In 1953, Manning Johnson, a former propaganda director for the Communist Party in America, testified to the U.S. Congress that Marxists had infiltrated Catholic seminaries. “In the earliest stages it was determined that with only small forces available it would be necessary to concentrate Communist agents in the seminaries and divinity schools,” he said. “The practical conclusion, drawn by the Red leaders, was that these institutions would make it possible for a small Communist minority to influence the ideology of future clergymen in the paths most conducive to Communist purposes.”
At the time, many dismissed this testimony. But who doubts the long march of the Marxists through the Church now? In 2009, the baldly heretical German Hans Kung dreamed of a red pope in the mold of Barack Obama: “What would a Pope do who acted in the spirit of Obama? Clearly, like Obama he would… proclaim the vision of hope of a renewed church, a revitalized ecumenism, understanding with the Jews, the Muslims and other world religions and a positive assessment of modern science…”
In Jorge Bergoglio, Kung got his wish. In 2015, Pope Francis made a speech in Bolivia before a group of communists, socialists and leftists called the “World Meeting of Popular Movements.” It was an exciting moment for the left, proof that the papacy had fallen into its hands. Sharing the platform with open Marxists such as Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president who donned a jacket emblazoned with a picture of Che Guevara, Pope Francis exhorted the radicals in attendance to continue their social agitation.
“Chavez died and Fidel is sick. Francis has taken up that leadership role and is doing everything right,” burbled an organizer of the event, Juan Pedro Stedile of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement.
Pope Francis told the ragtag leftists exactly what they wanted to hear: that capitalism, not socialism, is the source of their poverty. “The new colonialism takes on different faces. At times it appears as the anonymous influence of mammon: corporations, loan agencies, certain ‘free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ‘austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor,” he said.
He went into a familiar pout about the “offenses of the Church,” referred to capitalism as the “dung of the devil,” and urged the crowd to keep “organizing”:
You, the lowly, the exploited, the poor and underprivileged, can do, and are doing, a lot. I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to ensure the three “L’s” (labor, lodging, land) and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels. Don’t lose heart!”
Many Marxist churchmen on the long march to the papacy pegged out during the journey. But they have enjoyed a posthumous victory under Pope Francis. He frequently romanticizes red prelates, such as the late Mexican bishop Samuel Ruiz.
During his 2016 visit to Mexico, Pope Francis made a point of visiting Ruiz’s tomb. Ruiz was known for pushing liberation theology, third-world ideologies, the rights of indigenous peoples, and playing fast and loose with the sacraments, which eventually led Pope John Paul II’s Vatican to condemn him. Ruiz’s admirers were thrilled when they heard that Pope Francis was going to visit his tomb, interpreting it as a moment of vindication for the liberation theologians banned by the Church. “Pope Francis is a Latin American, and his duty now is to pick up the work that men like Ruiz have done in the past,” Bishop Raul Vera said.
“I believe that a key moment in the Pope’s journey to Mexico will be his visit to the tomb of Bishop Samuel Ruiz García in Chiapas,” said liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, who helped draft the pope’s encyclical pushing climate-change activism. “This is a reparation and a lesson for the Roman Curia, which is aware of having persecuted and impeded the advancement of a truly indigenous pastoral ministry from the indigenous people themselves and from their culture.”
During the same visit, Pope Francis castigated Mexico’s bishops for not doing enough to promote liberation theology, a lecture which left them so angry that an editorial in a publication for the archdiocese of Mexico City asked after the visit: “Does the pope have some reason for scolding Mexican bishops?”
Another “red” bishop whose memory Pope Francis has rehabilitated is Dom Helder Camara. A Brazilian archbishop at the height of liberation theology’s 20th-century fever, Camara was famous for such leftist declarations as: “My socialism is special, it is a socialism that respects the human person and goes back to the Gospels. My socialism it is justice.” Camara couldn’t even condemn armed Marxists: “”And I respect a lot priests with rifles on their shoulders; I never said that to use weapons against an oppressor is immoral or anti-Christian. But that’s not my choice, not my road, not my way to apply the Gospels.”
Socialists inside the Church are pressing for the canonization of Camara — a movement that Pope Francis is entertaining. In 2015, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints quickly approved a request that the canonization process for Camara be opened up — a development America magazine called “ground-breaking.” Wrote its correspondent Gerard O’Connell:
[Camara] died on Aug. 27, 1999, but his memory lives on. Pope Francis remembers him; they have much in common. Addressing the Brazilian bishops in Rio de Janeiro in July 2013, Francis recalled “all those names and faces which have indelibly marked the journey of the church in Brazil” and listed Dom Hélder among them. That was significant.
This week the socialist Catholic left found even more to celebrate after Pope Francis elevated the El Salvadoran bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez to the college of cardinals. Commonweal gushed:
The seventy-four-year-old Salvadoran is one of five men Francis will make papal electors when he formally adds them to the elite College of Cardinals at the June 28 consistory in St Peter’s Basilica.
Rosa Chavez has been auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Salvador since 1982 when he was only thirty-nine years old. Today he serves as pastor of a one of the city’s largest parishes.
Known for his tireless efforts to promote the prophetic message of the now Blessed Oscar Romero, the bishop was for years treated with suspicion by conservative forces in Rome — just like the martyred Romero.
Both men were given the cold shoulder by John Paul II’s inner circle, which routinely blocked their requests for a private meeting with the Polish pope when they visited the Eternal City. Rosa Chavez, like Romero, was considered too close to the Marxists and other leftists in their small, war-torn Central American country.
Thus he was not chosen to succeed Romero as head of the Church of San Salvador, where the previous five years he had been seminary rector. Instead, three years after the archbishop’s 1980 assassination the Vatican filled Romero’s vacant post with Bishop Arturo Rivera Damas SDB.
Rosa Chavez, on the other hand, was never made head of a diocese. He remained San Salvador’s auxiliary and currently serves under Romero’s third consecutive successor.
In Church politics, that speaks volumes. It means the decision-makers in Rome have no confidence in a man’s leadership skills, his loyalty to the Vatican or his orthodoxy.
The communists used to say that they would kill the last king with the guts of the last pope. But they don’t say that anymore. Now they celebrate the papacy, marveling at the relentless left-wing propaganda of Pope Francis, whose election, as the late 1960s radical Tom Hayden once put it, was “more miraculous” than the rise of Barack Obama.
George Neumayr is author of The Political Pope.