Saturday, November 30, 2013

Understanding Papal Pronouncements on Economics

I have blogged at some length before about the rich theology and philosophy found in Papal encyclicals from several popes going back to the 1800s on economics. I blogged about this at some length back in July if you want links to all the interesting encyclicals.

Pope Francis, whose every pronouncement seems to come as both great hope and consternation to media talking heads everywhere, recently released a new document entitled Evangelii Gaudium.  This made the media elite go all a twitter (pun intended), and, of course, they immediately found the political snippets in it instead of reading it in its entirety and putting it into context. I cannot fathom what they teach in Journalism schools anymore, but it is obviously not "get the facts" or how to answer the basic "Who, what, when, where, and why?" I try to hope that at least maybe I can find that in journalism because any attempt at objectivity and journalistic integrity are a complete pipe dream these days.

The title of the Papal document means in English, "The Joy of the Gospel." Ironically, no one in the media seemed to be able to grasp that very simple theme.  In all the secular media accounts I have read about this document, I have found none that use the words "Joy" or "Gospel" in any summaries of the document. In fact, the vast majority of the document has nothing at all to do with economics at all but has to do with Evangelization that stems from the Good News of the Message of Jesus Christ, of which a part has to do with economic justice. I did find a few articles that referenced the "New Evangelization" that both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have been pushing, though I have found no article from the secular press that bothered to explain what that was exactly.

Most of the articles I have found seemed to immediately try to stir up controversy. My favorite headlines were: "Sarah Palin thinks new Pope is too liberal" and "Liberals cheer Pope's new attack on Capitalism." This one from the BBC is hysterical. I won't comment on Palin but I will comment on the charge that the Pope attacked Capitalism.

First of all, Catholic theology envisions a middle ground in economic theory where, as Pope John Paul II said, "Any economic system that does not serve man is an unjust system." in other words, any system that denies human dignity and prevents people from being free to find and develop their gifts in order to live out their vocation as children of God is an unjust system. This is an indictment against capitalism, socialism, and communism because all three forms ultimately end up denying those basic freedoms. The media and even most American Catholics fail to understand that Papal teaching on this subject is not endorsing one system or another. Americans view the economic world as very black and white: either capitalism (often laissez faire capitalism) or socialism/communism. Thus, when Papal documents start talking about the inherent unfairness of any particular system, they immediately assume the Pope is endorsing the other system. This is not true at all. Papal teachings on economics look toward the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Man. (I have blogged on this a number of times under my Healthcare posts last summer.)

I could go on here, but I found an excellent little article by Fr. John Trigilio that explains very well what the Pope was up to in that section of his current encyclical. Do note that he makes the point that the Pope was attacking consumerism not capitalism per se. Also note how he correctly relates how the Church (not secular government) created many of the social core institutions that we take for granted today like hospitals, equitable poor laws, etc. Whatever the New Atheists want to tell you, the Church, even with its historical warts, has much to be proud of in its history.


Matthew M said...

I fear this pope looks at things from a Latin American perspective and assumes the rest of the free capitalist world is just like that. So far everything he has said at first go has sounded ominous and evil then he has to backtrack and clarify and then there is a sigh of relief.He just doesn't seem to understand what really goes on the real world. Sorry, I just don't see this pope as a good thing yet. Hope I'm proven wrong but I fear for the Church.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Well, show me anywhere when he has said something that contravenes the teachings of the catechism. The Trad Catholic crowd hate the guy, but I think its a good thing to have a pope from the 3rd World because that's where Christianity is actually growing and/or thriving.

The Archer of the Forest said...

There is a good review here from the National Review of all places: