Pope Francis: Catholics Should Combat ‘Dismal’ Economic Inequality with Hope

Pope Francis called inequality a “social disease,” many of the “symptoms” of which have been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pope Francis during his weekly General Audience on June 8, 2020.
Pope Francis during his weekly General Audience on June 8, 2020. (photo: Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis Wednesday encouraged Catholics to work to address the injustice of wealth inequality and its effects in the world, which he condemned as a “sickness.”

“When the obsession with possessing and dominating excludes millions of people from primary goods; when economic and technological inequality is such as to tear the social fabric; and when addiction to unlimited material progress threatens the common home, then we cannot stand by,” he said Aug. 26.

“No, this is dismal. We cannot stand and watch.”

The pope spoke about economic inequality and its effects at his weekly general audience, which was held via livestream from his library in the Vatican. 

Pope Francis called inequality a “social disease,” many of the “symptoms” of which have been aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Some powerful nations may issue money to deal with the emergency, while for others this would mean mortgaging the future,” he noted.

“Some may work from home, while for many others this is impossible,” he added. “Some children, despite difficulties, can continue to receive a school education, while for many others this has stopped abruptly.”

He asked people to think especially about the many children around the world who are dying of hunger, or who do not have access to education, because of the unequal distribution of wealth.

The Christian response, he explained, must be hope in Jesus Christ.

“With our gaze fixed on Jesus and with the certainty that his love works through the community of his disciples, we must all act together, in the hope of generating something different and better,” he said.

“Christian hope, rooted in God, is our anchor,” he continued. “It supports the will to share, strengthening our mission as disciples of Christ, who shared everything with us.”

According to Pope Francis, statistics show that a small group of people own more than all the rest of the world.

This inequitable economic growth is taking place without regard for fundamental human values, he underlined. “It is an injustice that cries to heaven!”

The pope also argued that this economic model was indifferent to the damage being done to the environment.

“Social inequality and environmental degradation go hand in hand and have the same root,” he said, “that of the sin of wanting to possess and wanting to dominate our brothers and sisters and God himself. But this is not the design of creation.”

Quoting from his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’, he said we can each take from the earth what we need, but we also have a duty to protect it.

“In fact, the earth ‘precedes us and has been given to us,’ has been given by God ‘to the whole human race,’” he said, also quoting from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“And therefore it is our duty to ensure that its fruits reach everyone, not just some. This is a key element of our relationship with earthly goods,” he stated.

Pope Francis also cited the Second Vatican Council constitution Gaudium et spes, noting its reminder that a person must consider “the external things that he legitimately possesses not only as his own, but also as common, in the sense that they can benefit not only him but also others.”

Homo sapiens, he said, turns into a kind of “homo economicus” when property and money are used as ends in themselves, instead of as a tool for human development.

We often forget, he said, that “we are the most cooperative beings among all species, and we flourish in community, as is clearly seen in the experience of the saints.”

We cannot emerge from the crisis of the pandemic in an equal economic situation to before, he said. We will come out either better or worse.

He added that he hoped that the thought of children without access to education and going hungry would help us to understand that “after this crisis, we have to emerge better.”