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Is the pope a Marxist?


Historic Communist rally posterFrom his pre-conclave speech to his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium it is clear that Pope Francis is a man on a mission. He has a vision of the Church going out to the margins, to the most vulnerable, to the poorest of the poor.

The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only in the geographical sense but also to go to the existential peripheries: those of the mysteries of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and of religious indifference, of thought, of all misery.

This vision is now joined to a stinging critique of our globalised economy which promotes a 'new tyranny' of unfettered capitalism and an attack on the 'idolatry of money'. While such language has not been uncommon, buried in the riches of Catholic social teaching, this pope has made it up front and centre stage of his message.

This prominence is not going unnoticed. Conservative commentators are starting to speak out against Pope Francis. The shock-jock broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, in a show entitled 'It's Sad How Wrong Pope Francis Is (Unless It's a Deliberate Mistranslation By Leftists)' has labelled the pope's recent exhortation pure Marxism:

This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope. Unfettered capitalism? That doesn't exist anywhere. Unfettered capitalism is a liberal socialist phrase to describe the United States.

More recently an editor of Fox News website, Adam Shaw, who doubled as a movie reviewer for the Catholic News Service (CNS), was sacked from CNS after vociferous criticism of Francis, identifying him as the 'Catholic Obama'.

While American Catholic neoconservatives, such as Michael Novak and George Weigel, felt more comfortable with John Paul II's role in the collapse of communism and his acceptance of a positive role for the free market, and with Benedict's shift away from social justice issues to return to an earlier piety, Francis' renewed emphasis on the place of social justice in the life of the Church, and his criticisms of the free market are causing concern. However Francis' vision is driven by his experience of poverty in the barrios of Buenos Aries and the failure of the 'free market' to lift the poor out of their poverty in Argentina.

This disquiet from the neoconservatives will be even greater given the role of the Vatican in the recent World Trade Organisation [WTO] trade negotiations in Bali. Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, made an intervention which one seasoned observer described as unprecedented in the specificity of its claims. Highlighting the gap between rich and poor, the intervention noted:

This imbalance is the result of ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and of financial speculation. Consequently, there is an outright rejection of the right of States, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. An even worse development is that such policies are sometimes locked in through trade rules negotiated at the WTO or in bilateral or regional FTAs [free trade agreements].

Reflecting the Pope's growing concern for the natural environment, the intervention highlighted the fragility of the environment in the face of the rapacious drive for profits:

The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. 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.

The intervention was particularly critical of attempts to subvert an international, multilateral agreement on trade through a strategy of regional or bilateral trade agreement.

Certainly, the enlargement of regional trade agreements is a step towards further trade liberalisation but we have to bear in mind that these agreements inevitably threaten the desirability to reach an agreement on a truly multilateral basis. In fact, by entering a regional trade agreement a country reduces the incentives to extend its efforts on trade liberalization at a multilateral level. Most importantly, we know that only the multilateral system is a clear, equitable system that provides effective guarantees for small and poor countries that tend to be penalized in a Regional Trade Agreement where it is asymmetric.

Markets need to be not just 'free' but fair in their impact upon the poor. This is a significant criticism of the American policy pushing for a Pacific free-trade region and the current Australian approach of establishing bilateral agreements such as that currently being negotiated with South Korea.

Of course many of these concerns have their basis in the long history of Catholic social teaching, but Francis is giving them a new emphasis and impetus in the global arena. For Francis social justice is not just an optional extra to Catholic identity, but is a core dimension of the task of evangelisation.

The National Catholic Reporter is carrying a piece quoting an official at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Fr Michael Czerny, confirming that Pope Francis is planning an encyclical on the environment. 'That's an area perhaps where there's been less church teaching than there has on poverty and development.' This will not be well received by the neoconservatives. They may soon find that we have a pope who is not only 'Marxist' but also a deep shade of green. 

Neil Ormerod headshotNeil Ormerod is Professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University. 

Topic tags: Neil Ormerod, Pope Francis, Vatican, Marxism, economics, development, free trade, Michael Czerny



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Existing comments

"They may soon find that we have a pope who is not only 'Marxist' but also a deep shade of green." Hmmm, I wonder if this upcoming encyclical of Pope Francis will be sufficiently deep green as to magisterially condemn the operation of wind turbines, which chop up endangered bird and bat species, as intrinsically immoral, notwithstanding the overwhelming aversion of gaze conducted by self-styled environmentalists on the matter. And to condemn the historical implementation of Marxism/socialism in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and Red China (etc) for its vastly greater depredations of the environment than those of the more free-market West. (Lake Baikal...Aral Sea, anyone?) Readers might like to know that a term for "watermelon" in Latin is "melopepo" ...

Name | 16 December 2013  

Rush Limbaug does not even know what Marxism is!

Charlie Meagher | 16 December 2013  

Alleluia for Pope Francis. His irritation of the neoliberals just proves to many that he is on the right path. We are in danger of having the Church many have dreamed of, thanks be to God.

Vivienne | 16 December 2013  

Catholic Social Justice policy and Marxist policy are indeed very similar. However, the Marxist excludes God and the Catolic doesn't. That does not mean that Catholicism should embrace Marxism in attacking the Christian politico-economic system which has provided the where-with-all for the luxury of freedom to express an opinion and finance society, even when some may be treated unfairly. Those who are disadvantaged are in fact supported in most 'well-off" Western countries, South America where Pope Francis cut his formative teeth being a notable exception. For a secular, capitalist , erstwhile Christian society, Australia doesn't do a bad job and a hell-of-a-lot better job than socially just Marxist communism ever did. matbe the erudite musings of Catholic Social Justice policy are not equally applicable across all society and perhaps selective application might be more appropriate. South America would be a good place to start. The imperative might be to promote Christian philosophy (as does Pope Francis) and not confuse it with atheistic, Marxism communism as has happened in the Americas.

john frawley | 16 December 2013  

The Pope flatly rejecys absurdity he is Marxist http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/pope-francis-says-hes-not-a-marxist--but-knows-lots-of-good-people-who-are-9006235.html

Father John George | 16 December 2013  

The Pope flatly rejects absurdity he is Marxist

Father John George | 16 December 2013  

A pope was environmentally green long before Pope Francis.
Vatican is greenest state on the globe


Father John George | 16 December 2013  

How wonderful to have a Pope that actually places the poor and needy at the forefront of our Christianity. Jesus always did so and we need to remember his socially justice lessons. If Fox News condemns Pope Francis, that has to be a great sign he doing something right. Let us all remember people are enduring terrible suffering and starving to death, while some live in shameful extravagance at their expense and we should never accept that.

Cate | 16 December 2013  

Rush Limbaugh is a shock jock whose views are for the ignorant and ill-informed.

T Stavridis | 16 December 2013  

More power to Pope Francis, on this his birthday. (17 December) May he have many more years and even more opportunities to challenge the Church and the structures of this world. What a gift he is.

Martin Loney | 16 December 2013  

Yeh Raaaaight prof!

Father John George | 16 December 2013  

Seeing Marxism in every verbal attack on capitalism and its current front row, the neoconservatives, displays an ignorance of the other forms of socialism in European traditions. In Australia, as a nation with predominantly British political traditions, we should not forget the great tradition of British socialism which appeared well before Marx. Coming out of the chapel-based trade guilds of the early industrial revolution, British socialism was based firmly on the Sermon on the Mount. Whether one salutes or attacks Pope Francis for similarly following the social teachings of Jesus, there is no basis for arguing that he is a Marxist, let alone the inferred Marxist-Leninist.

Ian Fraser | 17 December 2013  

Thanks for exploring Francis's views on capitalism/markets - they make a change from Rupert Murdoch's view that markets are not only the most efficient but the most moral of systems. Also, I'm looking forward to the upcoming development of Francis's ideas on the natural environment - perhaps some broaching of eco-theology, spiritual ecology, etc? Locally, we're pretty slow on taking up these latter areas of spiritual interests. I'm happy to talk more about it - resources, materials, etc.

Len Puglisi | 17 December 2013  

Pope Francis should go out and meet the 1% of the population who hold and control 99% of the financial world and convince those people there that their handling of their "slaves" is despicable.
The first Christians knew where to bring the message of Christ: the rich and the emperors and powerful are the only ones who can change the plight of the "poor".
Pope Francis should go out on a year long world tour and visit the people who are the rich and the powerful and convince them that increasing the wages of their “slaves” will increase their wealth in turn.

Josef K. NAGLER | 18 December 2013  

As a Catholic raised in the 50s and very much caught up in Social Justice issues based on the Catholic Social justice teachings of that time and a strong YCW involvement - I find Pope Francis sings from those same hymn books. I am delighted with his approach to bring the spirit and compassion of Jesus to all.
I am far from a Marxist and was totally in tune with PJ2, and respected the intellectual contributions and the humility of Benedict

John Launder | 18 December 2013  

The Pope is a Marxist? Whatever next? The Pope is a Christian? Now that's more like it!

Father John Fleming | 18 December 2013  

To say that the Pope would follow Marx with his "religion is the opium of the people" philosophy is a bit of an insult to both men. Francis is a Catholic, which means he's just continuing a tradition of economic equity which has been around for a few more years than Marxism. Granted there have been plenty of Catholics who have chosen to ignore the poor, but that doesn't automatically make revolutionaries of the ones who don't!

Paul Keen | 18 December 2013  

Given the jp2 inspired downfall of Communism[not forgetting its bloodied purged millions,[chistka – "cleansing"[ the specter of historic communist rally poster vis a vis Pope Francis analysis is at best grotesque bad taste

Father John Geirge | 18 December 2013  

If we go along with 'markets' too much we end up being supporters of many elements of the Murdoch press and of the ol' ARGUS. Looking at the work of King O'Malley and of progressive representatives both in the generation prior to Federation and in the generation after it. If we had listened to conservatives ( or today's neo cons THEN) we would be even more enslaved to private sector managerialism. Deregulation and privatisation and loss of majority Australian Federal and State ownership and proper regulation has harmed the average worker and pensioner.
In 2013 we see understaffing in many workplaces which is common knowledge. The neo-con way of life has nothing to offer the worker or the citizen on the receiving end.
Even Catholic social teaching is being viewed through a very narrow lens with real life situations not being permitted by some, to be recognised, let alone addressed, with real solutions in our generation.

Michael Webb | 18 December 2013  

With less rhetoric and more action jp2 providentially with Gorbachev, released millions of poor from oppressive marxist bankruptcy of soviet economics, With Gorbachev economic reforms there were exposed long-denied problems such as poor housing, food shortages, alcoholism, widespread pollution, creeping mortality rates and the second-rate position of women.
Gorbachev once said "The collapse of the Iron Curtain would have been impossible without John Paul II".

Father John George | 18 December 2013  

Pope Francis is committed to Christ who was born in manger. He preached the Kingdom of God its Justice. We say Our Father-we are all children of God, we are all brothers and sisters and equals. This is his Mission and Vision. If the World is not like that we have to fight against all the evils-injustice, corruption, inequality. We have to become poor for the poor. Please do not make Pope Francis under any category of Communism or Marxism.This is his passionate call for liberation of all humanity.

Thomas Kocherry | 18 December 2013  

The Pope has merely acknowledged that our selfish human tendency to be selfish means that we cannot rely on trickle down economic theory to feed to world's most vulnerable - somewhere, somehow, someone will draw the short straw. It just happens that it was these that Jesus talked about as being the ones who will inherit the Kingdom of God. On a global scale - Australians are not amongst that group - but on a national scale we could all probably argue who our vulnerable would be.

AURELIUS | 19 December 2013  

Pope Francis is no Marxist nor is he a neoconservative, He is a Franciscan and that means he is following the radical path of love as lived by his founder St Francis. Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ the teacher.of his beloved St Francis.

Wayne J McMillan | 23 December 2013  

#The Communist Party of Australia, for example, was ripped apart with factions, coping with the intrinsic hypocrisy of Marxist communism, after the Stalinist purges,Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact,the atrocities of the Hungarian & Czechoslovakian repressions Berlin Wall etc
#Finally "the full details of Marxist crimes were revealed as the KGB, Stasi and other secret-police archives were opened after fall of Marxism.in 1989 The broad outline had been known for many years".

Aarons, Mark (2010-06-28). The Family File (Kindle Locations 4978-4979). Black Inc.. Kindle Edition.

#To align Pope Francis with Marxism is farcical myopia!

Father John George | 29 December 2013  

Listen then to Marx supporting market economy vis a vis Pope Francis: Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who was installed as Archbishop of Munich and Freising in 2008, is a member of the advisory Council of Cardinals established by Pope Francis to assist him in the governance of the Church. “The call to think beyond capitalism is not a struggle against the market economy,” he said, as he distinguished the market economy from the financial capitalism that has come to the fore since the 1990s. This financial capitalism, he said, has “led to a catastrophic crisis.” In criticizing capitalism, he added, he criticizes an ideology that “makes capital the point of departure” and views human persons as “cost factors.” An economic vision that “reduces economic action to capitalism has chosen the morally wrong starting point.” http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/article6292955.ece/ALTERNATES/w940/cartoon22012012.jpg

Father John George | 10 January 2014  

The question is not whether the Pope or any Catholic or Christian is Marxist, but whether Marxists are Christian.

AURELIUS | 15 January 2014  

Aurelius, Stalin was one marxist among many who jettisoned Christianity! "Whilst a student at the seminary in Tbilisi, he had become acquainted with the works of Marks, Engels and other forbidden books and his expulsion was a result of his attempts to spread Marxist propaganda amongst fellow students. As he became increasingly absorbed in politics, so he became obsessed with a hatred of tsarism, the nobility and the middle class whom he regarded as the oppressors and exploiters of the working class proletariat. He saw to it too that his image changed from that of a smartly dressed, fresh-faced seminary student to that of a rebel with unkept hair and a dirty tunic with a traditional Marxist red scarf." Evans, David (2012-04-06). Understand Stalin's Russia: Teach Yourself (Kindle Locations 387-391). Hodder & Stoughton. Kindle Edition.

Father John George | 19 January 2014  

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