Is the Pope a communist?

Hardly, but he is certainly a severe critic of market capitalism. George Weigel sees his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) as

a clarion call for a decisive shift in the Catholic Church’s self-understanding, in full continuity with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Austen Ivereigh begins his broader treatment this way:

The first teaching document mainly authored by Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, is a bold and thrilling bid to send the Catholic Church worldwide on mission. Energetic, direct, lyrical, its language and style model the evangelization to which the Pope is calling Catholics. In sharp critiques and passionate prose, it polarises the choices faced both by the Church and the world, gently but insistently inviting people to opt for mission – and to a journey of transformation and reform.

Pope-Francis-AFP1_500

Be sure to read, however, Travis Gettys’ Pope Francis rips capitalism and trickle-down economics to shreds in new policy statement.

Here are some extracts:

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”

His latest statement:

puts him in sharp contrast to American conservative leaders who prize the unfettered free market and promote the Randian theory of objectivism, or rational self-interest.

“I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth,” the pope wrote.

“The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits,” Pope Francis wrote. “In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

Pope Francis said this political and economic system was inherently sinful because it violated the biblical prohibition against killing.

“Such an economy kills,” he wrote. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber devised a test to see whether we can pick Pope Francis’s quotes from those of Karl Marx. I cheated, but I think Francis’s writing is way more accessible.

Weigel says Francis is a pastor:

who is “interested only in helping all those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centred mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking that is more humane, noble, and fruitful.”

Finally:

Pope Francis is a revolutionary. The revolution he proposes, however, is not a matter of economic or political prescription, but a revolution in the self-understanding of the Catholic Church: a re-energizing return to the pentecostal fervour and evangelical passion from which the church was born two millennia ago, and a summons to mission that accelerates the great historical transition from institutional-maintenance Catholicism to the Church of the New Evangelization.


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22 responses to “Is the Pope a communist?”

  1. Graham Bell

    Well, there’s a turn-up for the books.

    Maybe Pope Frank will shake the Catholic Church in Australia out of its torpor.

    Maybe it will stop the fluffing around it has been doing since all the horror stories about tampering with kiddies came out. I’m sure the victims and their families would appreciate a proactive and revitalized Catholic Church striving really hard to redeem itself by reducing their distress.

    The Australian Catholic bishops have done good work in the field of social justice. Now let’s see them go like the clappers, turbocharged by Pope Frank’s “Evangelii Gaudium” …. look out Tony and George or you’ll get run over!

  2. Fran Barlow

    Pope Francis said this political and economic system was inherently sinful because it violated the biblical prohibition against killing.

    “Such an economy kills,” he wrote. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

    So if I read this correctly, then it follows that those who defend “this political and economic system” are supporters of sin and ought, in practice, to repent of their sin and do penance and seek absolution.

    This remark could have been directed at Abbott:

    “The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits,” Pope Francis wrote. “In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

    I recall Abbott asking the ALP to “repent” but perhaps Abbott ought to be repenting in relation to his thirst for power and willingness to sacrifice the environment in pursuit of profits and possessions, assuming his spiritual leader is to be believed.

    Someone needs to put this to him and invite him to declare where he stands on Pope Francis’s views.

  3. Kevin Rennie

    As a Jesuit he has taken a vow of poverty. Easy to carry out in modern European capitalism.

  4. Sam

    He’s just a textbook conservative Catholic. They’ve never liked capitalism, because free markets means people doing their own thing as they fit, instead of being told what to do by their betters (priest, bishop, cardinal, pope).

    Bob Santamaria could have said the same thing as Pope Frank, and probably did.

    Conservative Catholics who favour free market capitalism are the odd ones out, and have to go through all sorts of mental gymnastics to reconcile their views with traditional Catholic teachings, especially the parts about deference to hierarchy.

    Conservative Protestants, on the other hand, have never had problems with capitalism.

  5. Paul Norton

    To the best of my knowledge, nobody by the name of Jorge Mario Bergoglio was ever listed as a member of the Communist Party of Australia.

  6. Paul Norton

    Sam @4, during the 1990s Bob Santamaria met former leading CPA official Bernie Taft and they got on like a house of fire. After the conversation Bernie is reported to have said that he found that he and Santa had pretty much the same ideas.

  7. Fran Barlow

    After the conversation Bernie is reported to have said that he found that he and Santa had pretty much the same ideas.

    I suppose I should be surprised and scandalised, but for some reason, I’m just not.

  8. Paul Norton

    “After the conversation Bernie is reported to have said that he found that he and Santa had pretty much the same ideas.”

    I suppose I should be surprised and scandalised, but for some reason, I’m just not.

    :-)

  9. Alan

    Santa’s problems was never his economic or social ideas, and occasionally his creature, the DLP argued for welfare policies that were to the left of the ALP.

    The real problem was that Santa believed in Catholic integralism which basically demands that Catholics take a leading role in the state in a way similar to the unique parties of China and the old Soviet bloc, and that then morphs into something very close to the Straussian arguments for a strong state.

    Francis hasn’t actually moved very far from the social and environmental teaching of previous popes. Obviously he is somewhat closer to John XXIII and John-Paul I than John-Paul II or Benedict.

    What makes Francis different is that he doesn’t advocate the political practices of previous popes in aligning the church with globalisation or trying to influence the state to enforce Catholic teachings on the famous ‘issues of the pelvic zone’.

    Francis is not (sadly) about to ordain women or celebrate gay marriages, but his pontificate is opening the door for future popes.

  10. Graham Bell

    Sam @ 4:
    Don’t be too sure about 21st century Protestants being comfortable with Capitalism. Some I’ve spoken with are very unhappy indeed with today’s version of Capitalism – which has changed a hell of a lot in a couple of generations. Capitalism nowadays is far more oppressive and destructive than it was in the days of the “dark satanic mills”. Today’s Capitalism is the antithesis of Free Enterprise.

    Catholics are happy with hierarchy and with splendour and with hear-lifting liturgy – so too are all the Orthodox – and half the Protestants sects too.

    Alan@ 9:
    Do appreciate and respect your point of view but I think Pope Frank might spring a couple of changes that will shock the old stick-in-the-muds to the bottom of their cotton socks:

    First. Celibacy. Perhaps a move towards the Orthodox Churches: village priests may marry; monks in monasteries do not.

    Second. Contraception. Not a big issue in Australia but probably a very big issue in Latin America, where the Catholic Church has suffered serious losses in recent years.

    As for the ordination of women; resolving the concerns of homosexual Catholics; bringing at least some Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin into the Mass (the main service); making direct personal charity and personal redemption the foremost tasks of the Catholic Church – these are all just hypothetical for the moment. BUT …. the Conclave of cardinals gave the Catholic Church a revolutionary Pope – probably quite unintentionally – so get ready for anything.

    So far, it looks pretty good.

  11. Alan

    Graham@10

    I agree with most of your points except ‘personal redemption’. Catholicism at its best, which Francis seems to do a fair job of embodying, is communal, not personal. There are obvious weak spots. His discussion of women is bizarre, although much less so than John-Paul II or Benedict.

    There seems to be some possibility of women being appointed to leadership positions. Former Irish President Mary Robinson has been mentioned. Apparently there is no inherent need for cardinals to be priests.

    Eventually, Abbot is going to meet Francis. I’d guess that will be an interesting conversation. I’d also love to know what Pell thinks of all this, especially as it’s thought Pell helped elect Francis.

  12. Graham Bell

    Alan @ 11:
    Yeah. You’re right about the Catholic church being communal – as well as being (at its best) all-inclusive, which puts it in line with the approach of Jesus and The Apostles in appealing to all ethnicities and classes.

    Apparently there is no inherent need for cardinals to be priests.

    Heck, if that’s right, it really would be shaking the dust off old ecclesiastical practice. I’ll bet that would cause grumbling and puzzlement among some of the cardinals, especially the immovable ones.

    Mary Robinson would be an excellent choice for a leadership position but that would surely upset crowds of abbesses and mothers-superior and highly-accomplished nuns.

  13. Casey

    Catholicism at its best, which Francis seems to do a fair job of embodying, is communal, not personal. There are obvious weak spots. His discussion of women is bizarre, although much less so than John-Paul II or Benedict.

    Hi Alan,

    I’ve heard Mark say Catholicism is communal and I meant to ask him more about it. I was raised Catholic and I am not sure what this means. Could you elaborate what you mean by communal versus personal? Are you reflecting there on the diffs between Catholics and Protestants? Is personal faith not personal and subjective by nature?

    I would be really interested to hear your view.

  14. Paul Norton

    I think a key difference is the Protestant belief that the individual can have a direct line to God, whereas (to possibly over-egg the pudding) for Catholics “outside the Church there is no salvation”). Mark did a more nuanced and very lucid explanation here of the collective nature of Catholic belief and worship a couple of years back IIRC.

    I grew up in a home full of evangelical Protestant literature, and went to an evangelical Sunday School, and a recurring theme in these sources was the framing of the lives and work of the great Old Testament prophets and patriarchs, and that of Jesus himself, as the recurring story of a lonely and embattled pilgrim, reviled by the establishment and the privileged classes of whatever society s/he lived in, but sustained by and eventually triumphing through their conviction, their personal rectitude and their direct personal communion with God.

  15. Paul Norton

    And then there’s Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan.

  16. Alan

    Casey@13

    Put simply the church is the people of God. It’s also a number of other things. The church is not the separate, private individual of God. So you get an emphasis on liturgy that the church shares with the vast majority of Orthodox and Eastern churches and many Protestant churches. You get an emphasis on social action. Being Catholic is not about the individual acting alone or focusing exclusively on their own redemption, but about people acting and believing together.

    Obviously this is an idealised view. I’m not planning on getting into ‘But Prelate X is a pig’ arguments. I know there are lots of Prelate Xes.

  17. Graham Bell

    Paul Norton @ 14:
    Perhaps so.

    Pity it took a Reformation, a Counter-Reformation, several nasty Wars of Religion, a few Inquisitions, the devastating Thirty Years War, the horrific oppression of many indigenous Christian peoples (including that of the Irish), several outbursts of Anti-Clericalism and the brutal responses thereto as well as two centuries of organized bigotry, some of it leading to bloodshed, to work that one out.

    Anyway, I doubt if we will have any of that decidedly Anti-Christian behaviour while this new Pontiff is on the throne.

    It will be interesting to see if it is the Catholics or the Anglicans who will win the race to grab the next seat at the great table of Christendom and join with all the Orthodox churches. That might even happen BEFORE there are changes in attitudes to celibacy and contraception; who knows?

    Kevin Rennie @ 3:
    My oath it is!

  18. Casey

    I’m not planning on getting into ‘But Prelate X is a pig’ arguments. I know there are lots of Prelate Xes.

    Yeah I don’t know what you are talking about. Did I say any prelate was a pig?

    No.

    I know that the Copts find more affinity with the conservative Anglicans than they do with the Catholics, regardless of what affinity you find with them.

    Also, the communal nature of the Catholicism which you claim is something unique to the Catholic church is actually part of every Christian denomination, as is social justice, so I am not sure to what you are comparing the Catholic church and which denomination does the ‘individual of God’ as opposed the the Catholics.

    So yeah totally idealised view, Alan. The communal is a christian thing, not a catholic thing.

  19. GregM

    So yeah totally idealised view, Alan. The communal is a christian thing, not a catholic thing.

    Casey it can be both things at the same time. The catholic church is after all a christian church, or so it believes.

  20. Casey

    Hi Greg,

    I was including the Catholics. That communal thing is cross denominational, intrinsic to the Christian faith no matter what flavour, in my view.

  21. Graham Bell

    Gentlefolk:
    If the Pontiff is a communist then he is certainly not a Marxist-Leninist communist by any stretch of the imagination. I’m hoping he will turn out to be such a good reformer that he will go down in history as Pope Francis the Great.

  22. Graham Bell

    And now Pope Francis is Time magazine’s person of the year.