In response to Rush Limbaugh's criticism of Pope Francis' Evangelii Gaudium (text), Christopher Hale said that "to call the Holy Father a proponent [of] 'pure Marxism' is both mean-spirited and naive. Francis’s critique of unrestrained capitalism is in line with the Church’s social teaching."

"Pure Marxism" aside, can anyone explain, in light of Evangelii Gaudium, what, if any, is the different perspective on capitalism that distinguishes Pope Francis from Ratzinger?

  • 4
    Rush Limbaugh has a long history of really exaggerating the facts, where in this case, the Pope noted some of Capitalism's failings and Limbaugh calls him a proponent of Marxism, despite the fact that the Pope equally critiqued Marxism. In other words, I wouldn't trust Limbaugh to accurately portray anything.
    – user3961
    Dec 5, 2013 at 20:27
  • @fredsbend well put.
    – user5286
    Dec 6, 2013 at 1:31

2 Answers 2


The Catholic social teaching on the subject of capitalism has been consistently promulgated by all of the last three popes in office. As always, the substance stays the same, although the tone and writing styles may or may not.

In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II reflected on socialism and capitalism in light of the recent fall of the Soviet Union. Although he acknowledged that profit has a “legitimate role” in the function of a business and that “the Marxist solution” to economic inequality had failed, he also spoke of the “inadequacies of capitalism” and said that profit is the not the only indicator that a business is doing well. The human dignity of workers matter too, and if capitalism is left unchecked it becomes “ruthless” and leads to “inhuman exploitation.”

Pope Francis's words are consistent with John Paul's:

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.

  1. In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us. Evangelii Gaudium

Benedict did a great job of handing down the torch against radical, unbridled capitalism in his 2009 encyclical:

But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well.

If you pay close attention you see that the differences "perceived" do not stem from the actual words of the pope, but from the media and how its spun by them. The liberal media like to jump on Francis' side because he wears his heart on his sleeve, whereas Benedict was shunned as ultra-conservative, not because he taught anything different, but because he wanted to return to some of the liturgical traditions that pre-date Vatican II. At the same time we see radical conservatives like Rush attacking Francis who very strongly exhorts Christian leaders and laypeople to wake up and pay attention to this 30 year old teaching on the social injustices of rampant capitalistic endeavors.

This is a very volatile subject that is one spark away from igniting a politico-religious debate...so I'm going to stop here.

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    Plus one for all the quotes. Like you said, the perceived differences do not stem from their actual words.
    – user3961
    Dec 5, 2013 at 20:25

Evangelii Gaudium doesn't use the word "capitalism" (or any of its variations) even once.

Pope Benedict XVI says "capitalistic" once in Caritas in veritate §41:

The continuing hegemony of the binary model of market-plus-State has accustomed us to think only in terms of the private business leader of a capitalistic bent on the one hand, and the State director on the other.

Pope John Paul II discusses "The ambivalence of the term 'capitalism'…in the encyclical Centesimus Annus…when he answers the question of whether 'capitalism' had triumphed over communism. He writes:" (cf. Return to Order ch. 2):

If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative (Centesimus Annus [Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1991], no. 42).

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