Pope Francis urges governments to redistribute wealth to the poor -- maybe even half of it
(Photo: United Nations

Pope Francis called on “legitimate redistribution” of wealth by the world’s governments to undo the “economy of exclusion” underlying capitalist society.

The pontiff appealed Friday to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the heads of major U.N. agencies in Rome, warning that wealth inequality promoted a “culture of death” at odds with Catholic teachings.

“An awareness of the dignity of each of our brothers and sisters whose life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death must lead us to share with complete freedom the goods which God’s providence has placed in our hands,” Pope Francis said.

These may be “material goods but also intellectual and spiritual ones,” Francis said, and he urged the world’s people “to give back generously and lavishly whatever we may have earlier unjustly refused to others.”

The Catholic Church’s first Latin American pope has upset American conservatives with his critiques of the unrestrained free market and “trickle-down” economics, which he dismissed as naïve and unsupported by the facts.

"A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society," Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis asked U.N. officials to consider the biblical story of Zacchaeus the tax collector, whom he said showed it’s never too late to correct injustice.

In the Luke 19:1-10 account, the diminutive tax collector tells Jesus he will give away half his possessions to the poor to atone for his sins and pay back four times the amount to anyone he’s cheated.

“Zacchaeus made a radical decision of sharing and justice, because his conscience had been awakened by the gaze of Jesus,” the pope explained. “This same spirit should be at the beginning and end of all political and economic activity.”

He urged world leaders to make similarly “courageous decisions with immediate results.”

“I urge you to work together in promoting a true, worldwide ethical mobilization which -- beyond all differences of religious or political convictions -- will spread and put into practice a shared ideal of fraternity and solidarity, especially with regard to the poorest and those most excluded,” Pope Francis challenged them.

Watch video of the pope's remarks posted online by Catholic News Service: