The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has issued a critique of the global financial system this week that parallels many of the criticisms of unchecked capitalism that are surfacing around the world, including through the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon.
E.J. Dionne Jr., a self-described liberal Catholic writing in a Washington Post opinion piece, brought this to my attention. He writes:
“In a knock against those who oppose government economic regulation, the council emphasized ‘the primacy of politics — which is responsible for the common good — over the economy and finance.’ …
“But Vatican officials were careful to say that their report was not a direct response to the worldwide demonstrations. ‘It is a coincidence that we share some views,’ said Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the council. ‘But after all, these are proposals that are based on reasonableness.’
“Indeed, and that may be a larger compliment to the ’99 percent’ activists. This document got more attention than it might have because the demonstrators have heightened concern about the problems it addresses.
“Moreover, the Vatican office’s intervention shows that those protesting against a broken and unjust financial system are not expressing some marginal point of view. They are highlighting worries shared by many, including the Roman Catholic Church. To challenge what the global markets have wrought is not extreme. It reflects, as Toso said, ‘reasonableness.'”
It is indeed reasonable to expect an economic system to function fairly and equitably for all people — the rich, the middle and the poor. It is even more than reasonable for those of us who fly under the banner of Christ — it is right and it is essential. I write this as a Baptist.
It appears, however, that not not all Catholics agree with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. George Weigel, a conservative Catholic writing on a National Review blog, said:
“Bottom line (so to speak): This brief document from the lower echelons of the Roman Curia no more aligns ‘the Vatican,’ the Pope, or the Catholic Church with Occupy Wall Street than does the Nicene Creed. Those who suggest it does are either grossly ill-informed or tendentious to a point of irresponsibility.”
Weigel points out that, as stated by council officials, the document was intended to “make a contribution which might be useful to the deliberations of the [upcoming] G-20 meeting.” It was intended to “suggest possible paths to follow.”
Now, the reason a conservative like Weigel is so upset is that the document proposes more than what I mentioned above. It suggests the need for a “world political Authority” in the light of increasing globalization. That is a rather frightful proposition to many people, not just conservatives.
Without accepting the “world political Authority” portion of this proposal, many more of us can accept its broader premises. The document says:
“The economic and financial crisis which the world is going through calls everyone, individuals and peoples, to examine in depth the principles and the cultural and moral values at the basis of social coexistence. What is more, the crisis engages private actors and competent public authorities on the national, regional and international level in serious reflection on both causes and solutions of a political, economic and technical nature.”
Two points: There is a crisis, and we all need to be engaged in addressing it. Those of us who follow Christ need to bring the voice of our Savior to the world table. It is a voice that always proclaims in defense of those most in need in our world. It is a voice that challenges all of us to be stewards of the resources at our disposal and not simply consumers. It is a call to love others as we love God.