Pope Francis’ harsh criticism of trickle-down economic theories and the excesses of capitalism drew varied reactions from Maine’s Roman Catholics and others Wednesday.

In a 224-page apostolic exhortation issued Tuesday, the leader of 1 billion Roman Catholics worldwide called for a decentralized church that is “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets.”

Francis chastised the “globalization of indifference” and “culture of prosperity,” which persist under economic policies that assume free-market growth “will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”

The pope said it is “crude and naive” to trust in the goodness of the powerful who “feed upon the powerless” and engage in “widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion.”

Frank Piveronas, on his way to Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland on Wednesday, said he respectfully disagrees with the pontiff.

“It’s free enterprise,” said Piveronas, 78, who lives in South Portland. “It allows a person to be the best person they can be without the regulations and constraints of Washington. A rising tide lifts all boats.”


Piveronas, a retired state worker who directed Maine’s international trade programs, said he likes Pope Francis and recognizes that he’s promoting basic church teachings on helping the poor.

“That hasn’t changed,” Piveronas said. “I just don’t agree with his economic views. I think he’s coming from a different part of the world and his views reflect that.”

The latest written communication from the world’s best-known religious leader represents a change in tone and a shift in priorities of global proportions, said the Rev. William Barter, pastor of St. Ansgar Lutheran Church in Portland.

Barter is a former Roman Catholic priest who left the church because he opposed various basic doctrines, especially the absence of female priests. He’s also a psychologist and executive director of the Maine Council of Churches.

Barter said a majority of his clerical colleagues in Maine, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, have expressed appreciation for the pontiff’s strong stances on poverty, economic justice, human rights, education, health care and the environment.

“It’s a change in tone, and that’s never insignificant,” Barter said of Tuesday’s papal statement. “With that change in tone comes a shift in emphasis and a shift in priorities.”


Francis is calling Roman Catholics to move their efforts beyond charity to social justice, Barter said. He noted a sentence in the pope’s exhortation that asks, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

“This document is talking about systemic change,” Barter said. “He’s talking about creating a decentralized church, because too much political and economic power is concentrated in Rome. He’s talking about empowering average Catholics to do what needs to be done. Jesus had a fundamental bias for the poor, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised. That’s where this pope is going.”

While church doctrine is expected to remain the same, Francis is changing the hot-button issues, Barter said.

“You’re not going to see gay marriages in the Catholic Church tomorrow,” said Barter, who is gay and married. “This is a huge image change for the church. It’s a move to change and survive.”

An official from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland couldn’t be reached for comment.

Kathleen Bender welcomes the unvarnished call to action by the 76-year-old pontiff from Argentina. She heard a similar message in the sermon at Wednesday’s Mass at the cathedral, where the priest urged parishioners to curb their efforts to accrue worldly possessions.


“Get rid of your false gods,” said Bender, 62, an artist and psychotherapist who lives in Portland. “It’s an old Catholic message, that we should serve the poor and downtrodden. Where would we be without Catholic health care and Catholic charities?”

Bender agrees with the pope’s criticism of trickle-down economics.

“It doesn’t trickle down,” she said. “They keep the money at the top. Homelessness has exploded as the rich get richer.”

In his mission statement, Francis warned that he won’t push to change Catholic doctrine on abortion, gay marriage or female priests.

He called for “broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the church,” but noted that “the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity (presents) the church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded.”

On the subject of abortion, the pope said that “precisely because this involves the internal consistency of our message about the value of the human person, the church cannot be expected to change her position on this question.”


Such muted opposition, which has raised concern among more conservative Catholics, doesn’t faze Bender.

“No one wants an abortion,” she said. “The rest is politics.”

Bender and other fans of Francis described him as humane, humble, relatable.

“He’s a Jesuit, so they’re intellectuals,” Bender said. “The interest that’s being generated by his ideas is fascinating. It’s all good.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @KelleyBouchard

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