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Michael Savage, Bill Donohue Spar Over Pope's Ideas on Wealth

By Sean Piccoli   |   Tuesday, 13 May 2014 04:17 PM

Did Pope Francis overstep by calling on governments to channel more of their wealth to the poor?

Or were his comments last week to United Nations leaders supporting "the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state" in line with Catholic teachings?

The debate over what the pontiff said flared again Tuesday on Newsmax TV, with conservative radio talker Michael Savage and Catholic League President William  Donohue clashing over the proper role of the church in worldly matters.

On economics, "This Pope Francis is going against the doctrine of the church itself," Savage told "America's Forum" host J.D. Hayworth, elaborating on comments he made last week in his nationally syndicated talk show.

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Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

Donohue, in the next segment, said Catholicism doesn't have a formal economic doctrine per se so much as a history — especially under recent popes — of viewing economics through the prism of the neediest. Donohue argued that supporting "progressive taxation" doesn't disqualify someone from being a "good Catholic."

Savage had said on air Friday that if Francis wants to see wealth redistributed, he should start at home. He tartly suggested the church sell off some of its priceless Vatican artworks and corporate holdings, and offered to bid $1 million for Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting "so they can redistribute the wealth that begins in the Vatican itself."

Savage was more earnest Tuesday, arguing that Francis is contradicted by the church's longstanding opposition to communism and socialism. Savage cited an 1891 encyclical published by Pope Leo XIII, "Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor," that endorsed a cornerstone of free-market economies: the right to own property.

Donohue said the last three pontiffs, including Francis, have been "much more on the liberal side of the agenda" economically. "So, in one sense, it's not wholly surprising," he said.

But unlike its fixed, unequivocal position on abortion — "intrinsically evil," Donohue said — the church's attitudes on wealth and poverty are a matter of emphasis and not doctrine, he said.

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Savage and Donohue have collided in the past over some of Savage's incendiary commentary. Savage opened Tuesday's segment by saying, "I'm shocked that the Catholic League, of all organizations, would attack me."

Although not a Catholic himself, Savage on Tuesday praised Catholicism as a "beautiful religion" and the church as an institution he defended even in the "darkest days" of its priestly pedophilia scandal.

Donohue didn't address past battles with Savage.

But the question of the pope's U.N. remarks also cropped up on "America's Forum" on Monday.

In that segment, Ray Flynn, Boston's former Irish-Catholic mayor, staked out a middle ground — though arguably closer to Donohue's position than to Savage's.

Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

"I don't think it's some kind of a policy, a socialist policy of you tap into everybody's resources and they're assessed a certain amount of money that they have to give to a certain cause," Flynn said.

"I didn't see that at all with Francis' comments," he said. "It's more about equity, and it's about helping those who can't help themselves."

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