Since the mid-1800s every pontiff—from Pius IX to Benedict XVI—has forthrightly condemned socialism. But could that trend be broken with Pope Francis? Could he be a closet socialist?
Bernie Sanders seems to think so. In a recent interview Sanders was asked whether he thought Francis shared the senator’s socialist views:
“Well, what it means to be a socialist, in the sense of what the pope is talking about, what I’m talking about, is to say that we have got to do our best and live our lives in a way that alleviates human suffering, that does not accelerate the disparities of income and wealth,” Sanders tells Rosica, head of the Canadian Catholic network Salt and Light, in an interview that will be broadcast Tuesday.
We are living in a world where greed has become, for the wealthiest people, their own religion, Sanders said.
“When [Pope Francis] talks about wealth being used to serve people, not as an end in itself, I agree with that,” Sanders said.
Sanders noted the pope’s critique of trickle-down economics.
“[H]e believes that in democratic societies, government itself should play a very strong role in protecting the most vulnerable people amongst us,” Sanders said. “That is a direct critique of conservative politics, and of course he’s going to be attacked for that.”
Sanders isn’t the first to make this claim. After the pontiff’s trip last summer to Latin America, Bolivia’s president Evo Morales told the Associated Press after the visit that he thought that the Pope’s “emphasis on a world without exclusion amounts to socialism”:
I don’t know whether it’s communism, but it is socialism. He’s talking about community, about living in harmony. . . I feel like now I have a Pope.
Could Sanders and Morales be right? Probably not. While the pope hasn’t directly denounced all forms of socialism, he has directly rejected Marxism:
[Francis] says that some of its tenets regarding the poor may sound similar to those of Christianity, but he firmly rejects attempts to equate the two.
“The Marxist ideology is wrong,” he told Italian Vatican analyst Andrea Tornielli in a late 2013 interview when questioned about his economic views.
Francis has said that he finds it “strange” that people make these accusations against him.
“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,” he said in an October 2014 interview.