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Another Interview: What did Pope Francis Really Say About Marxism and the Orthodox Church?

By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Though there are many noteworthy comments in the interview, I will only address the two which I believe will generate the most response in the Press; his follow up comments concerning economic issues and his desire to promote authentic Christian collaboration, with a special emphasis on the Orthodox Church. 

VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - In another interview, Pope Francis has again set the media world buzzing. He also signaled his path for leading the Church which has been entrusted to him as the successor of the Apostle Peter.

The interview, entitled Never be afraid of tenderness, was given to Andrea Tornielli, of the Vatican Insider. It can be read here in its entirety.  It was given on Tuesday, December 10, 2013, in the afternoon, in the Chapel of Saint Martha where the Holy Father celebrates daily Mass.

Though there are many noteworthy comments in the interview, I will only address the two which I believe will generate the most response in the Press; his follow up comments concerning economic issues and his desire to promote authentic Christian collaboration, with a special emphasis on finding some form of communion with between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church. 

First, Pope Francis responded to insinuations in ill informed  media sources that he embraces what are tritely called "left leaning " economic policies. Here are the questions and the answers:

Some of the passages in the "Evangelii Gaudium" (The Joy of the Gospel) attracted the criticism of ultraconservatives in the USA. As a Pope, what does it feel like to be called a "Marxist"?

Pope Francis: "The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don't feel offended."

The most striking part of the Exhortation was where it refers to an economy that "kills".

Pope Francis: "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. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the "trickle-down theories" which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger - nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church's social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist."

After the release of his Apostolic Exhortation entitled The Joy of the Gospel, some in the media incorrectly characterized certain sections of the exhortation as being "against" capitalism. The fact is the word was not even mentioned. Rather, the Pope pointed out the emptiness of materialism and consumerism. Many of the reports made such comments with little or no understanding of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church.

That apostolic exhortation, completely consistent with Catholic Social Doctrine, cannot be squeezed into the economic or political categories which fuel much of the charged debate in the United States. Yet, just such an effort occurred, from those with political and economic agendas, both from the left and the right.

Sadly, they also distracted the public from hearing a desperately needed corrective and beautiful message from a global pastor who has been given charge of what he properly referred to in the exhortation as a church without frontiers.

After an admonition to say No to what he prophetically called the new idolatry of money, Pope Francis called for, an economy of inclusion, one which expands to embrace more and more people. He noted that the root problem of the current economic struggles is a moral one. Yes, that is correct, a moral one. He wrote:

The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) 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. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.

He was correct in his analysis. He was prophetic in his insights into the creeping atheistic materialism of the West. His strong response to questions in this recent interview further affirm, this Pope cannot be dismissed by attempts to squeeze him into a box, of any sort, political, economic, or even theological. He, like the Lord whom he serves is outside of the categories of the marketplace or the limiting language of modern political wrangling.

He prophetically reminded us in The Joy of the Gospel that what is needed is what he called, a return to an ethical foundation for the economic and social order. The kind of ethics which leads to a God who calls for a committed response that is outside of the categories of the marketplace. When these latter are absolutized, God can only be seen as uncontrollable, unmanageable, even dangerous, since he calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement.

Ethics - a non-ideological ethics - would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order. With this in mind, I encourage financial experts and political leaders to ponder the words of one of the sages of antiquity: "Not to share one's wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods that we hold, but theirs. (par. 57)

The final sentence of that paragraph in The Joy of the Gospel upset a number of people who reacted without reading the exhortation. If they had read it they would have seen that the strongly prophetic language at the end was actually a quote from the great Fourth Century Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom whose prophetic correctives of his own age were not all that different than those offered by Pope Francis to this current age.

So, in short, efforts to disparage Pope Francis by calling him a "Marxist" are not only wrong and insulting, they are silly. Pope Francis is a Catholic. He is teaching what the Church has always taught. Would Archbishop John Chrysostom be called Marxist by today's media because he spoke of the poor with such affection and reminded the faithful of our obligations in solidarity to them?

Next, his responses to inquiries in the recent interview concerning the papacy; as well as his call for collaboration with other Christians - in particular with the Orthodox Church - signal his intent to continue the trajectory which began with the Second Vatican Council and advanced during the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict is extraordinary.  Here are the questions and the responses:

You announced a "conversion of the papacy". Did a specific path emerge from your meetings with the Orthodox Patriarchs?

Pope Francis: John Paul II spoke even more explicitly about a way of exercising the primacy which is open to a new situation. Not just from the point of view of ecumenical relations but also in terms of relations with the Curia and the local Churches. Over the course of these first nine months, I have received visits from many Orthodox brothers: Bartholomew, Hilarion, the theologian Zizioulas, the Copt Tawadros.

The latter is a mystic, he would enter the chapel, remove his shoes and go and pray. I felt like their brother. They have the apostolic succession; I received them as brother bishops. It is painful that we are not yet able to celebrate the Eucharist together, but there is friendship. I believe that the way forward is this: friendship, common work and prayer for unity. We blessed each other; one brother blesses the other, one brother is called Peter and the other Andrew, Mark, Thomas..

Is Christian unity a priority for you?

Pope Francis: Yes, for me ecumenism is a priority. Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for.

I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism.  After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: "I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest's." This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don't ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptised in. We need to take these facts into consideration.


One of the most credible Catholic News Sources in the Catholic world, the Catholic News Agency (CNA), recently interviewed the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch. The Cardinal is currently in Russia where he will meet with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and Metropolitan Hilarion, the President of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Many observers hope that these meetings are a part of what appears to be a continued preparation for a meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in the near future. I am included among them. There is no question this Pope is a man with a vision for the New Evangelization of the Catholic Church and a heart for a new Missionary Age. He is also a leader whose depth of insight cannot be categorized into neat little boxes.

Stay tuned, an historic papacy is unfolding. 

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