Right-wing attacks on Pope Francis’ redistributive economics have drawn responses from the likes of John Gehring and Michael Sean Winters that His Holiness is saying nothing different from what his predecessors have been saying ever since Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII’s famous critique of capitalism. And there are the quotes from John Paul II and Benedict XVI to prove it.
Nevertheless, I think the right-wingers are on to something. Not that I’d go so far as George Weigel notoriously did when he wrote that “those with advanced degrees in Vaticanology could easily go through the text of [Benedict's encyclical] Caritas in Veritate, highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker.”
But how much emphasis a leader gives to a cause makes a difference. Just because a presidential candidate has a position paper on every issue under the sun doesn’t mean that every issue is equally important to her. And just because John Paul and Benedict supported government welfare programs, didn’t make social justice the central business of their papacies.
So yes, the right is right to see Pope Francis as a serious adversary. His critique of capitalism is not a once-in-an-encyclical thing. He really means it.