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Pope Francis criticized “ideological exploitation” of the Catholic Church in an interview with his birth country’s news authority.
Pope Francis made the comment Friday to Argentina’s national news agency, Télam, in an interview. The questions and discussion were conducted in Pope Francis’s native language, Spanish.
In asking about the Pope’s decade of the service in the papacy and his legacy, the interviewer touched on Pope Francis’s roots in Argentina and asked how his Latin American background has affected his reign.
The pontiff spoke highly of the church’s history in South America and its unique closeness to the people.
“The Latin American church has a long history of being close to the people. If we go over the episcopal conferences — the first one at Medellín, then Puebla, Santo Domingo and Aparecida — they were always in dialogue with the people of God,” Pope Francis said. “And that really helped. It is a popular church in the real sense of the word. It is a church of the people of God.”
However, the pope drew a distinction between the South American church’s proximity to the people and political corruption of the church.
“That was altered when people could not express themselves, and it ended up becoming a church of trail bosses, with pastoral agents in command,” the pope clarified. “People began to express themselves more and more about their religion, and they ended up becoming protagonists of their own story.”
Pope Francis specifically mentioned Marxism-inspired “liberation theology,” a socio-religious movement in Latin America that blends communist belief systems with the Catholic Church.
“There have been attempts of ideologization, such as the use of Marxist concepts in the analysis of reality by liberation theology. That was an ideological exploitation, a path of liberation, let’s say, of the Latin American popular church. But there is a difference between the people and populism,” the pope said.
The pope has walked a long and difficult line with politics and Catholic theology, criticizing both unbridled capitalism and communism as antithetical to the Christian message.
His sympathies for left-wing populist groups in South America have led to accusations of Marxist beliefs.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, an anti-communism activist in Hong Kong who has been arrested by the Chinese Communist Party, is a devout supporter of Pope Francis but has openly wondered if the pope sees communists as “the good guys.”
“Pope Francis comes from South America, where the communists are the good guys defending the poor from the oppression of military regimes in collusion with the rich, so he may have sympathy for them,” Zen speculated. “He doesn’t have direct experience of communists in power, oppressors of peoples.”
The pope has gone on record against liberation theology for decades, criticizing the blending of church theology with politics.
“After the collapse of ‘real socialism,’ these currents of thought were plunged into confusion,” the pope wrote in the opening of a 2005 book on the Latin American church.” “Incapable of either radical reformulation or new creativity, they survived by inertia, even if there are still some today who, anachronistically, would like to propose it again.”