In the months since Pope Francis released his 2013 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Guadium, critics of his pontificate have seized upon remarks he made regarding trickledown economics. In his view, he wrote, the successful implementation of such theories “have never been confirmed by the facts.” Of course, many conservatives scoffed at this assertion, some of whom accused him outright of being a socialist or a communist.
But what Pope Francis was getting at, I think, is how a “new idolatry of money” has taken root -- and ahold -- of many of us. This leads inevitably to what Pope Francis describes as a “throw away” culture. Individuals too often place material success, wealth, and money above the needs of human beings in a capitalist system. Such self-centeredness "deadens us," he argues; we become indifferent and callous to those who suffer. So while this is a rather sharp criticism of unfettered capitalism and capitalism in general, it is hardly a clarion call for Marxist revolution, either.
Earlier in the week Pope Francis gave a meeting with a number of communications students from Belgium. During the interview he specifically addressed charges that he was a communist. He said he wasn’t, of course, explaining instead where his passion for the poor comes from:
Rome, Italy, Apr 4, 2014 / 10:35 am (CNA/EWTN News).- In a March 31 interview with communications students, Pope Francis responded to previous accusations of being a communist, explaining that his preference for the poor is in fact based in the Gospel.
“I heard two months ago that a person referred to my preference for speaking about the poor, saying: 'This Pope is a communist, no?' And no, this is the banner of the Gospel, not of communism, of the Gospel,” the Pope explained during the encounter.
Given to three Belgian youth who are studying communications sciences, the interview was broadcast on the evening of April 3 on the Belgium website deredactie.be., and was later picked up by Italian news agency ReppublicaTV.
During the interview, one student asked the Pope where his preference for the poor and most needy comes from, to which the pontiff responded: “Because this is the heart of the Gospel, and I am a believer, I believe in God, I believe in Christ, I believe in the Gospel, and the heart of the Gospel is the poor.”
“And because of this I believe that the poor are the center of the Gospel of Jesus. This is clear if we read it,” he affirmed.
One need not be a communist to care passionately for the poor. In the same way that one need not be a communist to criticize certain elements of an economic system that can at times lead to inequities and social exclusion.