Pope Francis' plummeting popularity is nothing to worry about


Every leader, whether prime minister or bishop, is rightly suspicious of the adulation that comes their way during their honeymoon period.

Since Laudato Si was published, Pope Francis has discovered he is no longer the adorable, cuddly Latin champion of conservative Catholic values who won an unprecedented good press. He has instead become a feared advocate of a radical Christian socialism that looks suspiciously close to Marxism.

Many in our post-enlightenment world would prefer a Pope who makes saints, believes in miracles and helps end communism in Poland, a Pope of whom it can confidently be said, this man is himself a saint. There is a growing concern about a Pope who seems dedicated to bringing about an end to capitalism in the West if that is what is needed to put a cap on global warming. Critics have ranged from Anglican bishops to Catholic laity and more in between. "The Roman Catholic Church is currently led by a man whose social, political and economic views have been shaped by Leftism more than by any other religious or moral system," writes Dennis Prager in the influential Frontpage Mag.

The Church's social teaching is profound and much of it rings true. It is in the inheritance of Jesus to stand up for the poor, the dispossessed, those on the margins. It is also in the tradition of Christian reformers to be on the margins themselves. They can barrack better when outside the castle gates. Something sounds a bit out of tune when royalty, presidents, prime ministers and the super-rich sing from the same hymn sheet as the Pope. Would anyone trust a Dalai Lama who was beloved of China? A bit of unpopularity for the religious leader is no bad thing and puts harmony into the natural world. It is in the tradition of things.

The puzzle is that anyone is surprised or worried about a left-wing tendency in the social teachings of the head of the Catholic Church. It shows how far our Judeo-Christian culture has strayed from its biblical roots if this much understanding of scripture has been lost. Jesus was a radical. He was a scriptural but not a social conservative, even if he did get on rather well with tax collectors. He came to change not one dot or comma of the law. He also came to feed the 5,000.

It's pretty clear from what's happening to the Labour Party how the political future landscape lies, in the UK at least. If imposing socialism on the world is part of the Pope's agenda, he won't succeed, any more than he or his predecessors have succeeded in putting a cap on condom use. Nor will he or his cardinals stop the clock on gay equality in the West, or on women's equality. But there is a lot that he and his bishops can do for good.

I'm no economist but anyone who's worked for nearly three decades for an international corporate concern such as News UK, as it now is, knows from their own experience that there is only one way to go and that is the capitalist way. Anyone who reads the papers, listens to BBC Radio 4, anyone who lives within the PAYE economy in Britain or any tax system in the West surely cannot fail to understand that the markets work. Just as the Pope on climate change admits he is no scientist, we who are not economists can admit we do not understand how or precisely why. To those who demand an answer, we can simply supply: "They work if you work 'em."

The Pope cannot be part of that system. He is the Pope. He needs to be on the outside looking in, so he can be the conscience that reminds us of what is Godly. For a time, as our world adored en masse this new and extraordinary leader, things seemed ever so slightly out of kilter. Some of us did wonder what would happen when people woke up and realised exactly what they had got. Now that the capitalist world has weighed him and found him wanting, the scales have shifted back. Balance is restored.

The Pope's focus so far has been on the family and the environment. If I were Pope, I would make a decision to move on, soon, and leave the environment to the scientists and the family to the priests and laity. My focus at this time in the 21st century would be on what to do about the terrible cataclysm in the Middle East. This was a good Pope. Now he has a measure of unpopularity, among the rich and powerful, he has the chance to be a great one. They might not like his social idealism but even they will surely be willing to resource him, if he can get his future priorities right.