Sign o’ the Times: Does Francis’ Papacy Represent a New Era for Western Europe?
This chapter argues that while Francis maintains consistency with core Catholic social teachings, his principal ideas for Western Europe represent a change from previous popes. The words, actions, and priorities of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis reflect the Europe they find themselves in as well as their direct experiences with political oppression, economic exclusion, and the human consequences of sociopolitical economic ideologies. The Cold War is over, and the initial optimism from global economic and political integration has dissipated. Today we find a Europe struggling to cope with unprecedented migration flows and a populist far-right backlash. Pope Francis’s direct economic and political experiences of poverty under a liberal capitalist order in Argentina contrast against the Central and Eastern European experience of poverty in Marxist socialism—an ideological experiment witnessed firsthand by Karol Wojtyła (later known as Pope John Paul II). Pope Francis’s explicit emphasis on the poor, the excluded, and the marginalized indicates a change in tenor from past popes and results from both Europe’s current crises and Francis’s direct experience living and working with the poor and marginalized in Buenos Aires.