Why Americans Should Pay Attention to the Vatican’s New Economic Document

NCR has some outstanding coverage of the new Vatican document “Considerations for an Ethical Discernment Regarding Some Aspects of the Present Economic-Financial System.” Here are three thoughtful op-eds to check out from their site:

Stephen Schneck writes:

The Vatican’s economic document does not disappoint. It calls into question the failure of regulators to address the moral lapses behind the Great Recession. It confronts the false anthropology and disregard for the common good that corrupt the market ideologies so dominant in our current economies. It proposes practical reforms for the banking industry, the bond market, sovereign debt repayment, and even computerized trading. It reminds consumers that they are not simply passive agents in the global economy but bear real moral responsibility for the market forces generated by their purchases. And, it is on the whole a sharp and pointed rebuke not just to the excesses of the “free” market but to the moral error regarding the conception of liberty in competition that is too often lodged in its foundation.

That said, with due respect, I had hoped for more….

First, it is unfortunate that the argument does little to address how uncritical engagement in market activity alters the way we think, the values we hold, the way we look at others, our conception of our place in the world, our understanding of the purpose for human life and so much more….

Second, it is also unfortunate that the Oeconomicae focuses so narrowly on the economic market and neglects how market-like processes are structurally ubiquitous everywhere in our age.

MSW writes:

We in the U.S. also live at a time when the political right remains organized fundamentally around a naive belief that pristine, unregulated markets yield the best results. The Republican Congress has not accomplished much, but it passed a huge tax cut, and the administration is deregulating whole sectors the economy as fast as it can. The Vatican’s economic document instead insists that “it is clear that markets, as powerful propellers of the economy, are not capable of governing themselves. In fact, the markets know neither how to make the assumptions that allow their smooth running (social coexistence, honesty, trust, safety and security, laws, and so on) nor how to correct those effects and forces that are harmful to human society (inequality, asymmetries, environmental damage, social insecurity, and fraud).”…

Since this document comes in part from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, there is no more hiding behind the false right-wing talking point that some issues, like abortion or same-sex marriage, involve irreformable doctrine while economic matters are the stuff of prudential judgment and we can all pretty much think what we wish. No. Economic matters involve very core doctrines of the faith as well.

Eric LeCompte writes:

The technical language of finance can feel complicated, but its use demonstrates that this document is seeking to engage with actual policies — the policies debated at U.S. Congress, United Nations, International Monetary Fund and summit meetings. These economic policies impact our lives almost as much as the oxygen we breathe, and yet too often, because of the jargon, we leave these conversations to lawyers, economists and investors.

The Vatican’s document lifts the reality that God has given us a rich and abundant world so each of us can reach our full potential and that we are closest to the Creator when we share these resources among us….

In terms of funding the development of each human person and addressing global inequality, the Vatican takes aim at the ethical considerations around taxation, tax havens, tax avoidance and corruption. The document asserts the needs of states to collect adequate taxes to meet the needs of their people. The Holy See heightens and more profoundly explores its concerns around tax havens or “offshoring.” Annually, the developing world loses a trillion dollars because of tax evasion and corruption. The church is highlighting these concerns as the G-7, G-20, the U.N. and the IMF are reviewing solutions for these revenue drains on the developing world. These issues are being raised as Europe moves forward stronger guidelines to prevent tax evasion and corruption and as Congress considers the Corporate Transparency Act.



Vatican Critiques Free Market Ideology, Calls for New Forms of Economy and Finance

Here are some highlights from the new Vatican document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development,“Considerations for an Ethical Discernment Regarding Some Aspects of the Present Economic-Financial System”:

  1. What is needed, on the one hand, is an appropriate regulation of the dynamics of the markets and, on the other hand, a clear ethical foundation that assures a well-being realized through the quality of human relationships rather than merely through economic mechanisms that by themselves cannot attain it. (1)
  2. Love for the integral good, inseparable from love for the truth, is the key to authentic development. (2)
  3. The recent financial crisis might have provided the occasion to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and a new regulation of financial activities that would neutralise predatory and speculative tendencies and acknowledge the value of the actual economy. Although there have been many positive efforts at various levels which should be recognized and appreciated, there does not seem to be any inclination to rethink the obsolete criteria that continue to govern the world. On the contrary, the response seems at times like a return to the heights of myopic egoism, limited by an inadequate framework that, excluding the common good, also excludes from its horizons the concern to create and spread wealth, and to eliminate the inequality so pronounced today. (5)
  4. At stake is the authentic well-being of a majority of the men and women of our planet who are at risk of being “excluded and marginalized” from development and true well-being while a minority, indifferent to the condition of the majority, exploits and reserves for itself substantial resources and wealth….For this reason, the competent and responsible agents have the duty to develop new forms of economy and of finance, with rules and regulations directed towards the enlargement of the common good and respect for human dignity along the lines indicated by the social teachings of the Church. (6)
  5. Well-being must therefore be measured by criteria far more comprehensive than the Gross Domestic Product of a nation (GDP), and must take into account instead other standards, for example, safety and security, the growth of “human capital”, the quality of human relationships and of work. Profit should be pursued but not “at any cost”, nor as a totalizing objective for economic action. (11)
  6. Economic activity cannot be sustained in the long run where freedom of initiative cannot thrive. It is also obvious today that the freedom enjoyed by the economic stakeholders, if it is understood as absolute in itself, and removed from its intrinsic reference to the true and the good, creates centers of power that incline towards forms of oligarchy and in the end undermine the very efficiency of the economic system. (12)
  7. It is clear that markets, as powerful propellers of the economy, are not capable of governing themselves. In fact, the markets know neither how to make the assumptions that allow their smooth running (social coexistence, honesty, trust, safety and security, laws, and so on) nor how to correct those effects and forces that are harmful to human society (inequality, asymmetries, environmental damage, social insecurity, and fraud). (13)
  8. Precisely in this inversion of the order between means and ends, where work as a good becomes an “instrument,” and money an “end”, the reckless and amoral “culture of waste” finds a fertile ground. It has marginalized great masses of the world’s population, deprived them of decent labor, and left them “without possibilities, without any means of escape” (15)
  9. It is clear that applying excessively high interest rates, really beyond the range of the borrowers of funds, represents a transaction not only ethically illegitimate, but also harmful to the health of the economic system. As always, such practices, along with usurious activities, have been recognized by human conscience as iniquitous and by the economic system as contrary to its good functioning. (16)
  10. Experience and evidence over the last decades has demonstrated, on the one hand, how naive is the belief in a presumed self-sufficiency of the markets, independent of any ethics, and on the other hand, the compelling necessity of an appropriate regulation that at the same time unites the freedom and protection of every person and operates to create healthy and proper interactions, especially with regards to the more vulnerable. (21)
  11. In order to function well, the market needs anthropological and ethical prerequisites that it is neither capable of giving for itself, nor producing on its own. (23)
  12. In fact, an imposition of the taxes, when it is equal, performs a fundamental function of equalization and redistribution of the wealth not only in favor of those who need appropriate subsidies, but it also supports the investments and the growth of the actual economy…. Tax avoidance on the part of primary stakeholders, those large financial intermediaries, who move in the market, indicate an unjust removal of resources from the actual economy, and this is damaging for the civil society as a whole. (31)
  13. It is necessary to train ourselves to make the choice for those goods on whose shoulders lies a journey worthy from the ethical point of view, because also through the gesture, apparently banal, of consumption, we actually express an ethics and are called to take a stand in front of what is good or bad for the actual human person…. They must also have the same considerations towards the management of their savings, for instance, directing them towards those enterprises that operate with clear criteria inspired by an ethics respectful of the entire human person, and of every particular person, within the horizon of social responsibility. Furthermore, in general, each one is called to cultivate procedures of producing wealth that may be consistent with our relational nature and tend towards an integral development of the human person. (33)

Gay Man Says Pope Told Him: ‘God Made You This Way and Loves You This Way’

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via NY Times:

A Chilean survivor of clerical sex abuse has said that Pope Francis told him in a private meeting this month that God had made him gay and that both God and the pontiff loved him that way, a remarkable expression of inclusion for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.

“He said to me, ‘Juan Carlos that’s not a problem,’ ” said Juan Carlos Cruz, the abuse survivor, describing having told the pope he was gay in a long meeting in the Vatican. “You have to be happy with who you are. God made you this way and loves you this way, and the pope loves you this way.”

The Vatican declined to comment on the pope’s private remarks.

Mr. Cruz had already said that Francis had apologized in the meeting for the large-scale sexual abuse scandal involving Chilean clergy members, but over the weekend, he also told the Spanish newspaper El País about the pope’s remarks about his homosexuality. In a separate interview Sunday night, Mr. Cruz, through tears, explained that he had told Francis in their nearly three-hour private meeting that he had maintained his Catholic faith even though Chilean bishops had apparently told the pope that he had left the church “for a life of perversion.”


Why Catholics Care About Economic Justice

In a new Vatican document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (“Considerations for an Ethical Discernment Regarding Some Aspects of the Present Economic-Financial System”), which was approved by Pope Francis, one section explains how the Church’s understanding of the social nature of the human person provides the foundation for the Church’s commitment to economic justice.

The document locates a key underlying source of economic injustice: “our contemporary age has shown itself to have a limited vision of the human person, as the person is understood individualistically and predominantly as a consumer” (9).

Catholic teaching rejects this extreme individualism, recognizing that human persons are social by nature:

Every person is born within a familial environment, enjoying a set of pre-existing relationships without which life would be impossible. The human person develops through the stages of life thanks to pre-existing bonds that actualize one’s being in the world as freedom continuously shared. These are the original bonds that define the human person as a relational being who lives in what Christian Revelation calls “communion”. (10)

This personalist understanding of the person and freedom offers a clear alternative to the extreme individualism of our age. It also provides the baseline for the Catholic understanding of human flourishing and ethics:

This original nature of communion, while revealing in every human person a trace of the affinity with God who creates and calls one into a relationship with himself, is also that which naturally orients the person to the life of communion, the fundamental place for one’s fulfillment. One’s own recognition of this character, as an original and constitutive element of our human identity, allows us to look at others not primarily as potential competitors, but rather as possible allies, in the construction of the good that is authentic only if it is concerned about each and every person simultaneously. (10)

The centrality of the quest for communion leads to a communitarian approach in pursuing social and economic justice that aims at fostering the global common good:

Such relational anthropology helps the human person to recognize the validity of economic strategies that aim above all to promote the global quality of life that, before the indiscriminate expansion of profits, leads the way toward the integral well-being of the entire person and of every person. No profit is in fact legitimate when it falls short of the objective of the integral promotion of the human person, the universal destination of goods, and the preferential option for the poor. These are three principles that imply and necessarily point to one another, with a view to the construction of a world that is more equitable and united. (10)

Markets, therefore, do not create morality, but must be properly ordered and utilized to promote higher principles of justice that directly flow from the Christian understanding of the human person:

For this reason, progress within an economic system cannot measured only by quantitative and profit-driven standards, but also on the basis of the well-being that extends a good that is not simply material. Every economic system is legitimate if it thrives not merely through the quantitative development of exchange but rather by its capacity to promote the development of the entire person and of every person. (10)


Pope Francis: The Church is Not the Possession of a Select Few

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In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis writes:

Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the worship of the human will and their own abilities. The result is a self-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love. This finds expression in a variety of apparently unconnected ways of thinking and acting: an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help and personal fulfilment. Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the lost among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ. (57)

Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour. (58)


Don’t Bring Back the Death Penalty, Illinois

Illinois governor Bruce Rauner called for the reinstatement of the death penalty yesterday. The Catholic Conference of Illinois released the following statement in response:

We are distressed and alarmed by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s call for the reinstatement of the death penalty in any way, shape or form. His call to put to death individuals convicted of mass shootings or the fatal shooting of a law enforcement officer under proof of “beyond all doubt” instead of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is simply parsing words. You cannot teach killing is wrong by killing. We are all God’s children, and our first – and primary – right to life must always be protected and unconditional.