The pope has been striking back against capitalism for more than a century

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Look at this radical anti-capitalist.
Look at this radical anti-capitalist.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Can you believe the latest papal news, hot off the presses in Rome? Everyone’s talking about how a Catholic pope would criticize capitalism with words like these:

On inequality and the financialization of the economy: “Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.”

On the welfare state:  “As regards the State, the interests of all, whether high or low, are equal. The members of the working classes are citizens by nature and by the same right as the rich; they are real parts, living the life which makes up, through the family, the body of the commonwealth; and it need hardly be said that they are in every city very largely in the majority. It would be irrational to neglect one portion of the citizens and favor another, and therefore the public administration must duly and solicitously provide for the welfare and the comfort of the working classes; otherwise, that law of justice will be violated which ordains that each man shall have his due.”

On the virtues of wealth and poverty: “Therefore, those whom fortune favors are warned that riches do not bring freedom from sorrow and are of no avail for eternal happiness, but rather are obstacles; that the rich should tremble at the threatenings of Jesus Christ—threatenings so unwonted in the mouth of our Lord—and that a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all we possess…God Himself seems to incline rather to those who suffer misfortune; for Jesus Christ calls the poor “blessed”; He lovingly invites those in labor and grief to come to Him for solace; and He displays the tenderest charity toward the lowly and the oppressed. These reflections cannot fail to keep down the pride of the well-to-do, and to give heart to the unfortunate.”

On the abuse of workers:  ”The first thing of all to secure is to save unfortunate working people from the cruelty of men of greed, who use human beings as mere instruments for money-making. It is neither just nor human so to grind men down with excessive labor as to stupefy their minds and wear out their bodies.”

Oh, wait. Got my encyclicals mixed up. This is all from 1891, when Pope Leo XIII was trying to find a Catholic alternative to socialism and capitalism; his encyclical Rerum Novarum became central to the church’s economic thought. The text you’re probably looking for today is the 2013 apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, which strikes similar themes. The 2013 version is more strident and specific, but perhaps that’s because so little has changed.