03 July 2014, The Tablet

To understand Pope Francis 'think like Latin Americans'

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The main aim of Pope Francis’s pontificate is to draw the world’s attention to the poor and to change the global structures that lead to poverty, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a long interview last week. Speaking to the Austrian Pontifical Missions magazine Alle Welt, Cardinal Gerhard Müller insisted that it was not possible to truly understand Pope Francis unless one could understand the Latin American “mindset”. Cardinal Muller has long experience of Peru over several decades and is a close friend of the Peruvian liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez.

The Western world would have to learn to see problems from the Pope’s point of view, which was very different from the European one, Cardinal Müller said. On account of his many visits to Latin America, he was very familiar with the way Pope Francis thought. It was very good for the world Church not always to see things through European eyes, the cardinal said, and to discover how other people saw Europe.

The Church criticised the one-sidedness of both capitalism and socialism and supported a social market economy, as a synthesis that avoided the extremes, the CDF prefect said. When his interviewer remarked that for US Americans, including many US Catholics, the European social market economy was already “too socialist”, Cardinal Müller replied: “A balance must be found between freedom and social responsibility. One cannot simply absolutise US individualism, which has had a formative influence on US culture.”

In words that will be seen as critical of earlier US administrations, he went on: “When the United States acts as the world’s policeman, the world does not become more peaceful. One cannot compromise and say, ‘To be sure – I’m a Christian – but count me out as far as Christian social teaching is concerned’.”

To illustrate his point about the importance of changing structures, he said: “History had shown that it wasn’t sufficient to treat slaves well – but to abolish slavery … Both the structures and the mentality [that leads to poverty] must be changed so that an awareness of solidarity can emerge.”

Cardinal Muller claimed there had been a decline in “love of one’s neighbour” in the Western world. “People are judged by their usefulness and their contribution to the GNP and when they’re old we don’t know what to do with them,” he said.

The Pope for his part had already overcome some “frontline opposition” by drawing attention to that largest percentage of humankind, namely the poor, Cardinal Müller said.

Asked how he coped with the media’s attempts to describe him as the Pope’s opponent, Cardinal Muller said such statements were made by people trying to use the Pope for their own ideological aims, and it was best to ignore them.

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