Pope Francis, responding to criticism from some conservatives that his economic and social ideas smack of socialism, said in an Italian newspaper interview Sunday that he is not a Marxist – but that Marxists can be good people.
Francis also denied reports that he would name a woman cardinal, said there had been good progress in cleaning up Vatican finances, and confirmed that he would visit Israel and the Palestinian territories next year, La Stampa said.
Far-right American radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who has a huge following in the United States, last month railed against the pope over the religious leader’s written comments on the world economy.
Limbaugh said the comments sounded like "pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope," and suggested that someone else might have written the papal document that contained the remarks. He also accused the pope of going "beyond Catholicism" and being "purely political.”
Asked about the accusations, which triggered a debate in the media and blogosphere last month, Francis – a member of the Jesuit order, which is often associated with progressive social policies – said: "Marxist ideology is wrong. But in my life I have known many Marxists who are good people, so I don't feel offended."
The pope has also been criticized by other conservatives.
In last month's document, seen as a platform for his papacy, Francis attacked unfettered capitalism as "a new tyranny," and said an "economy of exclusion and inequality" had proven deadly for many people around the world.
In his response to critics, Francis said he was not speaking "as a technician but according to the social doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and this does not mean being Marxist." He said he was attempting to present a "snapshot of what is happening" in the world.
Pope Francis has been outspoken on a number of issues since becoming the leader of the Catholic Church.
In another recently released document, Francis said huge salaries and bonuses were symptoms of an economy based on greed. He called again for nations to narrow the wealth gap.
A number of conservatives in the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church have expressed disappointment and concern about some of the pope's pronouncements, including his contention that he was not in a position to judge homosexuals who are people of good will and are sincerely seeking God.
Asked about speculation that a woman could be among the new cardinals he will appoint early next year, he said: "I don't know where that idea comes from. Women in the Church should be valued, not 'clericalized'."
In other parts of the interview, Francis also said a committee of eight cardinals from around the world who are advising him on changes to the Vatican structure would make its first formal recommendations to him in February, and that reform would be a "lengthy task.”
He said that reform of the Vatican's sometimes murky finances was "on the right path," and he expressed satisfaction that last week a Council of Europe committee called Moneyval gave the Vatican a good evaluation of its efforts to abide by international financial standards.
He said he had not yet decided what to do about the Vatican bank, which has been touched by scandals over the decades. In the past he has not ruled out closing it.
Francis said he was "getting ready" to go to the Holy Land next year to mark the 50th anniversary of when Pope Paul VI became the first pope in modern times to visit there.
He has been invited by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority to make a visit, which is expected to take place in May or June.
Al Jazeera and Reuters