Sunday, July 13, 2014
Pope Francis has stressed his desire for a "poor Church for the poor." Now the same Vicar of Christ has convened many of the world's most highly paid athletes, participants in the recent World Cup, to play a soccer match in Rome for the purpose of promoting "dialogue" among world religions.
We in the United States have heard much about a "consistent ethic of life." I'm just wondering, therefore, as something of a thought experiment, what place professional sports, especially (but not only) at the richest level, would have in a "consistent ethic of poverty."
Consider how much it costs to travel far to attend the World Cup. Consider, further, what immediate benefit, if any, the playing of the World Cup has to the poor of Brazil. I've been to Brazil; I've seen (and smelled) the poverty; and I can conjure the impassable gap between the hovels and the stadium.
We've heard Pope Francis pass moral judgment on everything from pets (he's down on them) to nice cars (he won't ride in them and criticizes some who do). What about the bread and circuses of professional sports industries that concentrate vast sums of money in the hands of small groups of those who are lucky enough to be able-bodied, coached, and thus relieved of life's ordinary burdens in order to "play" all the time? Don't get me wrong, sport has its place in a healthy human life, perhaps even as an example of what some refer to as the "basic good" known as "play." Sana mens in sano corpore, and all that.
But what about the economics of professional sport as such? What has the Holy Father to say on this topic? Perhaps I've missed it, but I do keep a pretty attentive eye on what gets published under the name Franciscus, including the redacted homilies preached in the Domus, and I can't recall any condemnation of the mega-wealth accumulated on the backs of the poor (and the middle-class) in the name of, say, World Cup.
I recently read an editorial some place that baldly contended that the World Cup mocks the poor. It's a contention that's worth pondering, especially now as the beneficiaries of the World Cup prepare to gather in Rome at Pope Francis's invitation in order to engage in "dialogue."
(Never mind the lack of all evidence that professional athletes are dialogically inclined or adept. In any event, calling something "dialogue" doesn't necessarily make it a good idea, not even in this post-Vatican II Church).
UPDATE: A reader helpfully called my attention to an address Pope Francis delivered in May 2, 2014, to Italian soccer players and officials in which he warned that "today soccer is turning into a big business: advertising, television, and so on. But the financial factor must not prevail over the sporting factor because it risks polluting everything, both at the national and local level." A story about the address is here
I'm not sure exactly what the Pope meant to rule out when he stated on May 2nd that "the financial factor must not prevail over the sporting factor." Speaking a week later to the U.N. officials in Rome, the Holy Father set off a firestorm by speaking far more bluntly when he called attention to governments' responsibility to effect "legitimate redistribution" of wealth. By challenging modern governments to concern themselves with legitimate redistribution, the Pope was doing no more than commendably echoing basic tenets of traditional Catholic social doctrine. One wonders, therefore, how the Pope would urge experts to apply that doctrine to the mega-wealth amassed by the beneficiaries of the professional sports industries.