Inequality is the root of social evil.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 28, 2014
Statements by Pope Francis on social justice, like the one above on his Twitter account, have astonished the world. But maybe they shouldn’t. There is nothing that he has said that departs from historic Catholic social teaching.
Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II are known for their statements condemning abortion and gay marriage, but if you check their record, you’ll see that their statements on social justice not greatly different from what Pope Francis is saying now.
Nor has Pope Francis said anything that contradicts historical Catholic teaching about sexual morality. It is just that he speaks louder about social justice and inequality. Or maybe the public and the press listen selectively to his social justice teaching.
When I read the Gospels, it seems to me that Jesus believes in a code of sexual morality more strict than what most people do today. No-fault divorce is just as contradictory to the teaching of Jesus as gay marriage. Jesus taught, according to my reading, that divorce was either forbidden or was allowable only in case of adultery by the other partner, and that, in any case, divorced people should not remarry.
At the same time, Jesus was forgiving of sexual transgressions, and regarded them much less seriously than sins of pride and avarice. The two things he condemned most strongly were lack of faith in God and lack of charity to the poor. But concerning the woman taken in adultery, he said that only someone without sin (in other words, nobody) had the right to cast the first stone and that the woman herself should go and sin no more. To the sinful woman who washed his feet with her hair, he said she was forgiven much because she loved much.
I find the same spirit in the prophets in the Hebrew Bible. What they care about is worship of heathen idols and oppression of the poor. The prophet Amos asked what the Lord required other that to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.
All this is reflected in the official social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and mainstream Protestant churches.
I have watched the depiction of the Book of Mormon in the annual Hill Cumorah pageant in Palmyra, N.Y., and I see the same emphasis as in the Hebrew Bible.
Pope Francis’s ideas about inequality and social justice didn’t come out of nowhere.