Pope Francis Says He's Not a Marxist. Others Aren't Sure

Is a Communist running the Vatican? Pope Francis, after stirring controversy with his “who am I to judge?” comment on homosexuality, now is under attack for his criticisms of capitalism.

In a Dec. 14 interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, the pontiff defended a recent “apostolic exhortation” in which he disputed the theory of “trickle-down” economics, condemned the global financial system, and accused rich people of “stealing” if they do not share their wealth with the poor.

In the document, the pope decried “ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.” He called on the world’s political leaders to enact financial reform with “an ethical approach which favors human beings.”

His statements outraged some conservatives such as radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, who described them in a Nov. 27 broadcast as “pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.”

In the La Stampa interview, the pope said: “The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

In the interview, the pope said that he questioned “trickle down theories” that assume that “economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens, instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger and nothing ever comes out for the poor.” That view, he said, reflects “the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.”

The pope’s comments on capitalism also drew an attack from Lant Pritchett, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, who writes in a Bloomberg View op-ed column that the pontiff is “promoting envy” of the rich while discouraging entrepreneurship and innovation. “Encouraging people to measure themselves against others only leads to grief,” he writes. “Resenting the success of others is a sin in itself.”

It’s worth noting that Pope Francis is not the first pontiff to criticize capitalism—particularly the neo-liberal brand promoted by the U.S. Here’s what John Paul II wrote in a January 1999 exhortation:

“More and more, in many countries of America, a system known as ‘neoliberalism’ prevails; based on a purely economic conception of man, this system considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples. At times this system has become the ideological justification for certain attitudes and behavior in the social and political spheres leading to the neglect of the weaker members of society. Indeed, the poor are becoming ever more numerous, victims of specific policies and structures which are often unjust.”

Nobody accused that pope, whose interventions were widely credited with helping end Soviet rule in his native Poland, with being a Marxist sympathizer.

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