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22 March 2013

The Dangers of Pope Francis

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell sketches out a theory which suggests that having too many people involved in a situation in which assistance is needed may, in reality, prevent the assistance from being given.  In other words, if a task needs completion, too many persons in proximity to the task may lead to an attitude that "someone else will do it."

Take a homely example from community life: the trash.

In a community of only two or three, each brother knows that if the garbage is full it must be taken out. However, in larger communities, wherein everyone has assigned tasks, inevitably some brothers will take these tasks more seriously than others.  There are many consequences to this, not the least being that un-assigned tasks get overlooked.  The thought process likely takes the course that "I do plenty, let someone else do it," or, "I did this last time, Brother Elias will do it this time."

Of course the result is simple: the garbage piles up.

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This is all just an extended way of worrying aloud that a real danger of Pope Francis' outspoken care for the poor is that there will the risk that we take the attitude, (unspoken, of course) that since the Pope is so outspoken on behalf of the poor, we don't need to be.  Or, perhaps more accurately: since Pope Francis speaks with a global sense about injustice, local Churches do not need to be as outspoken on particular issues of injustice as they otherwise would be.

Plainly stated, Pope Francis' courageous words will be helpful in stimulating our own consciences regarding the plight of the poor, as well as serving as "block quotes" in parish bulletins, a sort of papal testimony or witness to importance of the work of building peace and justice.

Nevertheless, only if P. Francis' words catalyze our own responses on the local level will they really be successful.  And if this happens, then Pope Francis' words will be more dangerous than we could have ever imagined.

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