Once all the hullabaloo over his election as pope settled down a couple of months ago, Pope Francis has, for the most part, stayed out of the limelight. But a speech late last week thrust him back in the headlines.
Pope Francis tends to speak softly and only time will tell if he carries a big stick. That stick was at least visible as he launched into an attack on free-market capitalism in a recent speech to visiting diplomats.
The pope blames the world's current financial crisis, at least in part, on a global "cult of money." He says the worship of the Golden Calf of biblical times has been replaced with a new and heartless image: that of money.
Worship of money leads to what he calls "economic dictatorships." Lydia O'Kane with Vatican News reports, "Pope Francis explained that, in his opinion, the financial crisis that we're experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis in the denial of the primacy of human beings."
He points out that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the poor are increasing exponentially.
He says this imbalance is the direct result of ideologies that back the "absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation." This approach overrides the right of a country to provide for the common good of its citizens. Money is now ruling us, instead of serving us, as it should. Money should be a means not an end - and the end should be to help people lead more secure and dignified lives.
The pope says the only way to fix the problem is to re-jigger the global economy along ethical lines. He says that behind the current attitudes of many financial experts is really a rejection of ethics, and thus a rejection of God.
Now, being pope, he didn't get into any specifics - the devil is in the details, you know. This was a call for reform, not a blueprint.
As a number of the pope's critics have pointed out, the Catholic Church itself is sitting on over $7 billion worth of assets and has a priceless art collection to boot. So he's sitting in something of a glass house himself.
While no one thinks the Church would actually divest itself of all its worldly goods, Pope Francis may be signalling a serious reform of the Vatican bank. In a sermon the day before his call for a global financial reform, Francis criticized priests and bishops for also being a little too concerned about making money for themselves. He pointed out that St. Paul didn't have a bank account.
Veteran Vatican reporter John Thavis says there's been speculation that Francis may be getting ready to call for far-reaching reforms, maybe even a suppression of the Vatican bank. This week, the newly appointed director of the Vatican bank, for instance, announced he would actually publish its financial accounts by year's end and launch its own website, all in an effort to be more transparent.
It looks like the pope may be trying to get his own house in order before he takes on the world's.