Pope Francis’ “Cultural Revolution”

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Many of us are aware of the current divisions among Catholics regarding the papacy of Pope Francis. On the one hand there are orthodox Catholics who tend almost to sedevacantism, viewing the Pope as a diabolical influence, dismantling the Church stealthily in the last five years; on the other side, there are faithful followers, trying to parse and defend statements and positions of the Pope that defy parsing, even by experts in Canon Law.

It is important to avoid something like the “Trump Derangement Syndrome” current in politics. All criticisms of the Pope should be based on a clear understanding of “where he is coming from.”

Pope Francis is a Latin-American

One factor in understanding this is geographical – since he is the first Latin-American pope, who lived in times when the theories and movements of “Liberation Theology,” which had some Marxist elements, were rife in Latin America. Pope Francis in his formative years in the Jesuits and various bishoprics in Argentina, like the liberation theologians, found some salvageable nuggets in Marxism. This can help us understand a number of his moves that have caused confusion.

Many have been surprised by the choices he has made: Marxist leftist Dr. Margaret Archer as president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, conferences and workshops featuring pro-abortion and pro-contraceptive speakers like Paul Ehrlich, John Bongaarts, Gretchen Daily, and other members of what the Lepanto Institute calls the “Pope Francis’ Population-Control Lobby”; and not only this but contacts and collaboration with Marxist-leaning proponents of liberation theology such as Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Gutiérrez – not to mention, hobnobbing with atheist journalist Eugenio Scalfari.

“Is the Pope Catholic” used to be a pleasantry and an argument clincher, but now it has prompted serious questions: What indeed is going on?

The Pope is Catholic But…

I have no doubts that the Pope is indeed Catholic. But the developments mentioned above remind me of Mao Zedong’s campaign in 1956 to “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.” Many China-watchers took this as a sign of ideological change, even democratization. But that was not Mao’s motivation. Mao, a follower of Karl Marx and Friedrick Engels, was thinking of socialist statecraft as a science, and the “hundred flowers” campaign was a “scientific” procedure, sampling the variations in socialist viewpoints.

Unexpectedly, Mao’s Hundred Flowers campaign led to multiple caustic criticisms of communism, the government, and Mao himself. In 1957 Mao dealt it a coup de grace by means of an Anti-Rightist campaign – featuring the riddance and even extermination of dissidents who had “come out.” Mao himself finally justified the Hundred Flowers campaign as his deliberate strategic “enticement of snakes out of their caves.”

An Embrace of Diversity

Pope Francis’ present embrace of sharp diversity of experts and clerics seems somewhat similar – maybe to discover extreme “fundamentalists” standing in the way of a truly “pastoral” church, but maybe also to reintroduce elements of a much-debated ecclesiastical movement, Conciliarism. At Vatican II, progressives, still smarting from the Vatican I declaration of papal prerogatives and infallibility, and interested in a reunion with “Separated Brethren,” supported modernization of the Church with an emphasis on episcopal collegiality – supreme authority being manifested only if and when the Pope is speaking in unison with an Ecumenical council. Pope Paul VI at one point during Vatican II saw where such discussions were drifting, and finally reasserted Papal primacy on a day that progressive bishops and theologians called “black Thursday.”

Mao Zedong

Recently, my thoughts again went to Mao Zedong when Pope Francis announced that he was seeking a bold “cultural revolution” at ecclesiastical universities and faculties. He urged them to “strike out on new paths and offer the “decisive contribution of leaven, salt, and light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the living Tradition of the Church.” A step towards this “true cultural revolution” would be an admission by the Church of her past “delays and shortcomings.”

In China, Mao Zedong’s famous Cultural Revolution began in 1966, with the intention of creating a massive new torrent of support for Communism from all classes, especially youth who would call out deviations from Marxist ideology, even reporting and vilifying parents, families, and friends. This purging of “impure elements” continued with massive casualties until Mao’s death in 1976.

As I began teaching at Marquette University in the late 60s, amid ongoing student uprisings on our campus and many others, I caught a glimpse of the widespread effects of Maoism. As a specialist in German philosophy, I taught a course on Marxism, and vividly recall the first day of class, when members of a Maoist commune rose in the rear of class to invite all present to join them in the revolutionary changes they contemplated.

Elements of Liberation Theology

We see in Francis’ remodeled Cultural Revolution elements of Liberation Theology. Liberation theology arose in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, as an often well-intentioned attempt to “baptize” Marxism, using Marxist methodologies (purified from atheism) to free the poor from oppression, following the lead of Pope Paul VI’s “call to action” in Octogesima Adveniens, as well as the “preferential option for the poor” described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2448.

Pope Francis recently commented in an interview with the leftist Spanish daily El Pais, “Liberation Theology was a good thing for Latin America,” although it had “deviations” that needed to be corrected. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he found similarities to Liberation Theology in Christian traditions:  “If you were to read one of the sermons of the first fathers of the church, from the second or third centuries, about how you should treat the poor, you’d say it was Maoist or Trotskyist.”

Just as Marx and Engels boasted that they had “borrowed” the scientific method of “dialectic” from the metaphysical/conceptual Hegelian philosophy (purified from religion), and utilized it to analyze materialistic social relations, so also the Liberation theologians claimed that they were “borrowing” effective Marxist methods while eliminating their strictly materialistic, anti-religious factors.

A Christianized “Cultural Revolution”

Can one be surprised that a Pope from Latin America, having experienced some of the worst effects of unleashed economic chaos in his own country, would look to a worldwide Christianized “Cultural Revolution” to implement the Church’s “preferential option for the poor”? In Latin America bishops, priests and theologians accented what they thought to be the economic corollaries of the Gospel, by organizing ecclesial “base communities,” in which the rejuvenation of the Church would come in a bottom-up rather than a top-down way.

Pope Francis seems to be expanding this approach to bring about a groundswell, creating a new vibrant Catholicism. Certainly, he would like to bring about globally the Aggiornamento (“updating” of the Church) envisioned by Pope John XXIII in convening Vatican II.

His “base communities” for accomplishing this might include not just the poor and youth, but environmentalists, ecumenists, social scientists, and globalists of every stripe.

If somehow this strategy results in the reunion of Christians, restoration of healthy family relations, social justice and peace among nations, most would applaud. But we may need the optimism of revised and purified liberation theology to bolster such hopes.

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9 thoughts on “Pope Francis’ “Cultural Revolution””

  1. Pingback: My Homepage

  2. I might add that for a more accurate (if possibly biased) view of Pope Francis’s program and character, one should read some of the posts on the blog “The American Catholic.”

  3. @GRL,
    Hmmmm, no.
    The bishop of Rome acts like a bully and a coward. He has no respect for tradition and, like many Jesuits, is embarrassed by many things Catholic.
    For Francis, defending the Faith is a waste of time. He has his own agenda to put into action.

  4. Ghislain Ruy-Longépé

    Loyalty to Pope Francis. He is a cute man. Not a communist, defintely. A true Man of God, with enormous courage and energy. He inherited a terrible and disatrous situation left by the very smart but weak B16 and the inconsistencies and lack of danger acknowldgement by JP2. Had JP2 spent more time on the Curia, cleansing it, we would NOT be in this situation. card xx said and affirmed: JP2 knew, and he did nothing.
    So, in these grave hours, let us stop playing Chamberlain or Halifax and let us pack united around our COURAGEOUS POPE FRANCIS against plotters, church attackers and traitors.
    OUST vigano, lantheaume, dubia, sarah and other some plotters and schemers.


    1. Ghislain Ruy-Longépé

      No, it is not sarcasm. Plain good truth. There are many others like me, and this is OUR church. With Francis, we’ll get rid off the rotten church that made our community decline for more than one century in occidental civilization. The one that missed the industrial revlution, the one that did nothing serious to stop the suicide of WW1, the one who did not plainly ask the people of God to stop the Nazi, fachism, communism and the WW2 WHEN THE CHURCHES WERE FULL. The one that compromised, hid, dissimulated so many abuses that it is taking a planetary extension. The one that tried to orient or to stop the necessary reforms decided in V2, just to keep its trafficking going on, were it not for some courageous cardinals. The one that keeps divorced remarried in a state of dhimitude and who you prefer to see quit the church, you a “pure” white knight ? Pushing away real christians in the name of a totally misunderstood Amoris Laetitia and total reject of the principle of innocence, (that by the way comes from church), not to speak of Jesus’s words ?

      Is it this rotten, corrupt church that you defend? May God help our Church. God save us.


    2. You and the pope make a great pair, and you are both part of the problem…neither of you are Catholic. Pope wants radical change? Then he should leave and form his own church. How dare he tamper with what is not his!

  5. In drawing a comparison between Pope Francis’s “diversification” and Mao’s “Let a 100 flowers bloom,” the author is evidently unaware of the consequences of Mao’s “liberalization” (his likely motive). The 100 flowers were snipped off as soon as they appeared and never had a chance to grow. I have a vision–a new cartoon: Archbishop Vigano standing in St. Peter’s Plaza in front of a tank driven by one of the Swiss Guards (or perhaps by Cardinal Cupich).

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