ROME ( Nick Squires, Telegraph) –Pope Francis has conceded that he had spent too much time focussed on the poor while ignoring the concerns of the middle-class, offering an olive branch to conservative Catholics who fear he is too radical.
Speaking on board the official papal plane on his way back from a week-long tour of South America, the Pope said he needed to pay more heed to the challenges faced by the middle-class.
Asked why he had rarely spoken of hard-working, tax-paying families, instead concentrating on the marginalised and poverty-stricken, he said: “You’re right. It’s an error of mine not to think about this,” he said.
The conciliatory remarks may have been aimed at Americans who have viewed his criticism of globalisation and capitalism with alarm.
Pope Francis will make his first official visit to the United States in September, visiting Philadelphia, addressing a joint session of Congress in Washington and delivering a speech to the UN in New York.
Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio talk show host, has described the Pope’s views on the global economy as “pure Marxism”.
Leading Republicans rejected his encyclical on the threat posed to the planet by global warming and unfettered economic development when it was published last month.
Jeb Bush, who is campaigning for the presidency, said the Pope should not have drawn a clear link between economic development and climate change.
“I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops, or my cardinals, or my Pope,” Mr Bush, a fervent Catholic, said.
During an hour-long question and answer with Vatican correspondents, the Pope said he was willing to open a dialogue with Americans who disagreed with his warnings over the excesses of capitalism and the dangers of putting profit before people.
“I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States … I haven’t had time to study this well but every criticism must be received, studied and then dialogue must follow,” he said.
“The world is polarised. The middle class becomes smaller. The polarisation between the rich and poor is big. This is true. And, perhaps this has led me to not take account of this (the problems of the middle class),” he said. “I need to do delve further into this.”
On his election in 2013, the Pope spoke of his desire to create “a poor Church for the poor” and he has frequently castigated modern capitalism for causing unemployment, social despair and harm to the environment.
During his eight-day tour of Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, he described the “unfettered” pursuit of money as “the dung of the devil.”
The 78-year-old pontiff criticised an economic system that “has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.”
When asked on the flight about the Greek economic crisis, the Pope was careful not to criticise overtly the international creditors who have forced Greece to swallow a painful austerity programme in exchange for the country’s third bail-out.
“It would be too simple to say that the fault is only on one side,” he said as the plane carried him back to Rome.
But he did say that lending a country more and more money to pay off its steadily increasing debts was not sustainable.
“I hope that they find a way to resolve the Greek problem and also a way to have oversight so that the same problem will not fall on other countries. This will help us move forward because this path of loans and debts, in the end, it never ends.”
One of the most memorable moments of the South America trip was when Evo Morales, Bolivia’s socialist president, presented the Pope with a sculpture featuring the body of a crucified Christ nailed to a hammer and sickle.
It was seen as a provocative gesture, but the Pope said he had not been offended by the gift and had brought it home to the Vatican with him.
It was a replica of one designed by a Jesuit priest who was tortured and murdered by Bolivian paramilitary squads in 1980.
The Pope denied reports that he had drunk a tea made of coca, the main ingredient in cocaine.
It was widely reported that on the plane from Ecuador to Bolivia, he drank a concoction of coca leaves, camomile and anise seeds in order to combat the effects of altitude sickness when he landed at the highest international airport in the world, outside La Paz.
“I never tasted coca (leaves), let’s be clear about that,” he said.
His way of surviving the gruelling tour of the continent was to sip mate tea, a caffeine-rich infusion which is popular in his native Argentina, he said.