NEW YORK – Pope Francis’ claim that he is not a Marxist has been widely interpreted as a response to criticism leveled by talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh against criticism of the free-market system in the 84-page apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,”or “The Joy of the Gospel.”
As WND reported Dec. 5, the major Italian newspaper La Stampa cited WND and Limbaugh in an article about opposition to Francis’ views on poverty and wealth, framing the debate as “the world of the conservative USA vs. Bergoglio.”
Over the weekend, Francis said he knew many “good” Marxists but was not one himself.
“Marxist ideology is wrong,” Francis explained to La Stampa in an interview published Dec. 14. “But in my life I have met a lot of good people, so I do not feel offended.”
Stressing there was nothing in his apostolic exhortation that cannot be found in the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis insisted: “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.”
Yet, the denial he is a Marxist would never have been required had not the language of “The Joy of the Gospel” contained a direct attack on free-market capitalism, as WND reported Nov. 27.
Since being named by Time Magazine the “Person of the Year 2013,” Francis has given off several contradictory signals that have confused both liberal and conservative Catholics. Many liberals would like to believe he represents a new era in which the Roman Catholic Church will eventually embrace same-sex marriage and abortion as well as atheists and believers in other religions. Meanwhile, traditional Catholics insist the new pope doesn’t intend to bring about any fundamental doctrinal changes in Catholic theology.
While there is general consensus among Catholics that Francis has changed the tone of the Catholic Church’s message in his few short months in the papacy, there is no general agreement whether the change is anything more than semantics.
Liberals worldwide can be expected shortly to begin making demands to see just how flexible Catholic theology will be under Francis.
At the same time, traditional Catholics will be testing him to see if he will abandon the theological rigor of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, testing, for instance, whether or not he will allow Catholics to return to celebrating the traditional Mass in Latin.
Francis condemns abortion
On Dec. 7, the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Francis held an audience in the Vatican with the pro-life think-tank Dignitatis Humanae Institute on its fifth anniversary.
Addressing the group, Francis condemned abortion in strong and direct language, saying unborn babies who fall prey to abortion are victims of a “throwaway culture” that threatens “to become the dominant mentality.”
The pope said:
The victims of such a culture are precisely the weakest and most fragile human beings – the unborn, the poorest people, sick elderly people, gravely disabled people … who are in danger of being “thrown out,” expelled from a machine that must be efficient at all costs. This false model of man and society embodies a practical atheism, de facto negating the Word of God that says: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.”
Luca Volontè, chairman of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, addressed the pope on behalf of the Institute, saying:
The false idols of gender ideology that want to eliminate man and the family. Consumerism and individualism that seduces humanity to cling to the ephemeral. The new statism and the temptation of a new irresponsible collectivism. A culture of heath care that transforms itself into external perfection or into eugenics. The rebirth of an economic and speculative elite. The new Malthusianism and euthanasia that imposes abortion and the sacrifice of millions of children, the elderly and the poor. Our days are characterized by the desire to ignore and eliminate God from the hearts of men and the life of the people.
The Dignitatis Humanae Institute proposes with joy, courage and a generous heart, the truth of the dignity of the human person, and decisively rejects these teachings and furious ideologies. They are borne of moral relativism, imposing a true and real tyranny based on the supremacy of the strong against the weak, where forms of slavery are taking hold in the context of a resigned silence. We cannot resign ourselves, because we are Christians.”
In October, the Dignitatis Humanae Institute called upon the Vatican to excommunicate Catholic politicians who publicly support abortion or euthanasia legislation.
In announcing the policy stance, the Dignitatis Humanae Institute website quoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, the prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest court in the Vatican, who spoke about the inability to reconcile pro-abortion Catholic politicians with their worthiness to receive communion.
“You cannot reconcile it – it is a contradiction, it is wrong, it is a scandal, and it must stop!” Cardinal Burke, the highest-ranking American currently in the Vatican, said Nov. 10 in an interview with The Wanderer, a Catholic online daily. “We live in a culture with a false sense of dialogue – which has also crept into the Church – where we pretend to dialogue about open and egregious violations of the moral law.”
On Dec. 12, in a televised interview with EWTN’s flagship program, “The World Over,” Burke responded to criticism that the Catholic Church should follow the advice of Francis and focus on “essentials” rather than abortion or same-sex marriage.
“What could be more essential than the natural moral law?” Burke told EWTN News’ Raymond Arroyo. “We can never talk enough about that as long as in our society innocent and defenseless human life is being attacked in the most savage way. I mean it’s literally a massacre of the unborn.”
Crackdown on Latin Mass
A controversy between Francis and traditional Catholics has developed over the determination of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate to continue celebrating the Mass in Latin instead of in the vernacular, the so-called “New Mass.” The change was made in Vatican II, an ecumenical council of the Catholic Church opened in Rome under Pope John XXIII in 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI in 1965 on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is a growing order of several hundred priests, established in Italy by Pope John Paul II in 1990 and subsequently erected by Pope John Paul II as an Institute of Religious Life in January 1998.
The controversy takes on added significance in that the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is part of the Franciscan order established by Pope Francis’ namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.
In 2007, after months of debate, Pope Benedict XVI, in a concession to traditional Catholics, rolled back Vatican II rules that demanded saying Mass in the vernacular. Benedict allowed the limited reintroduction of the 16th century Tridentine Mass, widely known as the “Latin Mass,” specifying that to celebrate the old Latin Mass, a priest must obtain the permission of his local bishop.
In July, the Vatican Congregation for the Religious, with the approval of Francis, appointed Rev. Fidenzio Volpi, a Franciscan Capuchin friar, as a special commissioner to oversee the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. The aim was to require the order to receive explicit authorization by competent authorities to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass.
The move was widely interpreted as the first time Francis directly contradicted a decision by Benedict.
Volpi took strong action, sending the founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate to live in a religious home, so he could go about imposing without interference the restrictions on the Latin Mass ordered by Francis.
Then, on Dec. 8, Volpi closed the friar’s seminary and sent its students to other religious universities in Rome. At the same time, he suspended the ordinations of new priests for a year and required future priests ordained in Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate to accept formally the teachings of Vatican II by agreeing only to say the New Mass in the vernacular.
Francis has typified supporters of the Latin Mass as “retrograde” Catholics out of touch with the evangelizing mission of the Catholic Church in the 21st century, who seek “restoration of outdated manners and forms” of worship that are “no longer meaningful” given the guidance of Vatican II.
Then, on Dec. 16, in a surprise move, Francis dropped Cardinal Burke from the Congregation for Bishops. The move suggested Burke is no longer on a short list of American Catholic Church clerics exerting a growing influence on Francis.
David Gibson, reporting the decision for the Religious News Service, characterized Burke as “something of an outlier,” a “very conservative holdover from the Benedict XVI era and a fan of the kind of high liturgical finery that Pope Francis does not take to, at all.”