Should Pope Francis be backing up his claims with facts and figures?
I read an article today over at the Atlantic that suggests Pope Francis, for all the goodness and hope he has inspired at the beginning of his papacy, might be more of a gloom and doom guy than we think. The piece posits on the heels of Evangelii Gaudium—where the pope “bemoans inequality, poverty, and violence in the world”—that Francis' figures may be a bit off.
“The dystopian world that Francis describes, without citing a single statistic, is at odds with reality,” the article reads. “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 author goes on to cite various charts and graphs that show a lot of good news: global inequality is declining, the number of people in poverty is falling, all manner of violent acts are occurring less frequently, and life expectancy is on the rise. The conclusion of the article goes a bit too far, in my opinion, saying: "Pope Francis has a big heart, but his credibility as a voice of justice and morality would be immeasurably improved if he based his statements on facts."
Pope Francis is a lot of things to a lot of people, but his responsibility isn’t to go around citing charts and graphs. Though I certainly agree that it would be wrong for the pope to blatantly lie or mislead, I don't think that's what Pope Francis is doing when he talks of the problems our world faces today. I’m remind of what Kevin Clarke wrote in our December issue, discussing the status of the Milennium Development Goals. What he said was basically that we’ve made some progress, which is great—but there’s still a long way to go.
This is what I think Pope Francis does when he bemoans inequality, poverty, and violence. Sure, we may be better off now than we were in the past, but in the eyes of the church, inequality and poverty are grave injustices that attack human dignity. Any life lost to violence is a tragedy. As long as these issues continue to exist, Pope Francis continues to have a responsibility to urge us to turn toward equality, love, and peace.