Samuel Gregg at The Federalist notes that Pope Francis has a double standard when it comes to populism:
Asked in a 2015 interview whether he considered the pope isolated and surrounded by opponents in the Vatican, Fernández answered: “By no means. The people are with him, not his few adversaries. This pope first filled St. Peter’s Square with crowds and then began changing the Church. Above all, for this reason he is not isolated. The people sense in him the fragrance of the Gospel, the joy of the Spirit, the closeness of Christ and thus they feel the Church is like their home.”
“The people.” “Crowds.” “The people.” Such language has very specific meaning in Latin America. When used by figures such as the long-deceased Argentine populist Juan Perón or the more recently departed “twenty-first-century socialist” Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, the purpose of this phraseology is the same. It is to evoke an almost mystical connection between the leader and “the people” as they struggle together against oppression.
This rhetoric goes hand-in-hand with tendencies to caricature real or perceived opponents. The speeches of Perón and Chávez are full of ad hominem rants against “enemies of the people.” Francis himself isn’t shy about applying labels. There’s even a blog that has compiled his more memorable phrases: “rigorists,” “fundamentalists,” “Pharisees,” “intellectual aristocrats,” “little monsters,” “self-absorbed promethean neo–pelagians,” to name just a few. The targets range from younger Catholics with a distaste for 1970s liturgy to theologians who insist that coherently preaching the gospel requires a concern for intellectual rigor.
But Francis’s populist side manifests itself most clearly in addresses he’s given to one particular group that he has clearly supported: an organization called The World Meeting of Popular Movements. The populist edge to Francis’s thought is very evident in, for example, a 2015 speech he gave to this group in Bolivia. At various points, the rhetoric employed by the pope—“tyranny of mammon,” “this economy kills,” “bondage of individualism” etc.—is decidedly charged, even polemical. Some of it isn’t that different from the language used by populist politicians throughout Latin America.
This last point is underscored by the fact that Pope Francis delivered these remarks while seated next to President Evo Morales of Bolivia. A self-described communitarian-socialist, Morales is a quintessential Latin American left-populist. Like all such politicians, he’s steadily removed constitutional restraints on his power in the name of “the people.” Morales’ prominence at the pope’s speech, as one journalist present remarked to me, reinforced the sense that “the whole event had the feel of a deeply political, very left-wing, and somewhat secular rally.”
The pope’s apparent empathy for a type of populism was further underscored when the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences held a conference in April 2016 to mark the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s encyclical “Centesimus Annus.” The two heads of states invited to speak were none other than Morales and another left-populist head of state, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa. The event was tilted even further in a left-populist direction by the presence of the then-candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who also gave a speech.