Politics & Government

Pope Francis: Populist leaders could turn into next Hitler

Pope Francis warned of growing populist movements.
Pope Francis warned of growing populist movements. AP

Pope Francis issued a stark warning against growing populism movements, saying the waves of nationalist sentiment could produce the next Adolf Hitler.

The pope told Spanish newspaper El Pais that “in times of crisis, we lack judgment, and that is a constant reference for me.” Francis has frequently spoken out against what he sees as lack of appropriate response to multiple world crises including war and mass migration.

“The most obvious example of European populism is Germany in 1933. After the crisis of 1930, Germany is broken, it needs to get up, to find its identity, a leader, someone capable of restoring its character, and there is a young man named Adolf Hitler,” Francis said. “Hitler didn't steal the power, his people voted for him, and then he destroyed his people.”

He said people were swayed to vote for Hitler because he was a “charismatic leader” who “promised to give their identity back,” but instead “gave them a distorted identity.”

“Let's look for a savior who gives us back our identity and let us defend ourselves with walls, barbed-wire, whatever, from other people who may rob us of our identity,” Francis said in the voice of those who vote for such figures. “And that is a very serious thing.”

Just as in the U.S., populist leaders with anti-immigrant, anti-globalism sentiment have gained popularity across Europe. Although Francis has been publicly critical of President Donald Trump before, the pope told El Pais he will now wait and see what the new U.S. leader does.

“I don't like to get ahead of myself nor judge people prematurely. We will see how he acts, what he does, and then I will have an opinion,” he said. “But being afraid or rejoicing beforehand because of something that might happen is, in my view, quite unwise.”

Francis sent Trump greetings on Friday as the new president took office, offering prayers that God will grant Trump “wisdom and strength.”

“At a time when our human family is beset by grave humanitarian crises demanding farsighted and united political responses, I pray that your decisions will be guided by the rich spiritual and ethical values that have shaped the history of the American people and your nation’s commitment to the advancement of human dignity and freedom worldwide,” Francis wrote.

The pope’s words had a distinctly different tone than his public comments on Trump in the past. During the election, Francis spoke out against Trump’s anti-immigrant president and his popular campaign promise to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics said that anyone who wanted to build walls instead of bridges “is not Christian.”