What Do the Popes Truly Say About Socialism?

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

​Back to Europe. A third model was added to the two models of the 19th century: socialism. Socialism took two main paths — the democratic and the totalitarian one. Democratic socialism became a healthy counterbalance to radically liberal positions in both existing models. It enriched and corrected them. It proved itself even when religious confessions took over… In many ways, democratic socialism stands and stood close to the Catholic social teachings. It in any case contributed a substantial amount to the education of social conscience.

Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis) wrote:

“What the Church rejects is the spirit that has encouraged capitalism, utilizing capital to subject and oppress man, without considering the human dignity of workers nor the social function of the economy, distorting the ethical values of social justice and the common good.”*

The capitalist system also has its own spiritual perversion: to tame religion. It tames religion so that it does not bother Capitalism too much; it brings it down to worldly terms. It gives it a certain transcendence, but only a little bitThe capitalist system in turn tolerates a kind of tamed transcendence that manifests in a worldly spirit. For religious people, the act of adoring God means to submit to His will, to His justice, to His law, and to His prophetic inspiration. On the other hand, for the worldly who manipulate religion, it is not too hot or too cold. Something like: Behave yourself, do some crooked things, but not too many.There would be good manners and bad customs: a civilization of consumerism, of hedonism, of political arrangements between the powers or political sectors, the terrain of money. All are manifestations of worldliness.

John Milbank is one of the keen contemporary expositors of the Anglo-Catholic tradition of socialism.
John Milbank is one of the keen contemporary expositors of the Anglo-Catholic tradition of socialism.

Certainly, then, my friends, we are able to learn a bit about what some Popes had to say about capitalism and democratic socialism before becoming Bishop of Rome.

Let’s give the capitalists a pass on this one, though, as these quotes are from the time belonging to their pre-Papal ministry.

What do we have, then, on capitalism and socialism? Well, we can consider the fact that the unhelpful article produced through the American Enterprise Institute fails to do something that one of the popes it cites did 44 years ago: namely, distinguish between socialisms.

Ratzinger did this in the quote above. Why don’t pro-capitalists do this for the benefit of their readers? It would be unhelpful for them to do so, if only for the reason that they would have to then refrain from taking “socialism” -without qualification – as meaning some sort of system that can be identified with the USSR, etc. Maybe pro-capitalists think all socialisms are bad – but it’s hard to know if we never learn of any distinction.

Thus, let us correct our kind author at AEI by providing some “historical perspective” and context in a few words.

Benedict XVI: anti-socialist?

If we look at the AEI quote from Benedict XVI, we’ll notice that it is from Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love). In the section where the quote is located Benedict emphasizes the need and irreplaceable character of love -caritas- as service, etc. Given that Benedict, before he was elected bishop of Rome, was able to make distinctions between socialisms, perhaps he did so as Pope too?

Let’s consider, first, that Benedict doesn’t use the word “socialism” in the cited encyclical. However, if you do a general search of what Benedict – as Pope Benedict XVI – wrote/said using what is available on vatican.va, you’ll notice his harshness when treating some realities that contain, in name, the word “socialism”.

What are they? National socialism. It would benefit a pro-capitalist to reduce Benedict’s concern to socialism, however, especially in this case. Why? Because we could easily make a simple line graph explaining what national socialism is – to the sorrow of our pro-capitalist friends:

National socialism -> Nazism -> Fascism -> Capitalist Pursuits to the Extreme

What else does Benedict XVI refer to when discussing socialism? The same thing he refers to when he was Prefect of the CDF: atheistic, totalitarian forms of socialism. Not only is this made evident by perusing vatican.va, but it should be considered a consistency. Ratzinger makes the distinction in the quote above. But, even a modest scholar would connect the dots between Benedict XVI’s ability to make a distinction and Ratzinger’s ability to make a distinction as is evident in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. As summarized in the compendium:

Opposed to the social doctrine of the Church are economic and social systems that sacrifice the basic rights of persons or that make profit their exclusive norm or ultimate end. For this reason the Church rejects the ideologies associated in modern times with Communism or with atheistic and totalitarian forms of socialism [italics are mine].

Are there forms of socialism that are not atheistic and totalitarian? It would seem so, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. That’s a major loss for pro-capitalists, because now they have to make the distinction which makes the actualization of their cause ever more difficult.

​Well, the next sentence from the compendium makes life a little more difficult again . . .

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