The Pope, Marxists, and the Koch Brothers

After Rush Limbaugh made headlines by accusing Pope Francis of espousing Marxism in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Pope set the record straight. Over the weekend, he told the Italian newspaper La Stampa, “The Marxist ideology is wrong. But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.”

That hasn’t quieted Francis’s conservative critics, though. Read this bizarre piece by Lant Pritchett of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, who says Francis is “promoting sin” by “promoting envy.” He even accuses the Pope of breaking the tenth commandment (prohibiting coveting your neighbor’s stuff).

Meanwhile, Religion News Service’s David Gibson reports that the business school at the Catholic University of America (the only U.S. university that is “sponsored and partially funded by” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) has accepted a sizable donation from the Charles Koch Foundation, because, the head of the business school tells Gibson, the foundation “felt the new business school’s mission to promote a ‘person-centered economy’ dovetailed with its own goals of fostering ‘principle entrepreneurship.’” 

That’s person-centered, not people-centered.

In reaction to the $1 million grant, 50 priests, activists, theologians, and scholars wrote a letter of protest, charging, “We are concerned that by accepting such a donation you send a confusing message to Catholic students and other faithful Catholics that the Koch brothers’ anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing of a university sanctioned by Catholic bishops.”

The university, Gibson reports, called the protesters “presumptuous” and “arbiters of political correctness.”

Andrew Abela, the head of CUA’s business school, told Gibson that officials at Koch’s foundation “spent a whole day reading the social encyclicals,” which of course brings another figure into this equation: Evelyn Wood.

Gibson describes the protest letter as “a proxy in a larger turf battle within the U.S. church between its social justice-oriented left wing and its more conservative right wing that says Catholics can disagree on the application of church teaching to the economy.”

Even some of the American bishops are trying to dance around the Pope’s words to give them a conservative spin. Here’s the Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin, Robert Morlino, speaking on the same television program I quoted from in my post last week:

The papal magisterium can rise to level of infallibility only on matters of faith and morals. This kind of an economic judgment would not qualify as something that is to be held by all the faithful. It is a prudential judgment the Pope seems to be making and offering. But again, he is stirring up the waters and saying, think about how you live your economic life. Do you live as though there is unfettered capitalism?. . . . Do you live your life in terms of survival of the fittest?

Morlino said Francis is trying to get Catholics to “loosen up your connection to whatever you are tied down to and stare Jesus in the eye.”

Or, perhaps, Charles Koch.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email