Rush Limbaugh is freaked out by Pope Francis’ sharp critique of capitalism and consumerism. Rush says it sounds like “pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.”
Well, let us consider the pope’s words: “Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution. Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces.”
Yes, that’s what the pope said — but not Pope Francis. Those are the words of Pope John Paul II, who became a hero to conservatives for the role he played in bringing down Soviet communism. John Paul was an enemy of communism, for sure, but he was no fan of unrestricted capitalism. During a visit to Latvia in 1991, the pope acknowledged the “kernel of truth” in Marxism that identified the “exploitation to which an inhuman capitalism had subjected the proletariat since the beginning of industrial society.”
Other popes, including John XXII, Paul VI and Benedict XVI, have also made pronouncements about the evils of market capitalism divorced from moral constraints. Pius XI spoke of the “international imperialism of money” and the frightening power of bankers and financiers who are “grasping … in their hands the very soul of production, so that no one dare breathe against their will.”
Pope Francis’ recent description of unbridled capitalism as a “new tyranny” that is crushing the lives of people around the world through an “economy of exclusion and inequality” is hardly radical in the context of the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Nor is his condemnation of rampant consumerism an alien idea at the Vatican.
“We have created new idols,” Francis wrote in the paper that made Rush apoplectic. “The worship of the ancient golden calf ... has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”
Rush and other conservatives who think Pope Francis is some sort of crazed Sandinista for saying such things simply do not get it. His concern for the poor and condemnation of the greedy rich is not Marxism, it is Catholicism. This well-established church teaching is inspired, not by Karl Marx, but by the fellow who said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” — the fellow whose birth we celebrate on Dec. 25 after a frenzy of consumerism.