Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis seems to have taken this idea to heart; while he has been highly critical of free-market economics, he has often used its terminology to make moral points. In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, he spoke acerbically of capitalism, chastising those with a "crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power." The ubiquity of capitalism has moral implications for modern life, he wrote: "The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase."
"He sees a fundamental crisis in the modern world that’s being driven by markets that are out of control," said Schneck. This affects all kinds of relationships, "working in a way to encourage isolation, toward a fairly radical individualism that’s narcissistic."
In that context, it makes sense that this kind of language would also be used to talk about the way people have sex and think about marriage. The Church has a moral interest in preserving and promoting relationships; if market-driven individualism undermines those relationships, then it's logical for the Church to push back against market-driven individualism.
Plus, popes have a long history of drawing a connection between economic forces and the family. In the encyclical Rerum Novarum, published in 1891, Pope Leo XIII came out in favor of unions. He questioned the way industrialization had affected working conditions for laborers—and particularly how much time they had to go to church and tend to their families. Throughout the 20th century, "pope after pope [identified] a relationship between economics and culture and values ... explicitly by drawing this connection between economics and what it means for family," Schneck said.
Even so, the language of the synod's report seems like a radical shift in the Church's ideological approach to these issues, even compared to the synod's beginnings in early October. A preparatory document released in June relied on heavily moralistic language to explain the theme of the meeting, which is "pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization." According to the Vatican committee that prepared the document, the Church is facing
concerns which were unheard of until a few years ago ... from the widespread practice of cohabitation, which does not lead to marriage, and sometimes even excludes the idea of it, to same-sex unions between persons, who are, not infrequently, permitted to adopt children.
The many new situations requiring the Church’s attention and pastoral care include: mixed or inter-religious marriages; the single-parent family; polygamy; ... a culture of non-commitment and a presumption that the marriage bond can be temporary; forms of feminism hostile to the Church; ... relativist pluralism in the conception of marriage; the influence of the media on popular culture in its understanding of marriage and family life; underlying trends of thought in legislative proposals which devalue the idea of permanence and faithfulness in the marriage covenant; [and] an increase in the practice of surrogate motherhood (wombs for hire); ... Within the Church, faith in the sacramentality of marriage and the healing power of the Sacrament of Penance show signs of weakness or total abandonment.
"Forms of feminism hostile to the Church" and "wombs for hire"—rhetorically, that's a long way from the mid-synod report that was just released, which talked about the economic realities women face when they get divorced and the way tenuous job security affects people's living situations. The pre-synod document relies on the straightforward language of right and wrong, not references to structural market forces that affect people's behavior in ways they can't control; economic logic shifts the responsibility for traditionally "immoral" acts away from people and onto the economic system they live in. It's ironic that Vatican is being cheered for softening its stance on homosexuality and premarital sex by advocates of personal sexual freedom, yet this shift has nothing to do with endorsing individualism—it's more of a recognition that sometimes, people don't have the ability to make the sexual choices the Church wants them to.