It was inevitable. With the election of a new man to the Chair of Peter, we’re already seen an effort to portray him as “socially conservative” yet “economically progressive.” This seems to be the way virtually every pope has been presented since Leo XIII’s long reign. And it’s a profound illustration of the limits of applying secular political categories to something like the Catholic Church.
No one in their right mind would describe Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., as an ecclesiastical Milton Friedman or a closet free marketer. Plainly, he’s not. But Francis does have two particular concerns with regard to economic issues. One is the naked materialism and consumerism that disfigures so many peoples’ lives. No Catholic is going to affirm people seeking their salvation in the endless acquisition of stuff. Francis’s asceticism is a clear repudiation of that mindset.
Francis’s second concern regarding economic issues is the materially poor. Again, that’s precisely what you would expect from any orthodox Catholic. As Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia (who’s no social liberal) once memorably wrote: “Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period.”