It’s official: 2013 has been the Year of the Pope. The latest evidence? Time has named Francis its Person of the Year, noting that the pontiff, during his first nine months in office, “has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.” Indeed, the pope’s writings and public pronouncements reveal a deeply caring and passionate man who speaks from the heart. In Evangelii Gaudium, an “apostolic exhortation” released late last month, the pope bemoans inequality, poverty, and violence in the world.
But here’s the problem: The dystopian world that Francis describes, without citing a single statistic, is at odds with reality. In appealing to our fears and pessimism, the pope fails to acknowledge the scope and rapidity of human accomplishment—whether measured through declining global inequality and violence, or growing prosperity and life expectancy.
The thesis of Evangelii Gaudium is simple: “unbridled” capitalism has enriched a few, but failed the poor. “We have to remember,” he writes, “that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity.”