The spiritual leader of the Catholic world recently criticised capitalism, suggested he found the free market system inadequate when it comes to meeting basic human needs.
Pope Francis recently had some harsh words to share on capitalism, the engine of the modern global economy. He argued that the ongoing pandemic has shown that in times of need, the free market order has failed to address some essential human needs.
The Pope, an Argentinian citizen, who is the first non-European pope in the last 1000 years of papacy, has been known for his reformist ideas and practices, including a public empathy toward the Liberation theology, which has some clear connections with socialist ideas.
"The marketplace by itself cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith," Pope Francis wrote, criticising neoliberalism, the latest form of capitalist theory, in his encyclical, an ancient term to refer to popes’ circulating letters.
But Francis’ criticism was not limited to neoliberalism in his latest address, which he called Fratelli Tutti or Brothers All. He also targeted the untouchable notion of private property, which is one of the core principles of capitalism.
"The Christian tradition has never recognised the right to private property as absolute or inviolable and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property," he wrote.
In the past, on numerous occasions, the pope has indicated his leaning towards Liberation theology. It first emerged in Latin America, a largely Catholic continent with serious economic inequalities, deliberately fighting some of capitalism’s core principles.
Experts see the Liberation theology as a synthesis between Catholicism’s religious teachings of compassion and socialist ideas, which have long politically resonated with the poor in Latin America.
Some have even described the main ideas of the movement in the famous phrase, “If Jesus Christ were on Earth today, he would be a Marxist revolutionary.”
“Probably the primary proponent of liberation theology today is Francis, the first Latin American pope,” wrote Rodney Stark, a Christian social scientist, in his book, The Triumph of Faith.
Some of the pope’s remarks at different events appear to confirm Stark’s assumption.
“Solidarity, this word that frightens the developed world. People try to avoid saying it. Solidarity to them is almost a bad word. But it is our word!” he said during an address at ‘Astalli Centre’ Jesuit refugee service in Rome on September 10, 2013.
“Serving means recognising and accepting requests for justice and hope, and seeking roads together, real paths that lead to liberation,” he added.
Pope Francis’ take on capitalism is obviously different from the one taken by the Catholic Church, which mostly backed the US-led capitalist bloc against the Soviet Union-led communist bloc during the years of the Cold War.
The US Ronald Reagan administration, which was partly credited for helping end communism, with its maximum pressure strategy against the Soviets, hadlong viewed the Vatican as its ally against the communist threat.
But Pope Francis’ stance makes him no closer to Washington, which concurrently defends free markets without most possible least restrictions.
“An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the ‘dung of the devil’. The service of the common good is left behind,” said the Pope in 2015 during a speech at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements.
“Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, sister and mother earth,” the pope added, echoing a socialist politician.
In 2015, Francis visited Cuba, one of the few standing communist states after the fall of the Soviets. It was a first for the Vatican.
In Buenos Aires, where the 84-year-old pope used to live as its archbishop, he reportedly cooked his own meals and used public transportation to work.
In his letter, Francis also condemned the increasing reach of racist movements in strong terms, resembling them to the Covid-19.
“Racism is a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting,” he wrote.