Pope Francis comes out swinging on capitalism, colonialism, environment

In Bolivia yesterday, Pope Francis offered a scathing critique of capitalism while apologizing for the Church’s role in perpetuating the colonial conquest of the country.

Francis, who has not been so accommodating to the left on LGBT issues, expressed deep concerns about the current global economic order and the coming environmental catastrophe. And while much of this isn’t new — Christian theology is perfectly compatible with anti-capitalist and pro-environment economics — Francis added a new twist to that theme by admitting that the Church had, in the past, invoked God to justify horrific acts of violence against indigenous peoples. From The New York Times:

Some may rightly say, ‘When the pope speaks of colonialism, he overlooks certain actions of the church,’ ” Francis said. “I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed against the native people of America in the name of God.”

He added: “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offense of the church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America.”

Pope Francis went on to criticize “certain free trade treaties” — a not-so-subtle reference to the Trans-Pacific Partnership currently being negotiated by countries that account for between 37 and 49 percent of global GDP (depending on whether China signs on). He also warned followers against “austerity, which always tightens the belt of workers and the poor” — a reference to the current economic blackmail being threatened against Greece. He called unfettered capitalism and profit for profit’s sake the “dung of the devil” constituting a “new colonialism,” perhaps the strongest language a Pope has ever used against the current economic order.

In what he presumably thought was in keeping with the Pope’s speech, Bolivian President Evo Morales later presented Pope Francis with a hammer and sickle crucifix. A Vatican spokesperson said that the gift would not be displayed in a church. Apparently, the Pope is willing to go anti-capitalist, but not full communist.

Pope Francis. neneo / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis. neneo / Shutterstock.com

In any case, the Pope’s remarks are setting the stage for what is sure to be an interesting, tense visit to the United States in September. A number of Catholic Republican presidential candidates — whose economic and environmental policies the Pope has consistently spoken out against — have struggled to explain why the Catholic Church should be taken seriously on below-the-waist issues like marriage but not on broader economic or environmental issues like free trade and climate change.

The allure of profit for profit’s sake is so strong in America that the American Enterprise Institute can matter-of-factly write, in the op-ed pages of one of our nation’s premier newspapers, that repealing Obamacare is well-worth the lives that would be lost as a result in exchange for the liberty it imagines corporations we would get in exchange. This reasoning appears to be one of Pope Francis’s biggest pet peeves. If there’s one issue on which Pope Francis has been consistent and assertive, it’s been pushing back against the particularly Americanized version of Christianity — one in which, on the seventh day, God didn’t rest; he worked a few extra hours, made a rifle, put it in Adam’s hand and told him to conquer Eden in order to make himself rich.

Pope Francis seems ready to look Jeb Bush, et al in the rhetorical eye and say that this notion of Christianity is both wrong and evil. I can’t wait to see him do it.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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15 Responses to “Pope Francis comes out swinging on capitalism, colonialism, environment”

  1. 2karmanot says:


  2. Skye Winspur says:

    Thank you for questioning your Catholic friend. I think those kinds of personal conversations (as heated as they can be) do more to change things than anything the bishop of Rome says.

  3. Luft Gekuhlt says:

    Evidently the Pope is not a student of history. The hammer and sickle cross is an absurd paradox; no political system has done as much to work to destroy Christianity as had communism.
    What the Pope is suggesting is for our overly-incompetent governments to acquire personal assets and distribute on some basis of fairness. It might be a good idea to review the results of past attempts, and their impact on society:
    Much of the nation’s problem today can be directly attributed to the failed and obscenely expensive social engineering efforts, which started in the 1960s (War on Poverty, Great Society, The New Covenant, The Community Reinvestment Act, …) All of which stated that one’s family, community,
    religion, friends,… were no longer important. Only government is important, and a necessary replacement for these out-dated and judgmental social institutions. Yet,the Pope wishes to see more of this??

  4. Indigo says:

    As art, it’s a tad clumsy. And actually reported to be a copy of a crucifix made by a Bolivian Jesuit priest back in the 1980s. Cute, how the pope looks a tad flummoxed there.

  5. Indigo says:

    I’d like to see that hammer and sickle crucifix.

  6. Don Chandler says:

    Well, it’s kind of moot that Pope Francis can apologize Today for the problems of Yesterday when in reality, we need action Today and not an apology Tomorrow. That Church don’t change from above.

  7. FLL says:

    The Catholic hierarchy is usually more of a problem than a positive force. I hope Francis is able to kick the evangelicals in the teeth and expose the Anglo-American evangelical Jeebus (with shotgun, blue eyes, blond hair). It would be—for Francis—a rare public service. Most of the time, he’s just another problem or distraction.

  8. BeccaM says:

    It is amusing, sometimes, to watch the conservatives for decades go, “Have to listen to the Pope, he’s the voice of true godly conservatism” — right up until he starts saying things the money-worshipers don’t want to hear.

  9. Delmarmama says:

    The change in Catholic dogma is much appreciated. Now if they could just acknowledge how much of the earth’s problems are due to overpopulation and put their blessing on birth control other than the rhythm method.

  10. AndyinChicago says:

    I have a friend who’s very Catholic, and for the last couple elections she’s voted Republican. I kept asking her why; Republicans are pro-poverty/inequality , pro-war, pro-guns, and anti-environment, all issues she cares about, and she said that her church emphasized other things like LGBT discrimination and fighting birth control. I feel like even though the Pope has a horrible record on LGBT issues and hasn’t gone far enough to ease the church’s stance on sex shaming just about everyone, his stance against the current state of capitalism, poverty, and the environment are showing a lot of conservative Catholics that their faith does not mean that they have to mean they blindly follow the political right. And while I don’t see the Pope as an ally for progressives on every front, I think we have to appreciate his efforts to move an institution that’s supposed to be about taking care of other people to align more with its core mission.

  11. Bill_Perdue says:

    It’s all a bit late – centuries late – and it doesn’t include a promise to ban Opus Dei and cooperate with the prosecution of OD fascist priests and bishops, to say nothing of baby raper priests for prosecution.

    Nor does it mention the worst colonial state, the zionist colony in Palestine, and their incessant campaigns of ethnic cleansing, land theft and a cruel system of apartheid.

    When will he apologize for his role as a quisling cooperating with the military Junta in Argentina that murdered tens of thousands of trade unionists, youth and leftists. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/08/pope-francis-south-america-argentina-dirty-war-dictatorship

    He’s just trying to protect the roman cult, inc.

    When he visits the US he should be arrested for crimes against humanity and as an accomplice to child rape, prosecuted, sentenced and then deported.

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