Pope urges governments to stand up to wealthy

ROME — Pope Francis urged governments to stand up to the wealthy and regulate markets, warning that weapons and modern surveillance systems won’t contain the violence engendered by income inequality and social exclusion.

“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless,” Francis said Tuesday in his first Apostolic Exhortation, a wide-ranging document aimed at renewing the Church’s missionary fervor. “Such an economy kills.”

Francis, in the first year of his pontificate, is defining his expectations for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. The 76-year-old pope has rebuked European powers for their treatment of African migrants and demanded that his followers minister to the poor. Francis dipped into economics with a rebuke to “trickle-down” theories that assume what’s good for the wealthy will eventually help the poor.

“This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power,” Francis said. “Inequality is the root of social ills.”

Since his election in March, the Argentinian pope has cast aside the traditional pomp of the papacy after the final years of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, were marred by scandals. Francis shuns gold jewelry and travels by car in a Ford Focus. He is increasing efforts to prevent money laundering at the Vatican bank, or the Institute for Works of Religion, and started reforming the Roman curia, the Church’s central administration.

Francis reaffirmed traditional doctrine in the document, saying Catholic teaching on abortion and the exclusion of women from the priesthood won’t change. Still, he warned clergy that an excessive focus on the politically divisive issues risks undermining the Church’s wider mission.

“Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve,” Francis said. “This serves only to offer false hopes to those clamoring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts.”

Francis also set out practical guidelines for the clergy in the Exhortation, which ranged from tips on how to give shorter, punchier homilies to his criticism of dour-faced priests who spread the word looking like they have “just come back from a funeral.” He also acknowledged his own limits and encouraged the clergy to help him reshape the Church.

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