Pope Francis is sometimes accused of being a “Marxist.” In particular, the following paragraphs from Fratelli Tutti drew some criticism (emphasis added):

119. In the first Christian centuries, a number of thinkers developed a universal vision in their reflections on the common destination of created goods. This led them to realize that if one person lacks what is necessary to live with dignity, it is because another person is detaining it. Saint John Chrysostom summarizes it in this way: “Not to share our wealth with the poor is to rob them and take away their livelihood. The riches we possess are not our own, but theirs as well”. In the words of Saint Gregory the Great, “When we provide the needy with their basic needs, we are giving them what belongs to them, not to us”.

120. Once more, I would like to echo a statement of Saint John Paul II whose forcefulness has perhaps been insufficiently recognized: “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone”. For my part, I would observe that “the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property”. The principle of the common use of created goods is the “first principle of the whole ethical and social order”; it is a natural and inherent right that takes priority over others. All other rights having to do with the goods necessary for the integral fulfilment of persons, including that of private property or any other type of property, should – in the words of Saint Paul VI – “in no way hinder [this right], but should actively facilitate its implementation”. The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods. This has concrete consequences that ought to be reflected in the workings of society. Yet it often happens that secondary rights displace primary and overriding rights, in practice making them irrelevant.

Accusations that Pope Francis is a Marxist or socialist have been made since early in his papacy. In late 2013, in response to some of his criticisms of capitalism in Evangelii Gaudium, some critics—including the late radio presenter Rush Limbaugh—also called Francis a Marxist. Francis was asked in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa how he felt about being called a Marxist, particularly by conservatives in the US. He responded, “The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

Pope Francis explained that in the exhortation he was criticizing the false notion that the inevitable outcome of so-called “trickle-down” economics in a free-market system is increased social justice and improved lives for the marginalized. This is a point that has been made repeatedly by popes for over a century. Francis explained, “There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on.”

As demonstrated by the use of quotes from St. John Paul II and the Church Fathers, this teaching may be controversial, but it is far from novel. Controversy arises on this point simply because many Catholics have lost sight of Church teaching. As Pope Francis recently said:

If I repeated some passages from the homilies of the Church Fathers, in the second or third century, about how we must treat the poor, some would accuse me of giving a Marxist homily.

To illustrate his point, he quoted the following lines from St. Ambrose:

You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.

Pope Francis, echoing the words of so many saints, is calling on Catholics to realize how radical the Faith really is. It is certainly far more radical than any Communist ideology!

Image: Adobe Stock.

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Malcolm Schluenderfritz hosts Happy Are You Poor, a blog and podcast dedicated to discussing radical Christian community as a means of evangelization. He works as a graphic design assistant and a horticulturalist in Littleton, CO.

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