31 January 2019, The Tablet

John Paul II: capitalism’s trenchant critic

John Paul II: capitalism’s trenchant critic

The publication of a long-suppressed text by a young Catholic university lecturer in Communist Poland illustrates the tensions and subtleties of the Church’s struggle against Communist misrule – and debunks the claim that Pope John Paul II was a champion of neo-liberal economics

When a two-volume book by the future Pope St John Paul II was published for the first time on Monday, it was the final act in a 20-year effort to see it brought to the world’s attention. Katolicka Etyka Spoleczna (“The Catholic Social Ethic”) could significantly change our understanding of some of the key threads in the late pope’s life and work. It will certainly require the revision of the standard biographies, and will be a serious rebuff to those who have sought to portray him as a life-long true believer in liberal capitalism.

The 120,000-word text, published by Poland’s Catholic University of Lublin, shows the then Fr Karol Wojtyla was deeply versed in Marxism. It also reveals a young priest keenly aware of social injustices, drawn to ideas being taken up by liberation theologians in Latin America and sympathetic to campaigns to limit the excesses of the free market.

The book includes sections on revolution, class struggle and “the objective superiority of the Communist ideal”. It discusses Catholic justifications for popular resistance and how far Church teaching can embrace economic and historical determinism.

“In the contemporary Communist movement, the Church sees and acknowledges an expression of largely ethical goals,” Wojtyla writes. “Pius XI has written that criticism of capitalism, and protest against the system of human exploitation of human work, is undoubtedly ‘the part of the truth’ which Marxism contains.”

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