Is Pope Francis a Marxist? That is one of the questions that has swirled around this pontificate since Francis first walked out onto the loggia overlooking St Peter’s Square on March 13, 2013. In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, released that same year, he said that the global financial system was one that “kills”, and he criticised the “trickle-down theory” associated with laissez-faire capitalism. He has described the unfettered pursuit of profit as the “dung of the Devil”.
As a result, some economists have accused Francis of belonging to the far-Left. Those on the far-Left seem to agree. “I don’t know whether it’s communism,” said Bolivian president Evo Morales, after hearing Francis give an impassioned speech on poverty, “but it is socialism.”
Admirers of Francis who are uncomfortable with his economic views try to downplay their significance. His overriding message is mercy, they point out, and he has no special expertise on financial matters. But the Pope himself rejected this argument last Saturday, when he insisted that economic matters were at the heart of his mission. Looking out on a sea of yellow hard hats at the Ilva steel factory in Genoa, Francis said that, because the world of work is a human priority, “it’s also a priority for the Pope”.
Francis took questions from a manager, a union official, a worker and an unemployed woman. His answers offered his most sophisticated analysis to date of the modern workplace. His response to the manager was especially notable for its positive view of entrepreneurship. In remarks that might have caused Karl Marx to rotate in his grave, Pope Francis praised the “entrepreneur’s virtues”: creativity, passion, empathy and pride in work well done. He contrasted these with the vices of the “speculator”, a figure who disregards employees’ welfare in the singleminded pursuit of profit. Francis argued that the economy was ailing partly because of a “progressive transformation of businessmen into speculators”. The knock-on effects were serious, he said, because “when work is weakened, it’s democracy that enters into crisis”. Good morals, therefore, make for good business.
The Pope has deflected suggestions that he is a crypto-Marxist by referring to the long Christian tradition of care for the poor. His “dung of the Devil” remark, for example, was an allusion to the 4th-century St Basil of Caesarea. “If I repeated some passages from the homilies of the Church Fathers about how we must treat the poor,” he has said, “some would accuse me of giving a Marxist homily.” In other words, communists have usurped Christians’ claim to stand with the poor. Pope Francis is reasserting it. If that shocks you, he implies, then you are ignorant of Church history.
Do the Pope’s remarks in Genoa suggest that his views have evolved? Has he suddenly grasped that the economy cannot flourish without entrepreneurs who create jobs and products? That seems improbable. It’s more likely that he has always regarded entrepreneurship as a noble calling. But commentators have focused on his critique of capitalism gone awry, giving the misleading impression that he opposes the free market itself.
Be grateful for priests’ mothers
This week Poland has provided the Catholic Church, and not for the first time, with some welcome news. Fr Tymoteusz Szydło, the eldest son of the prime minister, Beata Szydło, has been ordained as a priest, and celebrated his first Mass on Sunday at the church in Przecieszyn, a small village about 35 miles west of Kraków, where he was baptised as a child. The newly ordained is 25 years old. It is customary in Poland for a priest’s first Mass to be celebrated in the church of his baptism.
The prime minister, as one might expect, said she and her husband, Edward Szydło, were “very happy and proud”. Mrs Szydło heads a government of the Law and Justice party, which says it is inspired by traditional Catholic church teachings on a range of social and moral issues. The party has, as a result, drawn the disapproval not just of the Guardian, but also of many in the corridors of power in Brussels.
Poland holds a special place in Catholic hearts, being the land that bore St John Paul II, that staunch defender of Catholic truth, and many others besides, such as St Casimir, son of a Polish king, and King Jan Sobieski, who saved Europe from Turkish invasion in 1683. Many are the heroic witnesses to Catholic culture that hail from Poland.
Fr Tymoteusz is now one of numerous Polish priests, some of whom are working abroad, including in this country, who will do his best, we are sure, not just to uphold the teachings of the Church but also to proclaim them boldly by word and example. We wish him many fruitful years of ministry, and in being grateful for him, we are grateful for all such priests.
Not every priest has a mother who is a prime minster, but every priest has a mother, and to them too we owe a debt of gratitude, for often they are the ones who have nurtured their son’s vocation. To Mrs Szydło, and to all priests’ mothers, our warmest congratulations.
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