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On corruption, abuse of power and wealth Pope Francis follows the compass of the Holy Bishop of Milan. As Pius XI and Pope Paul VI had done (Gianni Valente, http://www.vaticaninsider.it)
The ancient biblical story of Naboth, the man falsely accused and stoned just because King Ahab coveted his vineyard, “repeats itself every day”: Thus said Francis Pope in his homily at morning Mass of Monday 16th of June, proposing the perennial story as a paradigm of injustice, corruption and unhealthy greed that often plague those “who hold material power, or political power, or spiritual power”. On the next day as well, at daily Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanchtae Martae, the Pope was inspired by that story, repeating that the corrupt, like Ahab, “irritate God and make people sin”.
It is surprising to find that more than 16 centuries ago, referring to the same issue, another popular preacher had used almost the same words as Pope Bergoglio: “The story of Naboth” wrote Saint Ambrose in the incipit of his work De Nabuthae “is ancient because of age, but the custom is daily. “Even for the Holy Bishop of Milan, teacher of St. Augustine, the story of Naboth narrated in the First Book of Kings represented in paradigmatic and definitive terms the dynamics of greed and oppression that become normal in order to manage power: “There is not only one Ahab” recognized Ambrose, “but an Ahab is born every day and never dies for this world. If one disappears many others crop up … Every day a Naboth is oppressed, every day a poor man is killed.”.
In his time, Ambrose saw the story of Ahab and Naboth multiply in Milan at the end of the fourth century. In a Western world marked by demographic crisis and the collapse of trade and general impoverishment, the only ones who gained even then were a few bullies, owners of large growing estates. Some of them were now Christians, and even among them the saint perceived a sick, devastating greed, even from an economic point of view, that profited from the collapse of agriculture and food production, “a rich production” wrote Ambrose in the De Nabuthae “is good for everyone, famine benefits only the miser. He rejoices more for very high prices than for the abundance of goods and prefers to have what only he can sell rather than sell along with all the others”.
It was the De Nabuthae that returned to the center of passionate discussions in the fifties and sixties of the last century, when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was growing up. In April 1950, in Italy, the work ended up on the front page of the l’Unità newspaper and a few days later on the front page of the Osservatore Romano. “During the cold war” wrote Lorenzo Cappelletti “L’Osservatore Romano spoke freely of the “theological communism of St. Ambrose”.
To Ambrose and the Fathers of the Church, Bergoglio has always appealed when he wanted to document that the predilection for the poor practiced by Latin American churches was not a theological “newism”: “At that time – explained the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010 to lawyers who questioned him about the relationship between the Church and military dictatorship in Argentina in the so-called ESMA Process “was a very common thing: someone who worked with the poor was a communist”. Instead, the preferential option for the poor “dates back to the early centuries of Christianity. It is in the Gospel itself. If in today’s homily I were to read some of the sermons of the early Fathers of the Church of the second or third century, on how we should treat the poor, would you say that my homily is Marxist or Trotskyist”.
Even today, the direct expressions that Pope Francis reserves for the dynamics of power and corruption are not taken from theological-philosophical anthropology, but from a preliminary observation of facts, called by their name. So harmonies hidden with Ambrose and Augustine pop back up even when Pope Bergoglio repeats without hesitation that wars are made to repair the balance sheets of “idolatrous economies”, or when – as he did during his visit to Cagliari – he tells about the perverse nature of a speculative economy, which has no qualms about unemploying millions of workers. The current bishop of Rome, at the last audience on Wednesday, said that for corrupt people “it will be difficult to go to the Lord”, while death merchants and traffickers of people “will have to account to God”. Even the bishop of the 4th century Mediolanum reserved corrosive words for the ostentatious religious works of hoarders: the rich – Ambrose recognized “are sad, if they do not steel the goods of others; they forego food, fast, not to suppress their sins, but to facilitate their crimes. You can see them then come to church zealous humble, perseverant, to earn the success of their offense”.
Following the path indicated by Ambrose in his De Nabuthae, the free glance of Pope Francis on the dynamics of the world intersects with those of two great Popes of the last century, who before arriving at the home of Peter they were also successors were also of the Saint at the help of Holy Ambrosian Church: Pope Pius XI and Paul VI. The first, with a prophetic tone of Ambrose, had already said in the encyclical for Quadragesimo Anno how “market freedom market has replaced economic hegemony; the greed of gain was followed by the unbridled greed of dominance and the whole economy thus became horribly difficult, inexorable, cruel. “A rapacity that has become a system, which in the eyes of Pope Ratti had generated “on the one hand nationalism or even economic imperialism; on the other, no less deadly and execrable, banking internationalism or the international imperialism of money, so that the homeland is where there is gain”. Instead Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio wanted to rest on the words of De Nabuthae the reaffirmation of the limits to the right of private property: “You are not giving the poor what is yours; all you are going is returning what is his. Since what is given for the common use of all is this that which you will add. The land is given to all, and not only to the rich”.
So in the spirit of a great Ambrosian bishop of the past, Pope Francis proposes that which the sensus fidei has always suggested regarding the use of the assets and economic resources. Indirectly warning the ecclesial system and clergy from supporting their strategies on the efficiency of business committees.