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Pope Francis Laments Failures Of Market Capitalism In Blueprint For Post-COVID World

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Francis, in Assisi, Italy, on Oct. 3.
Vatican Media via AP
Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Francis, in Assisi, Italy, on Oct. 3.

Pope Francis has presented his blueprint for a post-COVID-19 world, covering a vast number of issues from fraternity and income inequality to immigration and social injustice.

The document, released Sunday, is his third encyclical — the most authoritative form of papal teaching.

Its title is Fratelli Tutti, and it is a scathing description of laissez faire capitalism and a meditation on the coronavirus pandemic that has swept across the globe.

Pope Francis began writing the document early this year, with the aim of focusing on interreligious dialogue following the landmark joint statement he signed in February 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar mosque and one of the highest authorities of Sunni Islam.

But, as Francis writes, the pandemic "unexpectedly erupted" and his focus widened, and the document became a treatise on the lessons that must be learned from the global health crisis.

Once the pandemic passes, the pope writes, "our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation."

Picking up on some of his favorite themes, Francis says the marketplace cannot resolve every problem, and he denounces what he describes as "this dogma of neoliberal faith" that "resort[s] to the magic theories of 'spillover' or 'trickle.' "

A good economic policy, he says, creates jobs — it doesn't eliminate them.

The document echoes the pope's focus on the need to welcome migrants and provide for the poor and disabled.

"Every brother or sister in need, when abandoned or ignored by the society in which I live, becomes an existential foreigner, even though born in the same country. They may be citizens with full rights, yet they are treated like foreigners in their own country. Racism is a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting."

The encyclical is a sharp critique of nationalism and populism. In one section, he warns against "unhealthy 'populism' when individuals are able to exploit politically a people's culture, under whatever ideological banner, for their own personal advantage or continuing grip on power."

At another point in the document, he denounces the divisiveness caused by social media, lamenting that "social aggression has found unparalleled room for expansion through computers and mobile devices."

He continues: "This has now given free rein to ideologies. Things that until a few years ago could not be said by anyone without risking the loss of universal respect can now be said with impunity, and in the crudest of terms, even by some political figures."

At another point in the encyclical, Francis turns to the Catholic Church's own doctrine on war, rejecting it as a means of legitimate defense.

"It is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a 'just war'. Never again war!"

Ahead of its release, the title, Fratelli Tutti, which translates to Brothers All in English, sparked controversy in the English-speaking world, with some Catholics saying it is not sufficiently gender inclusive. The Vatican stressed that in Italian, fratelli refers to both brothers and sisters.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.