Grey Lady Accidentally Stumbles Into Some Truth

In spite of his contentious reading of Catholic teaching and Pope Francis' intent (everyone spins this pope, no one actually listens to him or tries to understand what he's getting at), an op-ed contributor to the NYT tells the truth about Catholic work for the poor world-wide.

I almost stopped reading when he opened with this now-shibboleth:
In less than a year in office, Pope Francis has certainly stirred things up. Eschewing the papal palace to live in a simple apartment...
Please. Anyone who says that reveals immediately he knows nothing about the Vatican or Pope Francis. The papal apartment is a simple apartment. It is not a palace, not luxurious, and Pope Francis' reason for eschewing it has nothing to do with poverty or simplicity. It has to do with the fact that he is an extrovert, he doesn't do well in solitude (not to mention a vowed religious, not a secular priest like all the popes of the past century), so he needs a community.

Don't take my word for it. Pope Francis has stated this repeatedly. Here's but one instance:
I need a community. And you can tell this by the fact that I am here in Santa Marta. At the time of the conclave I lived in Room 207. (The rooms were assigned by drawing lots.) This room where we are now was a guest room. I chose to live here, in Room 201, because when I took possession of the papal apartment, inside myself I distinctly heard a ‘no.’ The papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is old, tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like an inverted funnel. It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight. People can come only in dribs and drabs, and I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others [emphasis mine].
As soon as anyone drags out the "he's rejecting the luxury of the other popes" trope, you know that person is either dishonest or hasn't read even one of the pope's most famous interviews.

Notwithstanding this less than auspicious opening, I persevered to find two worthwhile points in the midst of a lot of hoary cliches about the Church.

First, surveying the social encyclicals of the various popes, he correctly discerns Pope Francis hasn't said anything new (he's only said it more emphatically, and with personal anecdotes) -- and reminds us that even Leo XIII, now a favorite of conservative Catholics for his defense of private property, was denounced as a socialist when Rerum Novarum was first released.

He also does us the service of reminding people how much good the Church does:
In some African countries, as much as half of basic education and health services are provided by the church. Catholic hospitals and clinics around the world distribute about a third of all the antiretroviral drugs received by people living with H.I.V. and AIDS, and in India, where Catholics are no more than 2 percent of the population, the church is the second-largest care provider in this area after the government.
He adds this, though he can't resist a dig:
As a result of its work in basic health and education — and despite its obtuse views on birth control — in the last 50 years the church has probably lifted more people out of poverty than any other civic institution in history.  
Well, okay, I'll take it. At least he can give credit where it's due. But the committed secularist author might profitably ask himself two questions.

1) Whether the Church's capacity to lift people out of poverty might not be tied to its "obtuse" morality? Earlier in the piece he's told us:
The educational role of the church in the developing world has been powerful and often controversial. “All we want is a labor force,” a colonial governor lamented to missionaries in Madagascar a century ago, “and you’re turning them into human beings.” 
Might not sexual continence have something to do with being a human being? That very telling quotation gets at the heart of Pope Francis' program. He wants attention to the poor, but the poor as human persons with individual dignity, equal in dignity to the wealthy; not the poor as childish and dependent -- a "project" to assuage the consciences of wealthier people. That kind of aid to the poor is merely a transaction, not charity, Pope Francis said in a recent audience.

2) What provides the impulse for Catholics to care for the poor? In an excerpt above, the author cites the fact that the Church is the second largest health care provider in India, though Catholics are only 2% of the population.  Something similar is true in the U.S. Catholics are a minority, but 30% of Americans needing hospital care are treated in Catholic hospitals. 15% of hospital beds in the US are in Catholic institutions -- and of those, 1/3 are the only hospitals available in rural communities. The author wants to support Catholic work with the poor in spite of Catholic teaching -- and this is the line the Obama administration is taking with its HHS mandate: you can keep serving, but you have to drop your moral code and your beliefs. But is there any reason to think the powerful drive to serve the poor would outlast the destruction of Catholic belief and morality?