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Marxism Failed, Except in Some Parishes
God and My Work: A series on the role of the laity in the Church. Part 4.
by Father Luis Garza, LC
When I studied philosophy as part of the curriculum for priestly ordination, I had the grace of having a professor named Father Wetter, a Jesuit priest from the Gregorian University of Rome, and an expert in Marxist philosophy. We were in the late 1970s. Marxism was in full swing and its expansion throughout the world seemed unstoppable. I was always amazed that something so essentially contrary to human nature, both in its conception as well as in its actions – even though some romantic Marxist theories may have spoken of a Marxism with a human face and would have wanted to paint it with a rosy tint – was able to extend its geopolitical influence so far and seduce huge groups of intellectuals who were fairly intelligent and highly cultured. That is why I decided to take the optional course on Marxism with Father Wetter.
I fondly remember the quality of his classes and the vastness of his knowledge of Marxism. I had to read Marx’s Das Kapital1 and I took this reading – required for the course – almost as a Lenten penance. It seemed to me like a dense text, erroneous in its deepest content and in its conclusions. The result of my readings was that I was still more amazed that Marxism could attract anybody.
When John Paul II was elected Pope, by the grace of God, real Marxism’s fate was sealed. A few years later, Communism, that giant with clay feet (cfr. Dan. 2:34) fell by its own weight, although we know well that John Paul II helped to give it a final push. Real Marxism was shown to be a complete failure, both in politics and in economics. However, the seeds that the Marxist propaganda machine had sown throughout the world were still alive.
These seeds, which are truly venomous for society and the Church, have remained in some structures of ecclesial formation, and their influence seems not to want to die. The evidence of those seeds and what they produce are:
a) In many places, the Marxist dialectic and its exploitation of human passions continue to be the principle by which people understand reality. Thus, the poor should oppose the rich with violence, since this is their right; the Indian should rise up against the white; woman against man; etc.
b) At bottom, eternal life is far beyond our understanding, so we should not give it any of the time and energy we need for daily life. Thus, the only things that truly interest man are this-worldly realities. We should not care about man’s spiritual health, but rather about his economic wellbeing. The Church does well if she cares for men here on Earth and concerns herself with creating just structures and destroying the structures of sin. There is no longer any place for the sacraments, and catechesis should be a program for social consciousness-raising, etc.
c) The Church cannot be hierarchical (in Marxist language, it would be a superstructure), because this is not in keeping with the simplicity of the Gospel, nor does it follow the model of the first Christian community in which everyone held everything in common, nor can it be the will of the Lord. Therefore, “Rome” and “the Papacy” should be understood as principles of coordination, not as the principle of discipline, ecclesial unity, and the security of the faith. The priesthood itself comes from the people, who should elect their ministers, etc.
These ideas, which I have presented in a very superficial way, are the backbone of so-called liberation theology, which was so trendy in our cities 2, and it has a wide following under other forms in the developed world as well. Now people speak less about class warfare, but other dialectical oppositions have taken its place, such as woman’s battle with man for power in the Church. The result has been that among many priests in Latin America, there is a certain resentment, distance, and misunderstanding toward any activity that generates wealth. It is not something conscious, nor even in many cases wanted, but it is something that is undeniably present as a substratum. There has also been much—almost total—attention given to social questions, while leaving aside spiritual activities. By the same token, the Church is conceived of as accompanying the poor, not on their path to heaven, but on their path to the vindication of their social rights.
I am not at all against social work; quite the contrary. It is only that the Catholic Church is not an NGO (non-governmental organization), nor does it exhaust its being in social work. In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est3, Benedict XVI says: “For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being” (n. 25).
Human promotion must be assimilated within the spiritual and transcendent mission of the Church. And the Church, although she takes particular care of the poor and of those who need material goods, knows that she is the Body of Christ and the continuation of the redemption offered to both poor and rich, because everyone suffers in a heartbreaking way the moral misery of sin. The Church helps and promotes the poor, not for the sake of politics or power, but because Christ lives in them.
There is nothing more contrary to the Gospel than to divide, to oppose, and to destroy charity with violence. I believe, and it is my own experience, that we can do much more for the poor through education, formation, development programs, and Christian charity than by the way of confrontation and fighting. I have seen that we can build fruitful bridges between the rich and the poor where everyone wins. I have also seen that when those to whom God has given material goods are able to help the poor, it helps them to grow in sensitivity to others. They learn not only to detach from their own goods, but also to understand that the poor are their brothers and to aim to build more just and human structures. The path of development and peaceful coexistence in our towns begins with the conversion of all men’s hearts.
It would be good to finish uprooting these seeds of Marxism which still remain in some sectors of the Church so that there can be a peaceful and serene mutual understanding on the part of the clergy toward the world of work, and on the part of the lay people toward their pastors. I have watched with great sadness as entire sectors of the population of our countries, especially businessmen, executives, and professionals, have distanced themselves from the Church because they perceive a Marxist undertone in their pastors. They feel rejected and misunderstood, and they have heard that everything they do is essentially sinful. With even more sadness, I have also seen that although those poisoned by these seeds have acted with good intentions, seeking to defend the poor and the weak, what they have done is to lose large groups from the marginalized classes, since they have not found them to be pastors who speak to them about Christ, but rather political agitators or directors of a social service association.
What the statistics reveal is symptomatic: in places and dioceses where there has been a greater Marxist presence among the pastors and parish staff, there is a greater number of faithful who have abandoned Catholicism for evangelical communities, or even for sects that end up using people for their own purposes of money and power. I seem to hear Christ’s warning: “If salt should lose its flavor…” (Mt. 5:13).
1 Marx, Karl (1867). Das Kapital.
2 For more information and the position of the Magisterium on this topic, see Libertatis Nuntius, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 6, 1984.
3 Benedict XVI (2005). Deus Caritas Est.