I’m perhaps a little behind the times with this post, but having just moved across states, I’ve been a bit busy. In an interview given by Pope Benedict XVI aboard his airplane en route to Madrid, Spain, last Thursday for the start of World Youth Day 2011, he responded to a question about the economic crisis. This press conference gained a significant amount of media coverage (see an example published by the Associated Press), a result of the Pontiff’s frank addressing of what he sees as a contributing (if not primary) factor in the economic crises of the United States and Europe in recent years.

The Pope said:

[We see] confirmed in the present economic crisis what has already been seen in the great preceding crisis: that an ethical dimension is not something exterior to economic problems, but an interior and fundamental dimension. The economy does not function with mercantile self-regulation alone, but it has need of an ethical reason to function for man [sic]. This can be seen in what was already said in John Paul II’s first social encyclical: Man [sic] must be at the center of the economy and the economy must not be measured according to greatest profit, but according to the good of all. It includes responsibility for the other, and it really functions well only if it functions in a human way in regard to the other, in his various dimensions: responsibility with one’s nation, and not just with oneself, responsibility with the world.

Pope Benedict XVI hits the proverbial ‘nail on the head’ here. While certain members of certain political parties in the United States (and I presume comparable groups exist abroad) advocate for a decreasing governmental role in the business affairs conducted within the nation’s borders — the same people, it should be recalled, often point to the Pope in their ardent anti-abortion and anti-LGBT-rights as a source of support — the Pope makes it clear that the so-called “free market” is inherently problematic. Unbridled capitalism is itself the source and the proceeding problem of the financial crises, because it is devoid of an ethical governor, which is what human person are called to provide in any exchange.

The Pope continues, noting the need for solidarity among the human family, across borders and even among the rest of creation as we face both economic crises and environmental crises.

Nations are not isolated, not even Europe is isolated, but they are responsible for the whole of humanity and must always think of addressing economic problems in a context of responsibility, in particular with the other parts of the world, with those who suffer, who are thirsty and hungry, and have no future. Hence, the third dimension of this responsibility is responsibility with the future: We know that we must protect our planet, but we must protect the functioning of the service of economic work for all and think that tomorrow is also today.

By way of some hopeful observation, the Holy Father makes reference to the scores of young people who volunteer and offer themselves, even for somewhat short stints, around the world for the sake of others. Here I think of PeaceCorp, Franciscan Mission Service, Jesuit Volunteers, Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, CapuchinCorp and others. These young people are the hope of a more ethical and selfless future, that is if they continue the good work that God has already begun in them.

If the young people of today do not find prospects in their life, our today is also mistaken, it is wrong. Therefore, the Church with her social doctrine, with her doctrine on responsibility before God, opens one to the capacity of giving up the greatest profit and seeing in realities the humanistic and religious dimension, that is, that we are made for one another and so it is also possible to open paths — as happens with the great number of volunteers who work in different parts of the world not for themselves, but for others, and thus they find the meaning of their life. This can be achieved with an education in the great objectives, as the Church tries to do. This is essential for our future.

So, for those who really and truly desire to be good Catholic Christians, and I know so many people do, they would be wise to take the Pope’s words to heart. Less regulation in the market and in business is the opposite of what is needed. Outrageous profits that continue to bring about economic reversals and increase the gap between the few wealthy and increasing numbers of poor are unjust, sinful and goes against the foundations of who we are called to be as human beings in relationship with one another.

Photo: Pool





  1. Respectfully, I do not have the same read on the Holy Father’s message. I believe his message is about the lack of ethics in the market place and not about the regulation and the possible creation of a “socialist” state.

    “…The economy does not function with mercantile self-regulation alone, but it has need of an ethical reason to function for man….”

    For me the ethics question, or at least the degradation thereof, has been happening in our contemporary era for the last 40 years or so, as a result of the much needed “liberation” and equality movements. And, while equal rights and social justice issues came to the forefront, the secondary result is relativism, and really a very self-centric ideal. It is no longer God-centric, because of the kumbaya “spirituality” left-over from the 60s. In fact, because of the left, we have become devoid of God, so perhaps this is the real issue — If ethics equals the good, and God is alway good, then ethics would equal God. So, if God is taken out of the of equation, then there are no ethics. The Holy Father has also stressed the need for freedom and open markets in previous encyclicals, so not sure if summarizing his message is completely adequate regarding “regulation” of the marketplace.

    I also find it rather ironic, that congress, who cried for more regulation and enforcement are starting a judiciary inquiry of the S&P downgrading of the U.S.’ AAA status. Really!?!?!?! If most Americans are a bad credit risk when their debt-to-income hits 40% or more, then how is it the U.S. Congress cannot be held to the same standard. Oh, wait it is because they are Congress, and by their special math, they somehow manage to make less revenue plus more expenditures equal more than zero!!! Oh, and was it not Franks who made sure “unqualified” got loans?

    And to be quite honest, before the mud slinging occurs from anyone in a certain political party, please make sure the log it taken from their eye. The last time I checked, members of congress make at least 3-fold what the average American makes, not-to-mention all the perks, and of course cadallic healthcare, and pension after serving just one term. And, many of them are already wealthy before they come to Washington. Now, I don’t see any of them looking to their own house, while still supporting organizations like Planned Parenthood, and other special interest groups.

    Furthermore, most Americans, even the most right, can accept (tolerate) civil unions; however, the left will not be happy until they have taken the traditional term “marriage”, thereby infringing on my rights. They have already infringed on my rights to teach my children about human sexuality in the proper context of the Church, with all the “sex” education in the public schools, making sure they know about “safe” sex, yet dismissing the sacredness of the union, moreover the sancity of life and our gifted vocation as co-creators with God.

    1. Perhaps the reason you don’t have the same read on the Holy Father’s message is because you may be reading it outside the context of the whole tradition of Roman Catholic social teaching … Even a reading of Caritas in Veritate might put his words in Madrid in a fuller context…

      1. Done, but I will review for the benefit of the doubt. Is there a specific text or paragraph you would suggest.

      2. Reading a specific text or paragraph will do little to give you context. To get the context you have to read the whole thing, but specifically focus on the latter parts that were written in the context of the 2008 recession.

  2. I have to agree with the above reply. A free market has the ability to function properly if the members within it have higher ethical standards than there are now. Look to some of the most wealthy free market players, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who create and donate huge sums of money to multiple causes globally. They go one step further by encouraging other wealthy members of society to perform acts of charity, be it physical or monetary.

    The thought of a highly regulated market (e.g. socialism) opens a far murkier ethical door. The government then has control over how much profit a person can make. They hold this as a way to balance the fiscal differences between families. But some families have more children and some have more health problems. Does this, then, give the new government the ability to dictate how many children each family can have and the type of health car they can receive? Under the guise of ‘fairness’ it seems like a possibility. But is all this ethical?

    Finally, lets examine the history of the United States versus nations with more controlled economies. Our nation has grown to be one of the most charitable and giving in history. We send millions of dollars of aid to developing countries each year, both from private donations and government outflows. We do this on top of the aid and donations made to citizens and regions in our own nation that are in need. While I agree that there is a financial problem, both with the financial industry and the government debt, I disagree that more market control is the solution. You say that capitalism is “…devoid of an ethical governor…” but argue that an individual businessman is the most ethical unit in the market. With more control, the decisions are removed from that man and given to the government. Government, I believe, is one of the most unethical entities of the modern era. It is said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once given more power over the market, it brings the government much closer to absolute power, a far cry from “for the people, by the people.”

    1. While in Catholic social teaching government regulation of the economy is not an absolute value, it becomes a strong value when the common good is seriously compromised…

      1. But, would not a forced “charity” be an infringement on our individual freedom of choice (which is so much the battle cry of the progressives). If “freedom” of choice is so important for pro-abortionists, should one not have the choice to use his hard earned money to other worthy causes, as he decides? Does not God want us to freely chose to follow Him, obey His commands? Is He not more fulfilled (not that we can ever DO anything to “fulfill” the Omnipotent!), when we are open to the Spirit, and put into the practice all of the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit? With respect, over-regulation of any market economy, the forced “charity” through taxation, is paramount to the socialism, and the end of the democracy as we know it.
        Perhaps instead of forcing God out of classrooms, which has been the good moral and ethical system for generations, He should be put back in. And, perhaps we will see a positive change in the next generation, instead of the negative free-for-all seen by the contempory generation of the last several decades.

      2. In Roman Catholic social teaching there are many times when from an ethical perspective freedom of choice needs to yield to the common good. What I find ironic is that your remarks are very much a product of the contemporary generation of the last several decades which you see as a “negative free-for all.” You seem to want “freedom of choice” in social ethics because “pro-abortionists” want freedom of choice. This is not an ethical system that I recognize…

      3. Respectfully, I was actually only making a point with the hypocrisy of the progressive agenda in contrast to that of a forced charity, government mandated system. I, by no means, am playing “Scrooge”.
        The more direct point is exactly the free-will (choice). In the OT, were we not more beholding to God’s Law, in a rather draconian way? In the NT, are we not given more of a freedom of choice, and in return receive the benefits from choosing God’s will, in being obedient servants? (I realize this is an over-simplification for brevity’s sake). With charity, does not giving freely, without obligation (while I understand we are called to charity as part of God’s will), in itself create that reciprocal sense communio? Does not Christ teach us that those who store riches here on Earth have received their reward?
        Lastly, what is now considered the “common good”? It used to be a group of people who all needed the same item (i.e. a road); pooled their resources together and built the road for the common and mutual benefit of each other? Build housing and such for the poor, to be charitable, but to help prevent crime, therefore a mutual benefit. So, how exactly is the “common good” served by abortion, alternative lifestyle (choice) “rights”, the progressive agenda being taught in public schools, etc? I would submit they do not.

      4. Charity is not an evangelical counsel and for the baptized the gospel is not optional. You forgot to mention adequate food, shelter, and clothing as elements of the common good. Maybe Gaudium et Spes might also be on your reading list to give you a wider perspective.

    2. The Bill Gates example is used alot because most people forget the amount of wrong that was done by Gate’s MS. A short history lesson will reveal how MS stole many feature, options, code from smaller companies knowing they had the lawyers to fight them off. Many people lost their job due to their actions. Should we also look into how it finally took the combination of a govt intervention AND a longhorn/vista debacle to finally have them loosen thei bullying OEM grip?

      Having worked in the PC industry for a little over 5yrs I got to see first hand the problems MS causes for the entire industry.

      There is also the point of where Gate’s money is going. Much of it is doing good but too much is supporting anti-Catholic /christian issues.

      Overall, I believe the Pope was speaking of Ethical oversight, not financial. I don’t see how the Pople would be in favor of forced income independent of time, effort and hardwork of the worker to acheive their goals using God’s gifts.

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