What Do the Popes Truly Say About Socialism?

What Do the Popes Truly Say About Socialism? October 6, 2015


The socialist fathers meet the Church Fathers? (Photo taken by me [Artur Rosman] in Rome, 2001. I reserve all rights to this photo. Contact me if you would like to use it). The communist fathers meet the Church Fathers? (Photo taken by me [Artur Rosman] in Rome, 2001. I reserve all rights to this photo. Contact me if you would like to use it).
The reps of the proles come to visit the popes? (Photo taken by me [Artur Rosman] in Rome, 2001. Just to be a contrarian I reserve all rights to this photo. Contact me if you would like to use it).

Like the man who slays a son in his father’s presence is he who offers sacrifice from the possessions of the poor.

–Sirach 34:20

Keith Michael Estrada is the founder of Students for a Fair Society at Franciscan University of Steubenville and is a member of the International Observatory of Young Catholics (Rome). Finishing his MA in philosophy at the aforementioned institution, he writes from Seattle-land, Washington. He can be reached at keithmichaelestrada.com.

This is a guest post.


Some days ago, Mark Perry decided to provide a short collection of quotes for the sake of providing “some historical perspective” on “what four previous popes had to say about socialism.”

I suppose Perry thought he could help advance the cause of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) with his short collection of quotes. If, in relation to Perry’s post, AEI seeks to promote the non-existing “democratic capitalism” and not much else, the author didn’t do too bad a job – and should be, perhaps, congratulated.

However, if the purpose of the article truly extended towards providing “some historical perspective” on “what four previous popes had to say about socialism”, with the gracious benefit – though, unmentioned – of sharing Catholic thought and respecting the intellect of one’s readership, then perhaps we should withhold our congratulations.

One may find that, in producing the collection of quotes, Perry aimed at advancing the position of “democratic capitalism” by negating socialism.

With the above considerations in mind, we can readily submit that the American Enterprise Institute is not to be recommended as a teaching source if one’s desire is to learn Catholic thought on capitalism and socialism – unless one desires to learn the ways and extent in which pro-capitalist venues would distort and defile Christian ethics.

Before I comment any further, I must admit that I find the short piece to be very consistent with capitalist thought. These are three reasons why I believe this to be the case:

    • the author makes no distinctions – which would be useful for the purpose of providing “some historical perspective” – on what is understood to be “socialism” in the writing of each pope; the lack of distinction is curiously common in pro-capitalist discourse and our author does not disappoint,
    • the author offers a quote from Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est that not only fails to mention socialism, but happens to be an encyclical that cites previous work, from another pope, which seeks to correct – as opposed to reject – parts of socialism; the pro-capitalist’s fantasy that papal teaching favors capitalism and rejects socialism requires their consistent failure to engage the teaching in a historical fashion
    • With reason #1 in mind, we recall the nasty attempt to provide an inauthentic presentation of papal thought with the end of advancing capitalism, by failing in the acknowledgement of distinctions made by the papal Magisterium concerning socialism and refusing to provide any alternative that is not capitalism nor any teaching related to capitalism -understandably negative- from the popes; this is consistent in pro-capitalist efforts, as anyone considering particular merits of a certain socialism would be identified as communists in being: anti-freedom, anti-property, anti-creativity, anti-life, anti-family, anti-enterprise – as if all socialism maintained these positions and as if capitalism actually cared to materialize freedom, property creativity, life, family, and enterprise for all

Let us make no mistake, Dear Friends, in understanding that the rejection of certain systems does not force us to embrace another, as capitalists would let us believe. As the bishops of France once wrote:

… no Catholic should fall into that all too frequently conceived illusion that an unfavorable judgment by the Holy See on one doctrine signifies its approval of the opposing doctrine. By condemning the actions of communist parties, the Church does not support the capitalist regime.

This was from a comment on Pope Pius XI’s Divini Redemptoris, on atheistic communism.

We should should note that the bishops of France, along with Pius XI, do specifically refer to atheistic communism, and not socialism in its various manifestations, then and now. Nevertheless, I would wrong you by not providing what the bishops of France wrote in the the sentence continuing from the quote above:

It is most necessary that it be realized that in the very essence of capitalism-that is to say, in the absolute value that it gives to property without reference to the common good or to the dignity of labor-there is a materialism rejected by Christian teaching.

That said, let us also remember that the Popes spoke  before they were elected bishop of Rome. Would it be useful for “historical perspective” to have an insight into what the Popes said before election?

Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) may have believed, or simply had written down as a note:

The church is aware that the bourgeois mentality and capitalism as a whole, with its materialist spirit, acutely contradict the Gospel.

Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) wrote in Europe: Today and Tomorrow . . .

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