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Historians will surely note the remarkable shift in papal attitudes toward communism from previous pontificates to this one — a pontificate that has honored Raul Castro, cut a deal with China and rehabilitated countless liberation theologians, among other nods toward communism. Other popes condemned communists in no uncertain terms; this pope sympathizes with them.
It was reported recently that Pope Francis had lifted Pope St. John Paul II's suspension of Ernesto Cardenal, a Catholic priest turned Nicaraguan Marxist activist who had defied the Vatican by joining the Sandinista government. Cardenal had been famously rebuked by Pope John Paul II in 1983 on the Managua airport runway.
"You must straighten out your position with the Church," Pope John Paul II shouted at him.
Pope Francis has authorized the Nicaraguan nuncio to patch up relations with Cardenal.
"In a statement Feb. 18, Archbishop Waldemar Sommertag, the Vatican nuncio in Nicaragua, said Pope Francis had 'granted with benevolence the absolution of all canonical censures' imposed on the ailing priest after he had made the request through the nunciature," reported the Catholic News Service.
Cardenal joins a long list of communist priests who have gone from the margins to the mainstream under this pope. Before his death, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, another Nicaraguan priest suspended after joining the Sandinista government, requested and received a reinstatement under Pope Francis. Brockmann had once been an official at the KGB-controlled World Council of Churches, and his views had never changed.
After receiving his priestly reinstatement, Brockmann condemned Pope John Paul II for an "abuse of authority" and praised Fidel Castro, who presided over "the reign of God on this earth that is the alternative to the empire," he said.
Perhaps the most famous communist to enjoy a reversal of fortune under this pope is Leonardo Boff, the renegade liberation theologian from Brazil whom Francis enlisted to serve as a ghostwriter for his environmentalist encyclical Laudato Sí.
Boff has predicted that Pope Francis will rehabilitate all of the liberation theologians from Latin America once Pope Benedict XVI dies:
I believe that as long as the retired pope lives, he will neither reconcile nor redeem these theologians. But, when he is by himself, he will rescue the 500 theologians whose heads were severed. I believe this pope is capable of dismantling this machine of punishment and control, and leave it to the local churches.
Contrary to some of the propaganda at the beginning of this pontificate which portrayed Francis as an opponent of socialist liberation theology, Francis was deeply influenced by it. He never shared the reservations about it expressed by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
He had grown up in Argentina and was deeply influenced by its left-wing currents. To the Latin American journalists Javier Camara and Sebastian Pfaffen, he reminisced about the "books of the Communist Party that my boss in the laboratory gave me" and that "there was a period where I would wait anxiously for the newspaper La Vanguardia, which was not allowed to be sold with the other newspapers and was brought to us by the socialist militants."
Esther Ballestrino de Careaga, whom he has a described as a "fervent communist," was his boss at Hickethier-Bachmann Lab in Buenos Aires. The Pope has credited her with shaping his political education.
"I owe a huge amount to that great woman," he has said.
Is it any wonder that this Vatican has become a magnet for socialists and communists? Is it any wonder that Vatican officials make comments such as "China is the best implementer of Catholic social doctrine"? That comment comes from the close papal adviser Bp. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, who has described American conservatives as pawns of oil companies.
The press reported this week the Pope's recent comment that Christians shouldn't fear "social justice" lest they look like members of the "Communist Party." He obviously has no such fear.
The Pope has become so close to the Communist leaders in China that he is letting them shape his episcopal appointments for that country, according to Cdl. Joseph Zen. None could imagine Pope Francis entering into a power-sharing agreement with Donald Trump in the selection of bishops.
But the news that he has reached one with the Communists of China is plausible. Zen has noted to the Wall Street Journal that "Pope Francis has no real knowledge" of communism's dark side and traces his eagerness to romanticize it to his Argentinian background:
So the Holy Father knew the persecuted communists, not the communist persecutors. He knew the communists killed by the government, not the communist governments who killed thousands and hundreds of thousands of people. I'm sorry to say that in his goodwill he has done many things which are simply ridiculous.
For this pope, "social justice" and socialism are twins. But past popes saw socialism as a destructive ideology that primarily victimized the poor. Pope Pius XI saw the theory as fundamentally incompatible with Catholicism: "No one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist." Under this pontificate, that formulation has been reversed. This pope views the Cardenals as the good Catholics.