Amid the worst recession in generations, Karl Marx, who famously described religion as “the opium of the people”, got a thumbs up from the Vatican overturning a century of Catholic hostility to his creed.
Marx, who predicted that capitalism would be destroyed by its internal contradictions, has joined Galileo, Charles Darwin and Oscar Wilde on a growing list of historical figures to have undergone an unlikely reappraisal by the Roman Catholic Church, The Times newspaper said on Thursday.
The British daily, quoting the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, said Marx’s early critiques of capitalism had highlighted the “social alienation” felt by the “large part of humanity” that remained excluded from economic and political decision-making.
Amid signs of recovery in global financial markets, Christian leaders have flayed the capitalist system for displaying a lack of moral values, arguing that ethical debates needs to be given greater prominence.
Georg Sans, a German-born professor of the history of contemporary philosophy at the pontifical Gregorian University, argues that Marx’s work remained especially relevant today as mankind was seeking “a new harmony” between its needs and the natural environment.
The report quoted Prof. Sans as saying that Marx’s theories may help to explain the enduring issue of income inequality within capitalist societies.
The Vatican, in a reappraisal of Galileo, last year erected a statue of the great astronomer who was put on trial in 1633 for his observation that the Earth moved around the Sun.
In February a leading Roman church official declared Darwin’s theory of evolution compatible with the Christian faith, and in July L’Osservatore praised Oscar Wilde, the gay playwright, as “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken“.
Two years ago Benedict XVI singled out Marxism as one of the great scourges of the modern age. The Pope’s latest encyclical, Charity in Truth, argued that global capitalism has lost its way and that Church teachings can help to restore economic health by focusing on justice for the weak and closer regulation of the market, the report in the London daily said.
Prof. Sans’s article was first published in La Civiltattolica, a Jesuit paper, which is vetted in advance by the Vatican Secretariat of State. The decision to republish it in the Vatican newspaper gives the unlikely reappraisal of Marx by the Roman Catholic Church added papal endorsement.