Pope Francis is a just and righteous man, a characterization with which few would argue.
When he visited the United States the first time two weeks ago he was a rock star. Streets were closed and traffic slowed as admirers tried getting a glimpse of the man whose popularity has gone through the roof since he was elected pontiff.
He is surprisingly popular even among liberals and atheists.
There is no denying that Pope Francis has devoted his time and energy to rejuvenating the Catholic Church in the public’s eye, fighting corruption and bureaucracy and attempting to right the wrongs of past clergy abuse.
The pope has successfully broadcast a message of love, tolerance and compassion to the people of the 21st-century world.
But the pope seems uncomfortable with capitalism. At times he has called on the poor to rise up in defiance of corporations and their capitalist ideas because of his belief that they hurt people.
Back in July, the pope was asked about his views of capitalism and how they are “perceived by Americans as a direct criticism of their system and their way of life.”
He responded, “... This economy kills. I remember that phrase well. It had a context.... I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I heard about it, but I haven’t read about it, I haven’t had the time to study this well, because every criticism must be received, studied, and then dialogue must be ensue.”
Francis once said that the unfettered pursuit of money is “the dung of the devil.”
During the pope’s address to Congress on September 24, he blunted some of his economic criticisms.
Instead of wealth “redistribution,” – a keyword for socialism – he spoke of wealth “distribution.” In his talk he altered his written text, removing the line, “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.”
But while we all agree that soulless capitalism, marked by greed, can be destructive, the many anti-capitalist messages and perspectives advanced by the pope can be equally counterproductive.
Poverty is not a state that should be honored. Rather, it is the job of society and government to help lift people out of poverty to a life of economic independence and dignity.
The truth is that when implemented properly, competition and market- driven models have succeeded in helping grow economies, thus helping to raise masses of people out of poverty and into a much more prosperous lifestyle. While there is a growing gap in income between the wealthy and the poor, outright socialism and giving control of the economy to governments is not the solution. It has been tried and it has repeatedly failed.
For all its flaws, capitalism has bested socialism every time and made a mockery of communism and that in part is why the West is the most sought after, most prosperous place to live.
The pope acknowledged this when he called on America to allow in more immigrants. People want to live in the United States because of the prosperity that capitalism has generated.
But when it comes to Pope Francis’s outlook, this is of secondary importance to me. Above all, the pope is a moral beacon to the world, the globe’s foremost religious voice. What he says about issues of good and evil matters supremely.
In the United States the pope addressed the world’s most influential legislature and met with the most powerful man on earth. He spoke to the nation with the world’s most powerful military. I was certain he would make the slaughter of Christians throughout the Middle East one of his principal battle cries. Inexplicably, he all but ignored mentioning many of the atrocities raging throughout the world.
In his speech, he spoke about the need to take in refugees fleeing the raging wars in the Middle East, but said nothing about stopping ISIS’s murderous rampage that has caused these people to be refugees. He advocated creating and distributing wealth to the poor, but said nothing about the thousands of women and children in Syria and Iraq being auctioned off in sex slave markets. And in discussing the tragic migrant issue affecting Europe and the Middle East, could he not have mentioned that Bashar Assad, who has murdered more than 200,000 innocent Arabs, is the prince of evil who has caused this vast migration? Pope Francis discussed climate change before Congress.
But we heard nothing about how parts of the globe could warm to 150 million degrees Fahrenheit if Iran sets off a nuclear bomb. He delivered an anti-war message and called to stop trade in arms, but said nothing about using the weapons at our disposal to stop the genocide of Christians at the hands of radical Islamist extremists. And yes, I know, the pope has condemned the mass murder of Christians before. But his urgency, especially when appearing before the American Congress, would seem to be less than warranted by the wholesale slaughter of Christians and Muslims happening right now.
Unfortunately, this perspective is widespread.
Many of us in the West may think of the killing of Christians as something that has no real bearing on us. We reassure ourselves that Christianity is still the largest religion in the world, and the massacres being perpetrated in the Middle East can all be dismissed as the indecipherable actions of madmen.
But then we see the killings in Roseburg, Oregon, in which another madman asked college students if they were Christians when deciding to kill them, and it hits a little closer to home.
This assault on Christianity is a growing phenomenon, and it is an outrage that cannot be so easily dismissed by the media and general public.
While the pope has in the past made reference to the Christians being massacred in the Middle East, he has not demanded loudly and clearly that the world must declare a full war on ISIS and all elements that are perpetrating this genocide of Christian. He has not called for the removal of Bashar Assad to stop the gassing of Arab children.
The pope should mention this in every speech he makes, over and over, especially at high-profile venues like Congress. Global warming, arms control and wealth inequality should not take precedence over human lives being snuffed out, day after day.
Religious leaders must be at the forefront of bravely calling out the most egregious violations of basic human morality, without regard to the criticism they may face as a result.
I pray that Pope Francis as well as all world leaders will finally shift their focus and use every bit of their influence and power to stop the mass murder of his co-religionists that is emptying the Middle East of Christians.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international bestselling author of 30 books including his upcoming The Israel Warriors Handbook.