Pope Francis is the first pope from the new world, and is a well known champion for the poor. As with his two immediate predecessors, he has opposed the spiritually destroying effects of materialism as well as excessive state control.
As a child, Pope Benedict XVI lived through the scourge of Nazism and Pope John Paul II lived through both the Nazi occupation of his homeland, Poland, and later helped bring down communism in Europe. Pope Francis, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, had to confront the military dictators that ruled Argentina in the 1980s.
All three of these pontiffs in succession repeatedly called for charity to be shown to the poor, none more earnestly than Pope Francis. Yet not even Pope Francis and certainly not his predecessors ever called for radical liberation theology and the forcible redistribution of a nation’s assets. This is because true charity is a condition of the spirit, not of the ledger.
One might ask why these popes did not favor governments simply confiscating the labor and assets of the well-off through taxation or direct seizure and then redistributing them to the poor. Is this not charity?
There are at least four theological reasons why this would be wrong.
The first reason is that charity is a virtue that by definition must be voluntarily expressed by the giver. It is not something that can be demanded by the recipient or forced by a government, for under coercion the giver is stripped of his free will to choose to give so it is not charity at all.
Second, when a person has acquired something of worth through his or her own honest labor and an unreasonable amount of it is taxed away by government decree, it is theft, regardless of what good to which it might eventually be put.
Third, receiving a stolen “gift” creates a moral conflict that undermines the spiritual health of the recipient.
Finally, the church has always held that earthly sufferings are an opportunity for the faithful to gain grace from God. In modern societies, the poor can subsist, although not without considerable discomfort, so from a theological standpoint being poor may be a very challenging but not necessarily a bad place to be. As so many members of religious orders have demonstrated over the centuries, one can live a life of physical poverty but spiritual richness. In actual fact, today the modern expectations of unearned social entitlement have led many more people toward moral poverty than physical poverty ever did.
All three popes encouraged selfless charity as an important individual duty of Christians and warned against materialism, the choosing of worldly possessions and pleasures over the spiritual needs of the soul, but they rejected government redistribution of wealth as the solution to poverty. The real life experience of all three of these popes was that as governments become more centralized and powerful, tyranny and corruption inevitably emerge that favor politically connected elites and undermine the dignity and initiative of everyone. This ultimately destroys not only the economic vitality but also the moral fiber of the nation, and how can a nation with a corrupted soul act with moral rectitude, much less act with genuine charity?