POPE FRANCIS turned 83 last Tuesday, Dec. 17. Unarguably the most popular, arguably the most controversial pontiff of contemporary times – a number of his own cardinals virtually calling almost all his encyclicals patently un-Catholic if not outright heresies – Francis has most certainly appeared to have none of his predecessor Benedict XVI’s steadfastness, aye, obstinacy to Church dogma. Ratzinger, of course, being some doctrinaire theologian.
Only into the ninth month of his Petrine ministry in December 2013, we already discerned something of that sort in Francis here:
HE DOES not believe in a “Catholic God.”
He has attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny” – the enemy, verily assumed as the Devil himself.
On those matters alone, easily, if hastily, more Red than Black is the Jesuit Pope, Francis.
The unrepentant, aged communist in me makes the Argentine Bergoglio my kind of pontiff , with the gospel of Marx finding expression in the epistles of Francis. Das Kapital, indeed, The Communist Manifesto, extant in Evangelii Gaudium as well as in other papal pronouncements.
In the first apostolic exhortation in his Petrine ministry, Francis wrote: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”
The comrade in me rises to the timelessness of the Manifesto: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
Francis’ very phrase “the powerful feed upon the powerless” finding its very definition in Marx’s “Capital is dead labour, that, vampirelike, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.”
The commodification of man, to Francis: “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a ‘disposable’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new.”
Finding parallel to Marx’s take on the reduction of the working man to mere beast of burden: “Political Economy regards the proletarian … like a horse, he must receive enough to enable him to work. It does not consider him, during the time when he is not working, as a human being. It leaves this to criminal law, doctors, religion, statistical tables, politics, and the beadle.”
What has come to be the very précis of Evangelii Gaudium: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills…” smoothly segues to Marx’s “(Capitalism) has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, it has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — free trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.”
Francis spoke of a deceptive naivete that “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.”
Marx, putting it squarely: “A rise in the price of labour, as a consequence of accumulation of capital, only means, in fact, that the length and weight of the golden chain the wage-worker has already forged for himself, allow of a relaxation of the tension of it.”
On the eve of the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland last June, Francis wrote its host, British Prime Minister David Cameron: “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”
Marx’s article “On the Thefts of Wood” in the journal Rheinische Zeitung says as much: “The representation of private interests … abolishes all natural and spiritual distinctions by enthroning in their stead the immoral, irrational and soulless abstraction of a particular material object and a particular consciousness which is slavishly subordinated to this object.”
So cried the Pope: “Money must serve, not rule!”
So spake Marx: “If money is the bond binding me to human life, binding society to me, binding me and nature and man, is not money the bond of all bonds? Can it not dissolve and bind all ties? Is it not, therefore, the universal agent of separation?”
Exhorts Francis: “The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.”
Long conceded Marx, in a letter to his father: “If we have chosen the position in life in which we can most of all work for mankind, no burdens can bow us down, because they are sacrifices for the benefit of all; then we shall experience no petty, limited, selfish joy, but our happiness will belong to millions, our deeds will live on quietly but perpetually at work, and over our ashes will be shed the hot tears of noble people.”
On that hopeful note, this piece could have ended right there. But I take Francis for his word at the World Youth Day in Brazil, long past that age though I am: “Shake things up! Don’t forget to make a mess…”
So, I go on.
Francis, still in Evangelii Gaudium: “While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”
Marx, still in the Manifesto: “…in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its nonexistence in the hands of those nine tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the nonexistence of any property for the immense majority of society.”
More than Francis, it is Jesus Himself that Marx may have channeled there: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21).
Christian perfection in concord with communism’s core precept there.
Is the Pope Catholic? In Francis, the idiom takes other than its usual rhetorical sense.
Disbelieving – or should it be unbelieving – a limiting and limited “Catholic God,” a catholic pope is birthed in Francis. Ad majorem Dei gloriam.