KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What do you mean when you write that “the natural constituency for the future Church is the poor”?
MICHAEL COREN: This is an answer that demands nuance. There are the literal poor, and the metaphorical poor. The first category is obvious: those who have insufficient food, warmth, shelter, education, health care, and so on. The second is more complex: those who may have food, warmth, shelter, but lack love, spiritual meaning, community, and a sense of purpose. This is an area where right as well as left tend to hide behind tired old categories. Jesus did not come merely for the under-class and the impoverished, and to assume that he did is to misunderstand and minimize His messianic purpose. He came for everyone, and His Church was left for everyone. Because the world’s poor, in North America, but particularly in the developing world, are in such direct need, a church founded by the Prince of Peace and the embodiment of love has to reach out to them in direct ways. But those who will never want for food and a roof can still be in spiritual poverty.
LOPEZ: You write that in the face of liberation theology, Pope Francis, before he was pope, “was obliged to work out his own deeply Catholic yet non-socialist response to poverty.” You further write that “socialism has failed the poor, and governments of various stripes have not managed to address the deeper problems of poverty.” Is that Bergoglio or Coren? Is your read that Pope Francis is not a Marxist wishful thinking? What is Pope Francis’s “deeply Catholic yet non-socialist response to poverty”?
COREN: He was not liked by liberation theologians and Marxist Jesuits in Latin America, and when he was elected, many of them were apparently in despair. The liberation theological tradition is an arrogant one, assumes that only it has the answers to poverty, and is directly Marxian in its analysis of class and power. As such, it’s extremely old-fashioned, because Marxism has been tried in Europe, Asia, and Africa and failed miserably each time. Marxism is materialistic, and Francis is not. As a working-class Englishman born in 1959, I was a product of a social democracy and a Labor party that “owed more to Methodism than to Marx,” and this European/Latin American approach has to be understood if we are to appreciate the pope’s view on economic justice. There is nothing Marxist about making sure a child is fed and educated, and indeed some Marxists would condemn this as capitalist tampering with a system that has to be brought down. Socialism inevitably leads to more state power and less individual and thus religious freedom, and Francis is acutely aware of this.
Read more from the interview here.