The Huffington Post breathily exclaimed Sunday that Pope Francis had condemned “unbridled capitalism” while the New York Times similarly announced that the Pope had excoriated “global capitalism” in recent speeches in Latin America. None of this would be particularly remarkable, except for the fact that the Pope didn’t say it.
Francis said plenty of other things about the economy, but in the addresses referenced by the two news outlets, the Pope never even uttered the word “capitalism” at all, let alone unbridled or global capitalism. In fact, according to official documentation, the word has not passed his lips during his entire Latin American trip. Why then, with all the great material the Pope has provided to comment on, would reputable news services have to put words into his mouth, words he didn’t say?
Granted, they can get away with it. Very few people bother reading the original papal texts, especially when they are as long-winded as these recent ones have been. But a simple fact-check reveals the fabrication, so why bother exposing yourself to charges of journalistic fudging?
What Pope Francis actually called “the devil’s dung” was not, in fact, global capitalism, but an “unfettered pursuit of money.” For Pope Francis, social woes always begin in the individual human heart, with unchecked vices that lead to evil behavior and sinful choices. These personal sins can then lead to unjust social structures and even corrupt institutions. The New York Times would prefer not to mention this, since it is much more interested in condemning economic systems—especially an economic system with ties to the Republican Party—than it is in reporting accurately on papal affairs.
The closest the Pope comes to condemning global capitalism is the following paragraph:
Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, sister and mother earth.
This is hardly the condemnation of a particular form of free market economics. It is the description of personal vice becoming a systemic problem, with capital being idolized and greed presiding over the economy.
Not everyone will agree with the Pope’s words, of course. But for the sake of informed argument, it would help to cite him correctly.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome