Is the pope Catholic?
It used to be the epitome of a question for which the answer was obvious, but in the days of Pope Francis, it’s hard to tell anymore. The present occupant of the Chair of St. Peter has given many people cause to wonder if a more revealing question would be, “Is the Pope Marxist?” Recently, Pope Francis issued a curious warning against the dangers of hybrid Marxist Catholic theology. The Spanish-language Argentine edition of Aleteia reported that, in a letter to the Santa Maria Spirituality Center in Buenos Aires, the Pontiff warned against “the ideologizing of a Marxist tint of some Latin American centers in the ‘70s.” The pope’s rejection of Marxism, however, is nominal and inconsistent.
Pope Francis stunned opponents of the idea of an economy controlled by government fiat when he wrote in his 2020 encyclical Fratelli Tutti: “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes. Neoliberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ – without using the name – as the only solution to societal problems.”
Actually, the name “trickle-down economics” is indeed used by critics of the view that those who innovate, create, and provide employment opportunities for others should be penalized for doing so.
The pope went even farther in the same encyclical, giving justification to state confiscation of the bank accounts and possessions of dissidents by stating that “the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.”
Instead, he continued, “the principle of the common use of created goods is the ‘first principle of the whole ethical and social order’; it is a natural and inherent right that takes priority over others,” which certainly sounds a great deal like Marxism.
Francis emphasized that this “common use of created goods” took precedence over any concept of private ownership: “All other rights having to do with the goods necessary for the integral fulfilment of persons, including that of private property or any other type of property, should – in the words of Saint Paul VI – ‘in no way hinder [this right], but should actively facilitate its implementation.’” Thus a socialist state that confiscated wealth from some citizens and redistributed it others in the interests of their “integral fulfillment” would apparently be the pope’s ideal Christian society.
Only after stating that private property took second place behind concern for the “integral fulfilment of persons” did the pope grudgingly allow a place for individual ownership at all: “The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods.” He lamented that this vision had not been widely implemented: “This has concrete consequences that ought to be reflected in the workings of society. Yet it often happens that secondary rights displace primary and overriding rights, in practice making them irrelevant. … The right to private property is always accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use.”
It would be difficult to isolate any aspect of that statement that wasn’t Marxist. However, despite all giving the impression in this encyclical that he was a convinced and committed Marxist, Pope Francis has also explicitly rejected Marxism.
Back in 2013, just nine months after becoming pope, Francis sought to allay suspicions he had aroused with his initial Leftist statements. “The ideology of Marxism is wrong,” he said, then hastened to add that lots of Marxists were nice guys: “But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”
The pope also took that opportunity on that occasion to bash “trickle-down” economics: “There was the promise that once the glass had become full it would overflow and the poor would benefit. But what happens is that when it’s full to the brim, the glass magically grows, and thus nothing ever comes out for the poor … I repeat: I did not talk as a specialist but according to the social doctrine of the church. And this does not mean being a Marxist,” he added, although the differences between his thought and Marxist thought, aside from Marxism’s atheism, would be difficult to identify.
It is a shame that he did not explain how this warning was compatible with the “Marxist tint” of Fratelli Tutti. Capitalists want to give free rein to entrepreneurs, whose success will lead them to hire others and thereby benefit everyone. Marxists want to penalize achievement and render everyone dependent upon the all-encompassing state, which provides for everyone depending upon the correctness of their political views. When the pope placed a radical criticism of the concept of private property in one of his most important encyclicals, he gave the strong impression that a Marxist contempt for individual rights was not only compatible with the Roman Catholic faith, but an integral part of it.
In light of that, it’s hard to see what he was warning the Santa Maria Spirituality Center against. All they would have to do to take on a “Marxist tint” would be to follow the teachings of Pope Francis himself. The confusion he is sowing will plague the Roman Catholic Church for decades to come.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 23 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.