Rush Limbaugh Gets Pope Francis All Wrong

Pope Francis (photo credit: Aleteia Image Department via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Pope Francis (photo credit: Aleteia Image Department via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Rush Limbaugh recently unleashed a scathing attack on Pope Francis as uttering Marxist doctrine.  Rush really got it wrong.  According to his official transcript, Rush inveighed:

Now, as I mentioned before, I’m not Catholic.  I admire it profoundly, and I’ve been tempted a number of times to delve deeper into it.  But the pope here has now gone beyond Catholicism here, and this is pure political.  I want to share with you some of this stuff.

“Pope Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as ‘a new tyranny’ and beseeched global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality, in a document on Tuesday setting out a platform for his papacy and calling for a renewal of the Catholic Church. … In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the ‘idolatry of money.'”

I gotta be very careful.  I have been numerous times to the Vatican.  It wouldn’t exist without tons of money.  But regardless, what this is, somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him.  This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.

I, too, am not a Catholic.  I consider Roman Catholicism the IPO of my own Tribes’ Start Up, taking Jewish theology and ethics from a tiny tribal affair to the Big Board.  That said, my admiration is perhaps more profound than that of El Rushbo.

The very first op-ed I wrote was in the Albany Times Union over 30 years ago, during the Cold War.  In it I observed that the Cold War was being fought between three, not two poles:  Washington, Moscow, and the Vatican.  And that Catholicism, as represented by Pope John Paul II, was a more existential threat to the Soviets than was Washington in the person of the great Ronald Reagan.  This was a shocking statement, yet one I believed, and still believe, was true.

Washington, I wrote, represented the authoritative leader of the Haves.  There was a mortal — one punctuated by an attempted assassin’s bullet directed at the Pope — struggle between the Vatican and the Kremlin as to which was the legitimate champion of the Have-Nots.  Both claimed to champion the direct interests of the workers and the poor, from Poland’s Solidarity movement, through the captive nations known as the Warsaw Pact, and across the developing world… especially in predominantly Catholic Latin America, where proxy wars blew hot.

And although America had all the battalions, the existential threat to the Kremlin lay in the claim by the Vatican to be the legitimate representation of the poor and of workers.  Pope John Paul II, much to the shock of many of capitalists, had his own critique of capitalism, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, itself extolling, drawing and building upon Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio. Pope John Paul II wrote:

Unfortunately, from the economic point of view, the developing countries are much more numerous than the developed ones; the multitudes of human beings who lack the goods and services offered by development are much more numerous than those who possess them.

We are therefore faced with a serious problem of unequal distribution of the means of subsistence originally meant for everybody, and thus also an unequal distribution of the benefits deriving from them. And this happens not through the fault of the needy people, and even less through a sort of inevitability dependent on natural conditions or circumstances as a whole.

The Encyclical of Paul VI, in declaring that the social question has acquired worldwide dimensions, first of all points out a moral fact, one which has its foundation in an objective analysis of reality. In the words of the Encyclical itself, “each one must be conscious” of this fact, precisely because it directly concerns the conscience, which is the source of moral decisions.

When Rush conflates the Church’s longstanding, and profound, concern for social justice for the workers and the poor with Marxism, he does the Church a grave injustice.  To employ a simile, picture the president as mayor, and the Pope as parish priest.  One expects the mayor to champion the interests of the successful members of his local Chamber of Commerce.  One hopes that the priest will prove a champion for the interests of the last, the least, and the lost rather than mainly a civic booster for the affluent.  As Pope Francis said before the joint session of Congress:

… I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129).

This is not remotely Marxism.  This is a noble statement from a noble tradition that preceded Marx by nearly two millennia.

Good capitalists like Rush Limbaugh might recoil from such a call to conscience.  Grounds for such a flinch must be sought elsewhere, not in insupportable claims that what the Pope calls for is “pure Marxism.”  This, unlike communism, is the real deal.  I, myself a capitalist (although not nearly as good a one as Rush), hear nothing but the ring of truth.

Catholicism supplanted the Soviet Union as a, and perhaps the, leading exponent of the rights of the Have-Nots, working families and the poor.  The words of these three Popes, not least those of Pope Francis of late, are from a nobler tradition than Marxism.  Rush Limbaugh might find it instructive to give into the temptation, so far resisted, to “delve deeper into” what Catholicism actually teaches.

Ralph Benko, internationally published weekly columnist, co-author of The 21st Century Gold Standard, lead co-editor of the Gerald Malsbary translation from Latin to English of Copernicus’s Essay on Money, is American Principles in Action’s Senior Advisor, Economics.