In an article published on their website, salesianos.info, the Spanish Salesians have issued a stirring defence of Francis’ new encyclical Fratelli tutti, lamenting that “those who howl for the Pope’s head” over the new papal text “seem to have read nothing of the Church’s social doctrine”.

“The communist Pope?”

(Source: Miguel Gambín, salesianos.info; translation: Novena)

“… [E]conomic dictatorship has supplanted the free market; unbridled ambition for power has likewise succeeded greed for gain; all economic life has become tragically hard, inexorable, and cruel…” (Quadragesimo anno [1931], 109)

The Pope’s latest encyclical has provoked a wave of reactions, some positive, and a few negative. The curious thing is that, as has been the case for some time, these negative reactions come from the more traditionalist sector of the Catholic Church.

Some are so explicit that they go so far as to accuse him of nothing less than heresy. It is curious that those who not that long ago would claim papal authority as a definitive argument and make unshakeable law of the opinion of previous popes should now confront the Pope. “Papist, yes, but as long as the Pope agrees with me”.

It is striking the lack of imagination of a sector within the Catholic Church in particular – and of the defenders of neoliberalism in general – in labelling as communist everything that does not fall within the dogmas of economic neoliberalism.

As soon as public health, public education and public management are mentioned, accusations of communism arise against what is simply the application of the principle contained in article 1 of the Constitution, which defines Spain as a “social and democratic State… subject to the rule of law”. By referring to communism, they try to resurrect a corpse.

Those who within the Church howl for the Pope’s head seem to have read nothing of the Church’s social doctrine. Not to mention the Gospel.

Let us remember that Rerum Novarum was called “Catholic socialism” and was accused of interventionism because it proposed that the State should defend the weakest and establish laws regulating working conditions, salaries and the distribution of goods.

This principle has been defended in subsequent social encyclicals – we might say in all of them – which insist on the principle of the universal destination of goods, present in the first Fathers of the Church, systematised by St. Thomas, recalled in the theologians of the 16th century and forgotten in the following centuries after the proposal of the physiocrats prevailed, according to which the economy is a science that has its own laws and cannot be subject to ethics, neither Christian nor of any other type.

Adam Smith spoke of the invisible hand that regulates economic activity through the laws of supply and demand, and thus leads to an automatic and spontaneous balance.

These proposals were against any kind of State intervention. This is the origin of the famous laissez faire, laissez passer, which left economic activity in the hands of those who developed it, in a show of exaltation of freedom.

We know where this “neutrality” led. Children worked in the mines until the middle of the 19th century, and it was not until decades later that laws were established to limit working hours.

Non-interventionism is a camouflaged form of the survival of the fittest, where only those who have the means can exercise their freedoms.

Non-interventionism sent children to the coal mines, and it is the same principle that today condemns millions of minors to the textile factories in Eastern countries to the delight of Western consumers, who can buy at a bargain price what was produced in slavery.

Neoliberalism advocates the reduction of the State, and the leaving of everything to private initiative, “Because the private system always works better” – a dogma of faith that is repeated incessantly but which does not correspond at all to the facts.

It is enough to look at our health system [in Spain – ed.], which has been considered one of the best in the world. Based on the principle of state interventionism, it is now threatened by the interests of those who seek to dismantle it for the benefit of their allies.

Neoliberalism, by consecrating the maximisation of profit as an absolute value, revives the old theory of the physiocrats, according to which the economy has its own laws and nothing can be done, for example, in the face of a crisis, which, according to this postulate, is like an earthquake, guided by the laws of nature.

The consequence is that nothing can be done. This leaves a sense of helplessness that is very useful to those who provoke and take advantage of crises.

So, there you have it – abide by the merciless laws of the economy: labour laws that strip away workers’ rights and destroy the environment; accept the denial of rights such as health, quality education and housing, to the benefit of speculators.

It is understandable that vulture funds (never was there a better label) are infuriated by the statements of Pope Francis, but it is more surprising that his statements outrage those who consider themselves Catholics and who should have read something of what the Church’s Magisterium – which they claim to defend – says in this regard.

Pope Francis has said nothing new. All his statements are in line with the social encyclicals from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI. The defence of ethics against the imposition of money is a constant.

Those who accuse Francis of being a heretic have either not read any of the social encyclicals since Leo XIII or else they must accuse all the popes since then of being heretics.

They should also accuse St. Thomas and the Holy Fathers of the Church of being heretics. Perhaps their minds have been altered by the adrenaline that jingoist flag-flyers have stirred up through patriotic appeals and military music.

We remind them that true patriots are those who work for the common good and pay their taxes so that everyone can enjoy the rights recognised in the Constitution.

To appeal to patriotism while defending the privatisation of everything is to go against the social principles that the Constitution defends, and, of course, to go against the principles of the social doctrine of the Church.

Jesus said: “You cannot serve God and money” (Mt. 6:24). It is a question of choosing sides.

More on Novena on the Church’s social doctrine:

“Stands in the tradition of social doctrine”: Experts defend Pope against accusations of “socialism” in ‘Fratelli tutti’

Cardinal defends Pope against ‘Fratelli tutti’ “communism” slur: Francis “doesn’t change so much as a comma” of Catholic social doctrine

Vatican ‘Fratelli tutti’ talking points for Spanish bishops refute claim Pope a “socialist” or “communist” (with full text)

In ‘Fratelli tutti’, Pope sets out vision for new world order post-COVID beyond nationalism, capitalism

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.