Fellow Conservatives Overreact to Pope on Economy, Novak Says

Criticism of Pope Francis by the political right is an overreaction, according to a prominent Catholic theologian who said the pontiff’s economic views would become friendlier toward capitalism.

“I’m very enthusiastic” about the pope, author Michael Novak said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “He’s concentrated on the basics. Love, care for the poor, humility, kindness. And those are what matter, really. The rest is housekeeping.”

Novak, whose latest book is called “Writing from Left to Right: My Journey from Liberal to Conservative,” questioned some conservatives’ criticism that has been directed at Pope Francis. Radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who isn’t Catholic, called the pope’s comments about economic inequality and the need for regulation “just pure Marxism.”

“Rush doesn’t understand the Catholic part of it” that the pope is taking “seriously,” Novak said. “Give the guy a chance to get his feet on the ground, get his arms around the questions of globalization, get his arms around the fact that capitalism is mostly ideas.”

While reiterating church teaching on social issues like abortion, Pope Francis has elevated economic issues to prominence since succeeding Pope Benedict XVI in March. In November, he urged governments to stand up to the wealthy and criticized the theory that policies favoring the rich will eventually “trickle down” to help the poor.

‘Fittest’ Survive

“Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless,” Francis said Nov. 26. “Such an economy kills.”

President Barack Obama invoked Pope Francis in a Dec. 4 speech, calling economic inequality the “defining challenge of our time.”

The pope is viewed favorably by 69 percent of Americans, including 92 percent of Catholics, according to a Dec. 4-8 ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Novak said he didn’t agree with all of the pope’s economic pronouncements and said that he wished the pontiff wouldn’t say “some of the too-simple things he says” in his speeches.

“Priests, bishops are not trained to do economic analysis,” Novak said.

He suggested that Pope Francis’s views were shaped by his upbringing in Latin America, where social mobility isn’t as fluid as it is in the U.S. The pope was born in Argentina.

“I think he will begin to see the different economies of the world in a different light,” Novak said.

Immigration Measure

Novak also broke with others from his side of the political spectrum in calling on Congress to pass an immigration bill that addresses the status of an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, won’t allow his chamber to vote on a Senate-passed, bipartisan measure that offers a path to citizenship along with stronger border control measures.

“My family got here as immigrants, the wretched refuse of the Earth,” Novak said. “And so I’m grateful for that.”

Decades ago, Novak worked for such prominent Democrats as the late Robert F. Kennedy and the late Sargent Shriver. By the 1980s, he was backing Republicans Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich.

Novak said his ideological shift, as chronicled in his book, was influenced by his view that government programs intended to help the poor turned out to be largely counterproductive.

“What I’ve come to think is that poverty programs ironically fed the wrong incentives,” Novak said. “And for the first time in our history, we have a body of people who are generations on welfare.”

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