Pope Francis called on Catholics to embrace political pluralism Monday, insisting that there is no longer any place for a “Catholic party.”
“I invite you to live your faith with great freedom, never believing that there is a single form of political commitment for Catholics: a Catholic party,” the pope told a delegation of young Latin Americans from the Academy of Catholic Leaders Monday. “A Catholic party no longer works.”
“In politics, it is better to have a polyphony inspired by the same faith and composed of different sounds and instruments than a dull, monotonous melody that is seemingly correct but homogenizing and neutralizing,” he added. “No, it’s not the way.”
Citing Pope Paul VI, Francis said Catholics are well aware that “in concrete situations, and taking account of solidarity in each person’s life, one must recognize a legitimate variety of possible options. The same Christian faith can lead to different commitments.”
Francis also quoted the recently canonized Salvadoran saint, Oscar Romero, noting that the Church “cannot be identified with any organization, even with those that call themselves and feel Christian. The Church is not the organization, nor the organization is the Church.”
The pontiff praised the Academy of Catholic Leaders for “seeking faithfulness to the gospel” while embracing “plurality in partisan terms.”
Pope Francis, who has been an outspoken critic of new populist movements in Europe, seemed to change his tune Monday, throwing his support behind new groups of populist origin in Latin America.
“It is necessary to value in a new way our people and the popular movements that express their vitality, their history, and their most authentic struggles,” Francis said. “Doing politics inspired by the gospel from the people in action becomes a powerful way to heal our fragile democracies and to open up space to reinvent new representative groups of popular origin.”
As a vocation for service, the pope said, politics “helps the people become the protagonists of their own history and thus prevents the so-called ‘ruling classes’ from believing that they are the ones who can fix everything.”
A politician is in the midst of his people and makes use of the means at his disposal “to make the people who are sovereign the protagonists of their own history,” he said.
In previous addresses, Pope Francis has come down hard against populism, comparing it to Hitler and insisting that it is born of selfishness.
In a speech to European heads of state in 2017, the pope said that solidarity is “the most effective antidote to modern forms of populism,” while advocating for a stronger, consolidated Europe against a rising tide of populist movements.
On that occasion, the pontiff contrasted solidarity, which draw us “closer to our neighbors,” with populism, which is “the fruit of an egotism that hems people in and prevents them from overcoming and ‘looking beyond’ their own narrow vision.”
In 2018, the pope likened populists to Adolf Hitler and suggested that populism caused the Second World War.
“It is important for young people to know how populism is born,” the pope said. “I think of Hitler in the last century, who had promised development for Germany. They should know how populisms begin: by sowing hate. You can’t live sowing hate.”
Less than two months ago, Francis compared the emergence of populist and nationalist movements in Europe to the days of Nazi Germany, suggesting that populism is the greatest threat to modern, multilateral governance.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome