Pope John Paul II, who was one of communism's most passionate adversaries, finds some "good things" in Marxist achievements and "savage" elements in capitalism, according to a rare private interview published in an Italian newspaper yesterday.
The pope's remarks led his interviewer, a friend, to exclaim: "Holy Father, I must say with all due humility that when you speak like this, I wonder if you are not more opposed to capitalism than communism."
Described as only the second lengthy interview Pope John Paul has granted during his 15-year pontificate, it was published in the Italian newspaper La Stampa and made available in English and Spanish through the New York Times.
The interviewer was Jas Gawronski, a member of the European Parliament in Italy and a columnist for La Stampa. The interview took place over dinner in the pope's private apartments at the Vatican.
Some of the pope's stated misgivings about what he considers the excesses of democracy and capitalism have been suggested in other commentaries, notably and recently in his encyclical, "Veritatis Splendor" -- "The Splendor of Truth" -- issued last month.
In that teaching document, six years in preparation, Pope John Paul reacted to what he sees as a "genuine crisis" in his church and decried the "frequently heard" view of "reformers" in the United States that on moral questions "a pluralism of opinions and of kinds of behavior could be tolerated."
In September, on his first visit to Lithuania since the fall of communism, the pope appealed for reconciliation between strong anti-communists and their former Communist rulers, saying that in the eyes of Roman Catholic bishops and priests "there must be neither winners nor losers."
Mr. Gawronski asked the pope to explain why countries such as Lithuania and Poland would return Communists to power through free elections.
"Communism has had its success in this century as a reaction against a certain type of unbridled, savage capitalism," Pope John Paul said, drawing a comparison between the concerns for the plight of workers in the last century as expressed in the social teachings of Pope Leo XIII and in the writings of Karl Marx.
Mr. Gawronski said, "You fought hard and passionately against communism. But in the newly free countries, there is moral degradation, prostitution and a widespread use of drugs. The Balkan war mocks the very concept of civilization. Was it really worthwhile to defeat communism?"
Pope John Paul replied: "I think it is mistaken to pose the question in those terms. Of course it was legitimate to fight against the unjust, totalitarian system which defined itself as socialist or communist.
"But it is also true, as Leo XIII says, that there are 'seeds of truth' even in the socialist program. It is obvious these seeds ought not be destroyed, should not be lost in the winds."
He added: "In communism there was a concern for the community, whereas capitalism is rather individualistic. This concern with the community in countries with real socialism had, however, a very high price paid in the form of degradation in many other areas of citizens' lives."
Pope John Paul said capitalism "has changed and, in good measure, to the credit of the influence of socialist thought" since the papacy of Leo XIII, who governed the Catholic Church from 1878 to 1903.
"Today's capitalism has introduced social safety nets, thanks to the union movements. It has enacted social policies and is monitored by the state and unions," Pope John Paul said.
"In some countries of the world, however, it has remained in its 'savage' state, almost as in the past century," he said.
He did not specify which countries.
Mr. Gawronski asked Pope John Paul if his call for "humanitarian intervention" in the Balkans meant a military intervention.
"No, that's not it. What I meant is that in cases of aggression it is imperative to deny the aggressor the possibility of doing harm," said the pope.
"It is a subtle distinction but, according to the church's traditional doctrine, a just war is solely one of self-defense. Every nation must have the right to defend itself."
When Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia "chose the path of independence" at the beginning of the current conflict in the Balkans, "they were fully within their rights," the pontiff said.
He said the "reawakening of radical nationalisms" has caused "unheard-of suffering among countless innocent people."