In a striking series of admissions, Pope Francis told journalists on the flight back to Rome from Paraguay that he has an aversion to the economy, which he does not understand very well, and that he has neglected the middle class.
On the plane, journalists asked the Pope his opinion of the economic situation in Greece and its relation to the rest of the European Union.
Francis responded that he has “a great aversion” to the economy because his father was an accountant and used to bring his work home with him on the weekends.
“I don’t understand it very well,” he said.
As veteran Vatican journalist John Allen noted, “For a pontiff who’s made economic justice and global finance a centerpiece of his social rhetoric, it was a fairly breathtaking acknowledgment.”
Allen said that Francis seems to be embracing his own new “dogma of fallibility.”
Another journalist told the Pope that many in the United States view his words on the economy as a criticism of the American economic system and way of life, and asked what the Pope thought of this. Francis responded that he has heard that there have been objections to his words coming from the United States, but that so far, he has not had time to look into the critiques that have been made.
“I have to start studying these criticisms,” he said. “Every criticism should be acknowledged, studied and afterward we can dialogue.”
Shortly afterward, Francis was asked why he devoted so little time to talking about the middle class, “people who work and pay their taxes, normal people.”
“That’s a good correction,” the Pope replied. “You’re right. It has been my mistake not to think about this.”
“I think you are telling me something that I should do. I should go more into this in my teaching. Thank you,” he said.
The Pope also had sharp words about modern labor unions, noting that “many people” do not feel well-represented by unions today “because they say that unions are corporations and they do not fight for the rights of the poorest.”
“The Church cannot be indifferent to this,” he said.
In a powerful address to popular movements in Bolivia Thursday, Francis weighed in heavily on the morality of the economy and the need to place it at the service of human beings. “Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions,” he said, “once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity.”
The Pope declared that it is necessary “to put the economy at the service of peoples.”
“Human beings and nature must not be at the service of money. Let us say NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, where money rules, rather than service. That economy kills. That economy excludes,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.