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.