith cooperation; all of these things that are an anathema to conservatives, especially to Americans who want to make sure that religion is a tool for keeping the masses docile and accepting of the existing social structure and political economy, instead of questioning it.
Pope Francis is hardly a Socialist, no matter what variety of Socialism one chooses from the earliest traces of it in the 16th century to the present. This is a pope who did not take over to change the social structure of society, the political regime or the economy, but to extend a helping hand of compassion to the masses that needed most. Instead of fronting for the elites that have been using the Catholic Church as a tool to maintain and strengthen the existing institutional structure of society, the new pope is trying to clean up the decadence of the institution he inherited so that it has some semblance to what Christianity teaches. Critics who insist he is a dangerous Socialist are merely disappointed that Pope Francis is not following in the same corrupt and elitist tradition of previous popes. Why all the right-wing propaganda about the head of the Catholic Church, a historically right wing institution? The answer is fear that this institution is adding its voice to the critics of a societal structure that is systemically decadent, protecting the privileges of the very few at the expense of the many.