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Pope Francis has criticized the “ideological exploitation” of the Catholic Church in an interview with the press authority of his native country.
Pope Francis made the comment Friday to Argentina’s national news agency, Telam, in an interview. Questions and discussion were conducted in Pope Francis’ native language, Spanish.
Asking about the pope’s decade of service in the papacy and his legacy, the interviewer touched on Pope Francis’ roots in Argentina and asked how his Latin American background affected his reign.
The pontiff praised the history of the Church in South America and its unique closeness to the people.
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“The Latin American Church has a long history of closeness to the people. If we review the episcopal conferences – the first in Medellín, then Puebla, Santo Domingo and Aparecida – they have always been in dialogue with the people of God,” says Pope Francis. “And that really helped. It’s a people’s church in the truest sense of the word. It’s a people’s church of God.”
However, the pope drew a distinction between the South American Church’s closeness to the people and the political corruption of the Church.
“It was changed when people couldn’t speak out, and it ended up being a church of track leaders, with pastoral workers in charge,” the pope clarified. “People began to speak out more and more about their religion, and they ended up becoming the protagonists of their own story.”
Pope Francis specifically mentioned “liberation theology” inspired by Marxism, a socio-religious movement in Latin America that mixes communist belief systems with the Catholic Church.
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“There were attempts at ideologization, such as the use of Marxist concepts in the analysis of reality by liberation theology. It was an ideological exploitation, a way of liberation, say, of the church popular Latin American people. But there is a difference between the people and populism,” the pope said.
The pope has walked a long and difficult line with Catholic politics and theology, criticizing both unbridled capitalism and communism as contrary 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-Communist activist in Hong Kong who was arrested by the Chinese Communist Party, is a staunch supporter of Pope Francis but has openly questioned whether the Pope sees Communists as “the good guys”.
“Pope Francis comes from South America, where the Communists are the good guys who defend the poor against the oppression of military regimes in collusion with the rich, so he may have some sympathy for them,” Zen speculated. “He does not have the direct experience of the communists in power, oppressors of the people.”
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The pope has spoken out against liberation theology for decades, criticizing the mixing of church theology with politics.
“After the collapse of ‘real socialism,’ these currents of thought were plunged into confusion,” the pope wrote at the start of a 2005 book on the Latin American Church. “Incapable of radical reformulation or of new creativity, they survived in inertia, even if there are still today who, anachronistically, would like to propose it again.”