By William Kilpatrick, March 11, 2019
Watching Bernie Sanders’s speech announcing his candidacy for president, it struck me that—except for the part about a woman’s right to choose—Pope Francis would have found himself in agreement with just about every item on the aging socialist warrior’s agenda.
This reminded me for the umpteenth time that the pope has far more radical ideas than most people realize. Like Bernie Sanders, the pope is a socialist. He has had many unkind words about capitalism (“the dung of the devil”), but no corresponding criticism of socialism. Like Sanders, his ideas about economics were shaped by Marxist thinkers and activists. And just as Sanders and other socialist Democrats are moving the Democratic Party leftward, so also Pope Francis is attempting to move the Church in the same direction.
Although the field of candidates for the 2016 presidential election was a very large one, only one candidate received an invitation to speak at the Vatican. Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, invited Bernie Sanders to speak because, said Sorondo, his views “are very analogous to that of the pope.” Sanders, who confessed to being a big fan of the pope, saw the invitation in the same light:
Look, I believe that the reason for which I was invited to participate in this conference is that many of the issues which the pope tackles are similar to mine.
Bishop Sorondo, by the way, is the same prelate who, after returning from his first trip to China, proclaimed that the Chinese are “the best implementers of the Church’s social doctrine.” Of course, if the Chinese communists truly are the best practitioners of Catholic social doctrine, then there should be no problem in letting them select Catholic bishops. Unsurprisingly, not long after Bishop Sorondo returned from China, the Vatican concluded a deal with the Chinese government whereby the communist regime was given the power to appoint bishops.
However, the man who did much of the preparatory work for the new understanding with China was not Sorondo, but a cardinal named Theodore McCarrick. According to Church Militant, “Over two decades, Theodore McCarrick helped lay the groundwork for the 2018 China-Vatican accord recognizing communist-appointed bishops.” Altogether, McCarrick made eight trips to China. His diplomatic efforts were interrupted in 2011 when Pope Benedict restricted him because of sex-abuse allegations, but he was reinstated as an unofficial ambassador by Pope Francis in 2013.
Pope Francis was well-informed about the complaints against McCarrick, yet he reestablished him as an influential and powerful prelate. Why? The most probable answer is that McCarrick was an adroit networker with close connections to key people in the Democratic Party hierarchy. He hobnobbed with political elites. He concelebrated the funeral Masses of Senator Ted Kennedy and of Vice President Biden’s son, Beau. Moreover, he was intimately involved in the Obama administration’s negotiations to normalize relations between the US and communist Cuba. At one point, McCarrick was acting as an unofficial mediator in Cuba for both Pope Francis and Barrack Obama.
The fact that McCarrick was so welcome in both communist Cuba and communist China has raised some eyebrows. A recent Church Militant article suggests that Cardinal McCarrick may have been “effectively a communist plant in the heart of the Church.” The article doesn’t offer any solid proof of this, but it does offer a good deal of circumstantial evidence and “information from former communist personnel who were instrumental in setting up a secret network of indoctrination and training centers.”
McCarrick? A communist plant? Maybe yes, maybe no. But if he turns out to be one, it’s a good bet that Pope Francis would be unalarmed, seeing that his own views are so far to the left.
In The Political Pope, George Neumayr provides a detailed account of the many socialist and Marxist influences on Jorge Bergoglio, and how Bergoglio repaid the favor in part when, as Pope Francis, he rehabilitated several liberation theologians who had been sidelined and silenced by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Francis continues to repay the debt by throwing the Church behind the causes of the global left, and by pushing the Church itself in a leftward direction.
The extensive coverage of the McCarrick affair makes it easy to forget that there are numerous other stains on the Francis papacy—and not all of them are sexual in nature. The case that the Francis papacy had already done extensive damage to the Church was laid out in two books that were published before the revelations about McCarrick broke in the summer of 2018. Regnery Publishers released a revised and updated version of Henry Sire’s book The Dictator Pope in early 2018, yet Cardinal McCarrick is not even mentioned in it. McCarrick is mentioned in Neumayr’s 2017 book, The Political Pope, but only as an example of one more liberal cleric whom Francis restored to power after Benedict had put them out to pasture. Although Neumayr does discuss several abusers who were protected by Francis, McCarrick is not among them.
The point is, when Francis put McCarrick back into circulation, it was not a one-off, but part of a pattern. The fact that Francis has made dozens of highly questionable appointments—most of whom seem to be on the Bernie Sanders side of the political spectrum—suggests that Francis’s choices are the calculated moves of an ideologue whose main goal is to advance the ideology even if it means advancing compromised clerics. Either Francis is one of the world’s worst judges of character, or character doesn’t matter to him—at least, not nearly as much as his left-leaning agenda.
One of the pope’s most baffling appointments is Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. Described by Neumayr as a “social liberal,” and by Sire as a “leading figure on the Italian Church’s left,” Paglia was appointed by Francis to head the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family and the Pontifical Academy for Life. Paglia dismissed all the existing members of the Academy for Life and then appointed a new crew including a pro-abortion philosopher. Prior to his appointment to the Institute for Studies in Marriage and the Family, Paglia had been criticized for his support of homosexual unions and for promoting a sex-education program for adolescents which, according to an article by two Catholic psychologists, contained pornographic images. But this didn’t dissuade Pope Francis from making him the go-to man on marriage and family issues. And neither did the existence of a billboare “homoerotic” mural commissioned by Archbishop Paglia in 2007 for his Cathedral in Treni. Paglia denies that the mural is “erotic.” Whether it is or not, most people would consider the tangled collection of naked and semi-nude bodies (including the bishop himself) to be a strange choice to decorate the wall of a church. Likewise, one could be forgiven for thinking that Archbishop Paglia is a strange choice to head up an institute on marriage and family.
Or maybe not so strange. If your purpose is to subvert traditional Catholic teaching on marriage and family rather than uphold it, then the appointment of Paglia makes sense. Francis has a habit of appointing people to key organizations who have little sympathy for the original purposes of those organizations. Several of the pope’s selections seem intended to deconstruct the Catholic nature of the pontifical academies and institutes.
Take the aforementioned Bishop Sorondo—the one who invited Bernie Sanders to the Vatican and praised the Chinese government for its social doctrine. Sorondo, who is thought to be the man behind Laudato Si, the pope’s encyclical on the environment, is a proponent of the theory of man-made global warming. But Sorondo doesn’t think it’s a theory. On the contrary, he asserts that the pope’s teaching on global warming “must be considered Magisterium—it is not an opinion.” Sorondo seems to have arrived at the conclusion that if human activity is the cause of global warming, then less humans is the solution. Thus, he has suggested that Catholic families should have no more than two children, and that “it is legitimate for the state to intervene to orient the demography of the population.” Not surprisingly, he regularly invites pro-abortion and population control advocates such as Paul Ehrlich, Jeffrey Sachs, and Ted Turner to speak at Vatican conferences. At the same time, he has excluded Catholic pro-life population experts such as Steven Mosher, the president of the Population Research Institute. Lord Christopher Monckton, a former policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher who was also screened out by Sorondo, once accused the bishop of being “an out-and-out Marxist.”
In addition to being chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Sorondo is also chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. This is an indication that Sorondo was chosen by the pope for these positions not because of his expertise, but because of his ideology. There’s a world of difference between the social sciences and the natural sciences, and it’s rare that an individual attains mastery in both fields. It’s obvious that Sorondo was chosen not for his deep knowledge of science or social science, but for his ability to tap celebrities of a certain political persuasion. Perhaps the pope ought to carve out a third dicastery for Sorondo to head. It could be called the Pontifical Academy for Whatever’s Trending. Bishop Sorondo might consider inviting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to give the inaugural address.
This is not really that much of a stretch. Bishop Sorondo has already hosted Bernie Sanders, and Ocasio-Cortez is, figuratively speaking, a child of Sanders—except that she has an even more expansive vision of socialism than Sanders. Ocasio-Cortez represents the merger of socialism with every leftist cause under the sun—environmentalism, green energy, borderless societies, transgenderism, and free everything. AOC supports them all. And she does so with a religious fervor that would put most Evangelical preachers to shame. Moreover, she is a bit of a church-lady type scold. She is the true believer who takes it upon herself to keep the less passionate members of the flock doctrinally pure.
For some people, politics becomes a substitute for religion. And the more leftist your politics, the more fervently you espouse your faith. Right now the Democratic Party is made up of a great many such people—people who seek redemption through political action. David Horowitz, the radical leftist who turned conservative, described his communist parents and their friends as true believers. In a review of Horowitz’s new book Dark Agenda, social critic Mark Tapson observes that their progressive religion was “not one concerned with the fate of souls,” but rather, in Horowitz’s words, with “the salvation of mankind.” “They thought of themselves as the redeemers,” writes Horowitz, “not God.”
Meanwhile, as the Democratic Party becomes more like a church, the Church, under Francis, is becoming more like a leftist political party. Like the progressive faith of Horowitz’s parents, Francis’s increasingly “humanistic” Church seems less concerned with the salvation of souls and more concerned with the creation of an egalitarian utopian society here on earth.
William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong; and Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Saint Austin Review, Investor’s Business Daily, and First Things. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com