Before landing in Washington yesterday, Pope Francis had another of his brief news conferences on the plane and, among other things, he reminded reporters he is Catholic:
Pope Francis defended his position on the economy, the environment and other social issues as faithful repetitions of the basic Catholic social doctrine.
Speaking to reporters flying with him from Cuba to Washington Sept. 22, the pope was asked about comments, mainly from the United States, claiming the pope is a communist and about the Newsweek headline, “Is the pope Catholic?”
“I am certain I have never said anything more than what is in the social doctrine of the church,” he responded. “I follow the church and in this, I do not think I am wrong.”
“Maybe I have given an impression of being a little bit to the left,” the pope admitted. “But if they want me to recite the Creed, I can!”
Pope Francis said a cardinal “who is a friend” was telling him about an older Catholic lady, “a good woman, but a bit rigid,” who had questions about the description of the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation and if that was the same thing as an “anti-pope.”
“‘Why are you asking,’ the cardinal said. ‘Well, I am sure Pope Francis is the anti-pope.’
“‘Why do you say that?’
“‘Well, because he renounced the red shoes, which are so historic,'” the pope said the woman responded.
People have all sorts of reasons to think, “he’s communist or he’s not communist,” the pope said.
In a timely coincidence, a piece in The Atlantic offers further evidence of the pope’s Catholic cred:
When the pope draws on his Latin American past to talk about the poor, to American ears, it can sound like a radical and new position for the Church. But this may be another quirk of U.S. politics; John Paul II and Benedict XVI were also both economic reformers who advocated for the poor. “This gets to one of the most fundamental reasons [why Francis is] so hard to understand in the U.S. context,” Miller said. “We have this culture-war frame that has built up over the last 40 years, which has very carefully portrayed Catholicism as a bearer of conservative personal and ethical and medical moral values, and has downplayed John Paul II and Benedict’s radical critiques of free-market fundamentalism and militarism. Both were very outspoken on those things.”
When Francis released an apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, just a few months into his papacy, it got enormous attention—perhaps in part because it’s so prickly. “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” Francis wrote. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
But though Evangelii Gaudium was eminently quotable, “I don’t think there’s really any way in which [Francis] diverges from John Paul II and Benedict on social teaching,” Miller said. “The Church for the past 10 popes, since Leo XIII, has consistently criticized socialism and capitalist ideology.”
For example: In his 1991 letter Centesimus Annus, John Paul II openly questioned whether former communist countries should embrace free-market capitalism. “The human inadequacies of capitalism and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing,” he wrote. “In fact, for the poor, to the lack of material goods has been added a lack of knowledge and training which prevents them from escaping their state of humiliating subjection.” Similarly, in 2013, Benedict XVI called out “the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which … finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.”
But despite Rush Limbaugh’s speculations, the pope and his predecessors are no Marxists—Francis is just as anti-Marx as he is anti-Wall Street, partly because of his Latin American background. “The Church has always been wary of two extremes: One is collectivization, or what has historically been known as socialism,” said Tony Annett, an adviser at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “But the Church has been equally opposed to the other extreme, which is individualism. Catholic social teaching is fundamentally based on a very communal approach—going all the way back through Genesis, that we are our brothers’ keepers.”