The Pope Just Compared Capitalism to Abortion

by Benjamin Studebaker

Pope Francis recently released an apostolic exhortation entitled Evangelii Gaudium on “the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world”. Generally, I have been skeptical of the popular interpretation of Pope Francis’ words and deeds–that they represent a serious break with the policies of Pope Benedict. However, in this newest work, Francis says something that, on any reasonable interpretation, would have most Catholics in developed countries behaving very differently. What are the full implications of what Francis said? Let’s take a look.

First, I’d like to point out the areas in which this pope represents no break from his predecessor. Pope Francis has often been interpreted as having taken a more lenient line on homosexuality, abortion, and other social issues than Pope Benedict did, but in the exhortation, he makes it clear that his view is consistent with Benedict’s. He attacks efforts to change the institution of marriage:

The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born “of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life”.

He also clearly states his opposition to abortion:

I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or “modernizations.” It is not “progressive” to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.

This makes it all the more interesting when the pope claims that capitalism is wrong for the very same reason that he believes abortion to be wrong:

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.

It is reasonable to presume that the pope is careful and deliberate with his words and is not given to hyperbole. The capitalist economy is, by its very nature, given to inequalities. If such an economy kills, then capitalism, like abortion, murders, and those who contribute to capitalism are murderers in the same way that those who contribute to abortion are deemed murderers. We must also remember that Pope Francis is a global figure. What he says he says in reference not merely to specific national cases, but to the global situation. Therefore, Francis’ victims of the economy are not merely the lower classes in rich countries, but the entire developing world. “Such an economy” is not merely killing homeless New Yorkers, it’s killing millions of people in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.

About 1/3rd of all the deaths worldwide are poverty-related. Last year, 56 million people died worldwide, so it’s fair to estimate that 18.6 million of those deaths were caused by poverty. For comparison’s sake, the World Health Organization estimates that 40-45 million fetuses are aborted each year. This would, from the pope’s perspective, make capitalism slightly less than half as fatal as abortion, but in any case, if capitalism and abortion were dictators, he would presumably accuse both of mass slaughter. Indeed, if capitalism and abortion were dictators, they would be the very worst dictators:

By the pope’s calculus, capitalism kills more people than Adolf Hitler every year, and it kills as many as Mao Zedong every 4-5 years. Abortion, manages as many as Mao in just 2. No modern living autocrat has been brutal enough to make this list, yet we in the United States thought Saddam Hussein, the Taliban, and Muammar Gaddafi were sufficiently murderous to be worth getting rid of with military force. From the pope’s perspective, capitalism and abortion are much more serious evils.

This puts strict, by the book Catholics in a rather awkward position. In modern developed countries, the right-wing party is often (though not always) opposed to abortion, but it fully embraces the capitalist system. By contrast, the left-wing party sometimes (though not usually) opposes capitalism but is permissive towards abortion. This means that the committed Catholic voter chooses between two gangs of murderers. For Catholics, supporting the right is supporting Hitler while supporting the left is supporting half a Mao. In cases in which the right wing party doesn’t seriously attempt to restrict abortion rights and in which the left doesn’t seriously try to bring about an end to capitalism (the UK/France/Italy/Germany/etc.), both sides of the political spectrum  are essentially the same murderers in different colored ties.

How can any serious, by the book Catholic support or contribute to political systems of that variety? Catholics are left with a choice either to not take their Catholicism seriously–to embrace the “cafeteria Catholic” label, or to become militant opponents of modern democratic systems of government in developed countries. If these Catholics think it acceptable to inhibit the function of abortion clinics (or, in extreme cases, to blow them up), they should think it acceptable to inhibit the function of the global financial system (or, in extreme cases, to blow it up). If they want to be consistent, they must demand political leaders who are simultaneously socialist and socially conservative. In both America and Europe, no major candidate or party is to be found that expresses a truly Catholic worldview.

As a result, with every transaction, even by paying taxes, Catholics contribute to an economic system that they believe every year equals Hitler in its murderous violence. In contrast, Catholics rarely directly contribute to abortion– indeed, they often go to great lengths to ensure that their tax dollars do not fund abortions. A true Catholic cannot live in a modern rich country without personally making direct contributions to what he considers equivalent to an annual Holocaust. If we were under the rule of Adolf Hitler (or worse, a dictator who managed to be as brutal as Hitler was in 12 years in just one), we would presumably go to great lengths either to escape to a foreign country or to overthrow his regime. Those individuals who did neither of these things, who acquiesced, are today labelled “collaborators”. Catholics who do not emigrate from rich developed countries or actively attempt to overthrow their governments are, on their own terms, no different from French and German citizens who contributed their tax dollars to the Nazi war machine and watched their brethren go to the gas chambers in silence.

I myself make no accusations of this kind. I do not hold that inequality and abortion are always and everywhere forms of murder.  However, Pope Francis does, and those Catholics who take his teachings seriously do. For these people to claim to hold these beliefs but to take no action on their behalf is a grave inconsistency. Either they are themselves every day stricken with immense guilt and fear of the hell they must surely believe awaits them for their inaction, or they do not truly believe what they claim they believe. In any case, the rules of logic require that strict Catholics either conform their behavior to fit their beliefs or alter their beliefs. If you really think that humanity commits annual Holocausts against itself, you ought to do something about it.