Encyclical Background

What Direction for the Global Economy?

Pope Benedict XVI is preparing to publish an encyclical which will speak about the global economic crisis. What will he say?

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome

 “Where God is excluded, there is a breakdown of peace in the world; without God, no orthopraxis can save us. In fact, there does not exist an orthopraxis which is simply just, detached from a knowledge of what is good. The will without knowledge is blind and so action, orthopraxis, without knowledge is blind and leads to the abyss. Marxism’s great deception was to tell us that we had reflected on the world long enough, that now it was at last time to change it. But if we do not know in what direction to change it, if we do not understand its meaning and its inner purpose, then change alone becomes destruction — as we have seen and continue to see. But the inverse is also true: doctrine alone, which does not become life and action, becomes idle chatter and so is equally empty. The truth is concrete. Knowledge and action are closely united, as are faith and life.” —Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Lecture in Benevento, Italy, on “Eucharist, Communion and Solidarity,” on June 2, 2002 (see: http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=2066)

“It is undeniable that the liberal model of the market economy, especially as moderated and corrected under the influence of Christian social ideas, has in some parts of the world led to great success. All the sadder are the results, especially in places like Africa, where clashing power blocs and economic interests have been at work. Behind the apparent beneficial models of development there has all too often been hidden the desire to expand the reach of particular powers and ideologies in order to dominate the market. In this situation, ancient social structures and spiritual and moral forces have been destroyed, with consequences that echo in our ears like a single great cry of sorrow.” (Ibid.)


VATICAN CITY, June 16, 2009 — It is generally expected in Rome that a major encyclical letter on the Church’s social teaching, which will include reflections on the global economic crisis and what to do about it, will be signed by Pope Benedict XVI on June 29, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and be published soon after. (Note: This is not certain, and I was told yesterday that some translations of the encyclical are not yet finalized, which could mean that the publication will be delayed for some time yet; nevertheless, the essential point is that the encyclical is written, and in translation, and will be published soon.)
What will the encyclical say? Will it condemn the excesses of the globalized financial system, as immoral and fradulent manipulations which tighter regulation and a deeper commitment to honest dealing and fair business practices might have prevented?
Perhaps. No leaks of the encyclical’s contents have occurred, but the Pope has given hints in speeches in recent days, and over many years, of his general views on economic matters, which may provide a context as we prepare to read the encyclical when it does appear.
What we can say with certainty is that the encyclical will be a clarion call for justice in economic dealings, for an end to the oppression of the weak by the strong due to economic policies marked by recklessness and deception, enriching a few and impoverishing many.
From the time of the Hebrew prophets, and throughout the history of the Church, injustice in economic matters, robbing the widow, the orphan, the laborer, to supply the wealthy with ever greater wealth, has been denounced as against God’s will. God, in the Judeo-Christian belief, is a God of love, but also a God of justice, and his prophets and priests have always, in season and out of season, denounced the unjust oppression of the weak by the strong.
Are we in such a situation today? Certainly there has been a tremendous development of material prosperity in the world, both in technological and monetary terms. At the same time, there is an abyss of poverty which remains, and one can see it in shanty-towns in Africa, in villages in rural Russia, and in many inner cities and trailer parks throughout the United States. As far as the world has come in developing new technologies and spreading the benefits of man’s ingenuity and industry, there remains a long road yet to travel before one could say we have enthroned a just social order — an order as just as humanly possible — for all mankind.

According to the Financial Times of London, the concentration of wealth is extremely high today in the United States, with 10% of the population currently holding 72% of the country’s wealth, compared to 61% in France, 56% in the UK, 44% in Germany, and 39% in Japan. Of course, concentration of wealth by itself is not proof of injustice in the economic system, but it is an indication that the playing field may be slanted, that the opportunity is not equal for all to build a prosperous life, and perhaps to find and live out a personal life vocation, as God wills.

Three days ago, on Saturday, June 13, Pope Benedict gave us a glimpse into his mind on the eve of the publication of his new social encyclical.
He addressed the members of the Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice Foundation, which had held its annual meeting here the previous day.
The Foundation “Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice” is based in the State of Vatican City and governed by the Church’s Canon Law and the Civil Law of the State of Vatican City. The Foundation’s purpose is to collaborate towards the diffusion of human, ethical, social and Christian values, which are described in particular in Pope John Paul II’s great social encyclical Centesimus Annus (published in 1991 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Pope Leo XII’s social encyclical, Rerum Novarum in 1891). The Foundation therefore especially promotes informed knowledge of the social teachings of the Church.
This year, said the Pope, “our meeting has particular significance and importance in the light of the situation that all humankind is currently experiencing.”
He went on to say: “The financial crisis that has struck the industrialized nations, the emergent nations and those that are developing, shows in a clear way how the economic and financial paradigms that have been dominant in recent years must be rethought.”
He continued: “Your foundation has done well, then, to confront, in the international conference that took place yesterday, the theme of the pursuit and identification of the values and guidelines that the economic world must stick to in order to bring into being a new model of development that is more attentive to the demands of solidarity and more respectful of human dignity.”
The Pope expressed his satisfaction at the topics addressed in the Convention held the previous day, especially “the interdependency between institutions, society and the market, beginning — in accord with the encyclical Centesimus Annus of my venerable predecessor John Paul II — from the reflection according to which the market economy… can only be recognized as a way of economic and civil progress if it is oriented to the common good (cf. No. 43).”
He continued: “Such a vision, however, must also be accompanied by another reflection according to which freedom in the economic sector must situate itself ‘within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality,’ a responsible freedom ‘the core of which is ethical and religious’ (No. 42).”
Benedict XVI expressed his hope that the research developed by the Foundation’s work, “inspired by the eternal principles of the Gospel, will elaborate a vision of the modern economy that is respectful of the needy and of the rights of the weak.”
He also specifically mentioned that his next Encyclical on the vast theme of economics and labor will soon be published.
“It will highlight what, for us Christians, are the objectives to be pursued and the values to be promoted and tirelessly defended, with the purpose of realizing a truly free and solidary human coexistence,” he said.
If one reads these words carefully, one can glimpse some of the themes which certainly will appear in the upcoming encyclical, especially the need for the “common good” to be defended even while the freedom of the individual to make economic decisions is also protected.
A number of Catholic thinkers have helped in the preparation of the upcoming encyclical. In coming days, we will speak with several of these thinkers here in Rome, and attempt to sketch for our readers a context within which the encyclical may be read.

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