Pope Benedict XVI has spoken out against both Marxism and unbridled capitalism, seeing them as twin problems for the future of Latin America.
His comments came at the end of his visit to Brazil, where the pontiff, head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, also condemned "pro-abortion politicians" and warned drug dealers that they "would have to answer to God".
Benedict said that Catholics should stay away from Marxism. He commented: “The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit."
His comments are being seen as the latest in a long line of public hostility towards the political Left in both politics and religion. As Cardinal Josepth Ratzinger, Benedict was known for his tough stance against liberation theologians and political clerics who championed social justice.
He has also championed a moderate critique of capitalism developed within Catholic Social Teaching. But the Pope's alternative is to reinstate the power of the Church and of Christian Democracy, rather than to support radical Christian initiatives and a post-Christendom people's power approach.
Marx is a controversial and at times much derided figure in religious circles.
Jordan Tchilingirian, researcher for the religious thin-tank Ekklesia, commented today that peoples’ views of Marx “are clouded by popular spin, misreadings of his work and mythology.”
He said: “It is a mistake to confuse Marx’s essentially moral protest against the injustices of capitalism with his misappropriation by those who perpetuated the evils of Soviet and Eastern European totalitarianism. The Pope is correct; much done in the name of Marx has been terrible. But this is also true of what has been done in the name of Christ and the Gospel.”
Tchilingirian added: “Binning everything about Marx is ridiculous. His critique of the dominant ideology has parallels in the way Christian scripture speaks from the perspective of the poor and Jesus condemns 'Mammon'. You don’t have to buy Marx’s precise economic prescriptions or his philosophical positivism to acknowledge this.”
Marx has at times been described by some academics inside and outside the churches as ‘the last great Hebrew prophet’, because his attack on injustice parallels those of the Old Testament prophets.
But his appropriation by 'command communism' and the violent and oppressive legacies of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky have put him 'out of bounds' since the collapse of the Eastern bloc.
The theologian Jose Portifa Miranda is among those who have written on the Bible and Marx as twin critiques of oppression. He also sought to reclaim Marx for a humanistic Christianity in a book called Marx Against the Marxists.
Liberation theologians have been accused by Christian conservatives of being Marxists in disguise. But the leaders of the movement deny this, pointing to the evidence of their writings and action which indicate that they are critical and selective in their use of Marx, and that they are restoring the theological underpinnings he denied.
More information: Liberation theology resources online.