Pope says he’ll read critiques of his economic thought before U.S. trip

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM PARAGUAY — Before arriving in the United States in September, Pope Francis said, he will study American criticisms of his critiques of the global economy and finance.

“I have heard that some criticisms were made in the United States — I’ve heard that — but I have not read them and have not had time to study them well,” the pope told reporters traveling with him from Paraguay back to Rome July 12.

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Asuncion, Paraguay, to Rome July 12. (CNS photo | Paul Haring)

“If I have not dialogued with the person who made the criticism,” he said, “I don’t have the right” to comment on what the person is saying.

Pope Francis said his assertion in Bolivia July 9 that “this economy kills” is something he believes and has explained in his exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” and more recently in his encyclical on the environment.

In the Bolivia speech to grass-roots activists, many of whom work with desperately poor people, the pope described the predominant global economic system as having “the mentality of profit at any price with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.”

He was asked if he planned to make similar comments in the United States, despite the negative reaction his comments have drawn from some U.S. pundits, politicians and economists. Pope Francis replied that, now that his trip to South America has concluded, he must begin “studying” for his September trip to Cuba and the United States. The preparation, he said, will include careful reading of criticisms of his remarks about economic life.

Spending almost an hour answering questions from journalists who traveled with him July 5-12 to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, Pope Francis also declared that he had not tried coca leaves — a traditional remedy — to deal with the high altitude in Bolivia, and admitted that being asked to pose for selfies makes him feel “like a great-grandfather — it’s such a different culture.”

The pope’s trip to Cuba and the United States Sept. 19-27 was mentioned frequently in questions during the onboard news conference. U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro publicly thanked Pope Francis and the Vatican last December for helping them reach an agreement to begin normalizing relations.

Pope Francis insisted his role was not “mediation.” In January 2014, he said, he was asked if there was some way he could help. “To tell you the truth, I spent three months praying about it, thinking, ‘What can I do with these two after 50 years like this.’” He decided to send a cardinal — whom he did not name — to speak to both leaders.

“I didn’t hear any more,” he said.

“Months went by” and then one day, out of the blue, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, told him that representatives of the two countries would be having their second meeting at the Vatican the next day, he said.

The new Cuba-U.S. relationship was the result of “the good will of both countries. It’s their merit. We did almost nothing,” the pope said.

Asked why he talks so much about the rich and the poor and so rarely about middle-class people who work and pay taxes, Pope Francis thanked the journalist for pointing out his omission and said, “I do need to delve further into this magisterium.”

However, he said he speaks about the poor so often “because they are at the heart of the Gospel. And, I always speak from the Gospel on poverty — it’s not that it’s sociological.”