Ideologues of all kinds have been trying to figure out Pope Francis for over a year now. Many, if not most, are still trying to fit him into their own boxes. But try as they might, he can’t be stuffed into a box.

Archbishop Chaput gave a recent talk for the Napa Institute in which he explains quite clearly how Pope Francis is simply Catholic. He’s not a liberal. He’s not a conservative. And if you consider him only through the lens of one of these categories (which are not two, but a vast multitude, depending on a variety of social and cultural factors), you won’t understand him.

In order to understand Pope Francis, it helps to first understand the saint whose name he took. Contrary to some popular beliefs, St. Francis was not a 13th century hippie. Archbishop Chaput begins his talk with this clarification:

I’m a Capuchin Franciscan, and I’ve often found that people think of Francis of Assisi as a kind of 13th-century flower child. St. Francis was certainly “countercultural,” but only in his radical obedience to the Church and his radical insistence on living the Gospel fully — including poverty and all of its other uncomfortable demands. Jesus, speaking to him from the cross of San Damiano, said, “Repair my house.”  I think Pope Francis believes God has called him to do that as pope, as God calls every pope.  And he plans to do it in the way St. Francis did it.

Pope Francis took the name of the saint of Christian simplicity and poverty. As he has said, he wants “a Church that is poor and for the poor.” In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he grounded this goal in Jesus Christ, “who became poor and was always close to the poor and the outcast” (186). That’s a very Franciscan idea.

Just to clarify, the Church may in fact handle large sums of money. But it’s not for the purpose of growing her coffers. It pours the money into services for people of all backgrounds and situations. It’s sort of a pouring out of the Church herself.
The Archbishop notes:

What concretely does Francis believe about economic justice? He has never offered his systematic thoughts about it or the policies that promote it.  And, frankly, we can sense some ambiguity in his thinking. When he calls for a better distribution of wealth among social classes, he doesn’t say how this should be done and what a proper distribution would look like or who will decide who gets what. But he’d probably say that he’s giving us the principles of a rightly ordered social and economic life as the Catholic Church understands them, and that the Church gives to laypeople, and especially those called to public service, the job of best applying those principles in each nation. [Emphasis mine.]

Did you read that carefully? It’s not the job of Church leadership to come up with economic policies. That’s the role of the laity. Because of our various roles in the world, we are better suited to that work.

It’s one thing if we as individual lay Catholics subscribe to specific political, social, and economic theories. In fact, we probably should have some ideas about our beliefs in these areas. But simply because we as individuals happen to believe in something doesn’t mean that it is necessarily Catholic or that it fits with the Pope’s thinking. He may have even left it us, as Catholic lay people to come up with the answers.

To that end, I refer you to my fellow blogger Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s interesting post on whether Catholic social doctrine is a set of guidelines.

And do be sure to read the entirety of Archbishop Chaput’s talk as I haven’t come close to doing it justice in this short post.