Could it be that the Holy See under Pope Francis is curiously indulgent of authoritarian regimes? The Holy Father is an undisputed friend of the downtrodden, but it sometimes seems that he is also a friend to those who tread upon them, especially if they are on the left side of the political spectrum.

The comments of Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo on China will not, it can be expected, be repeated by other Vatican prelates. Global incredulity and barbed ridicule rained down upon the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy for Science and the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences after he held up China as a model of Catholic social teaching. Consequently, it is likely that others inclined to profess admiration for those in Beijing who persecute the Catholic Church, procure compulsory abortions and pollute the air with reckless abandon will now keep their mouths shut.

It would be grossly unfair to associate the Sinophancy of Bishop Sánchez Sorondo with any others in the Holy See. Yet the chancellor, who has served since 1998 and is now 75, has grown in prominence since the election of his fellow Argentine, Pope Francis, in 2013. He has turned the academies away from scholarly exchanges toward political activism of a leftist sort. While the propaganda turn for the Chinese regime was an unusual step, to be sure, it does fit a pattern of what one might mischievously consider a preferential option for the left, even when the regimes in question are tyrannical.

Of course, the priorities of the political left can fit within the broad principles in Catholic social teaching. In his 2016 book Without Roots, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “In many respects democratic socialism was and is close to Catholic social doctrine and has in any case made a remarkable contribution to the formation of a social consciousness.”

When The Economist accused Pope Francis of sounding like a Leninist, he told an Italian newspaper that “the communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian. Poverty is at the centre of the Gospel.”

Yet while the Holy See stands in solidarity with the poor, there is also a recent pattern of it associating itself with those who oppress them – often, but not always, on the left.

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