The figure of the Good Shepherd, ready to confront the wolf so as to protect and save his sheep even at the cost of his own life (Jn 10: 11-12) is an eloquent and very moving image. Created by Our Lord Jesus Christ himself to describe his own sentiments, it also expresses the pastoral zeal that every Bishop should have for the competent fulfillment of his mission, in collaboration with his priests and under the authority of the High Pontiff, “teaching, sanctifying, and governing” (Vatican Council II. Decree Christus Dominus, no. 11).
On examining the history of the Church, from the turbulent days of Pius IX until the end of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, it becomes clear that the Roman Pontiffs, faithful to their mission “of teaching, sanctifying, and governing” the flock that was confided to them by Jesus Christ, didn’t hesitate to condemn the errors of Marxism in a decisive manner, alerting as to the grave perturbations that the adherence to its doctrine would bring to the economic and social order. The distressing experience of nations that were and are firmly subjugated by communist or socialist parties is patent: hunger, tyranny, slavery and oppression. Recent history confirms that the condemnations of Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI, – in their position as Pastors and authorized masters – are perfectly warranted. Despite this, history also confirms that Karl Marx never ceased to exercise a certain fascination in the ecclesiastical field. This fascination degenerated into so-called ‘Theology of Liberation’, which John Paul II, in close collaboration with Cardinal Ratzinger, denounced and condemned: “The first great challenge we addressed was the Theology of Liberation, which was spreading in Latin America. It was the common opinion, be it in Europe or in North America, that it was about support to the poor and, therefore, a cause that should certainly be approved. But it was an error.” (Benedict XVI. Interview about John Paul II, March 7, 2014)
The Marxist ideology and its three derivatives, ‘socialism’, ‘communism’, and ‘Liberation theology’, came to the mind of millions of the faithful throughout the five continents, with the confusing episodes that occurred during Francis’ Apostolic Journey to the Republics of Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay this past July.
Which was the most commented of these events? Without doubt, the symbolically calculated gift that Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, and maximum director of the Bolivian ‘Movimiento al Socialismo’ (Movement Toward Socialism), gave to Francis: a holy Crucifix, redesigned with the communist symbols, the hammer and the sickle. Moreover, to manifest his friendship and the closeness that unites him to the Bishop of Rome, Morales distinguished him with significant decorations. The most symbolic had the figure of the same polemical crucifix engraved on a showy medal.
It really was a strange episode. Trying in vain to ‘decipher’ it, the press hastened to declare that Francis had affirmed with displeasure before this crucifix with the hammer and sickle “That’s not right”.
However, the spokesperson of the Vatican, Father Federico Lombardi, beleaguered by the press, began to clear things up. First, by saying that “he personally wasn’t offended by Morales’ gift”; and that “the sense of it was about an open dialogue, not about a specific ideology” (sic!)
Finally, if anyone still had a doubt, Francis himself hastened to dissipate all speculation during the flight back to Rome on being interrogated about the shameful gift by the press.
What did Francis say about the ideology of this rare crucifix? Did he criticize it? Eulogize it? Was Francis really offended with these gifts offered by the Bolivian Socialist president? What should we conclude from his words?
To undertake a hermeneutic – as Francis himself counseled in the same interview – or an appropriate interpretation of the facts and the posterior explanations offered, it’s a good idea to embark on another study, enriched with the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church (see the earlier study). What did the former popes teach about Socialism, Marxism and Theology of Liberation? What should the position of a Catholic be regarding these ideological currents? Read further on…