US Catholics give mixed reaction to Vatican’s economy document
By Carol Zimmermann Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — U.S. Catholics have mixed feelings about the Vatican’s ideas on how to fix today’s troubled global economy.
The proposals, outlined in a document released Oct. 24, include overhauling the world’s financial systems, establishing a global authority to manage the economy and creating a “world reserve fund” to support poor countries.
Catholic reaction to the document was immediate, with critics and supporters of the ideas issuing statements soon after the document was released in several languages including 18 pages of a provisional translation in English.
The text, “Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority,” was prepared by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The document doesn’t entirely break new ground, because much of it reiterates the development of Catholic thought on economic disparity and need to work for the common good. It highlights encyclicals from Pope John XXIII’s 1963 “Pacem in Terris” (“Peace on Earth”) to Pope Benedict’s 2009 “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”). (Provisional English translation)
Almost 50 years ago, Pope John XXIII spoke of the need to develop some type of universal financial authority to address the growing inequality between the world’s rich and poor. And just two years ago, Pope Benedict called for a rethinking of economics guided not simply by profits but by “an ethics which is people-centered.”
Those who disliked the new document and some of the attention it received were quick to point out that it was not officially signed by Pope Benedict and therefore didn’t have the weight of an encyclical.
Others saw it as a direct link to the current frustration about the economy and speculated that it could be a manifesto of sorts for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Voices in between acknowledge that the document is consistent with Catholic social teaching. They also note that even though it raises some of the similar themes of the current protesters — especially the negative impact of excessive greed — it is hardly jumping on the protestors’ bandwagon.
Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, said the document would “resonate well with those in that movement” but wasn’t meant to coincide with the protests, which began Sept. 7.
In an Oct. 25 interview on “Currents,” an online video production of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., he said the Vatican’s document “is part of an unfolding discussion that has existed in the church going back to Pope John XXIII.” He also noted that the document was likely “in print and ready to be published long before the Wall Street movement began.”
John Sniegocki, associate professor of Christian ethics at Xavier University in Cincinnati, told Catholic News Service in an Oct. 27 email that he saw the link between the protesters and the document, not because the protesters “are necessarily knowledgeable about Catholic social teaching — though some certainly are — or that the Vatican has been directly influenced by the Occupy movement, but rather that both take an honest look at the realities of the world and express deep concern at the inequalities and injustices that they see.”
Similarly, Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said in a statement that the Vatican document “resonates poignantly within our world’s current atmosphere of frustration and despair over out-of-control economic forces.”
As he sees it, the council’s document does not simply lament “the moral failing behind the current economic crisis” but instead “charts what might be called a Catholic way forward from the present morass.”
And this move forward, according to the document, should be one that links the Catholic social principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. In other words, it should serve the interests of humanity and the common good but only intervening when local and national efforts have failed.
The wording in the document points to the enormity of this task saying: “A long road still needs to be traveled before arriving at the creation of a public authority with universal jurisdiction.”
And in that same vein, at least one commentary suggests taking a long view of this document as well.
An editorial in the Nov. 6 issue of Our Sunday Visitor notes that “for those Catholics willing to consider this document prayerfully, they will understand that its primary assumption is that every individual and every community shares in and is responsible for promoting the common good.”
“We urge all Catholics to read this document and the related encyclicals on social teaching as they prepare themselves for the election year to come,” it continued. “More importantly, we urge all Catholics to take to heart its concern for the voiceless many who share our planet: the suffering, the forgotten and the powerless.”
Vatican Document calls for global authority to regulate markets
By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A Vatican document called for the gradual creation of a world political authority with broad powers to regulate financial markets and rein in the “inequalities and distortions of capitalist development.”
The document said the current global financial crisis has revealed “selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a great scale.” A supranational authority, it said, is needed to place the common good at the center of international economic activity.
The 41-page text was titled, “Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority.” Prepared by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, it was released Oct. 24 in several languages, including a provisional translation in English. (Provisional English translation)
The document cited the teachings of popes over the last 40 years on the need for a universal public authority that would transcend national interests. The current economic crisis, which has seen growing inequality between the rich and poor of the world, underlines the necessity to take concrete steps toward creating such an authority, it said.
One major step, it said, should be reform of the international monetary system in a way that involves developing countries. The document foresaw creation of a “central world bank” that would regulate the flow of monetary exchanges; it said the International Monetary Fund had lost the ability to control the amount of credit risk taken on by the system.
The document also proposed:
— Taxation measures on financial transactions. Revenues could contribute to the creation of a “world reserve fund” to support the economies of countries his by crisis, it said.
— Forms of recapitalization of banks with public funds that make support conditional on “virtuous” behavior aimed at developing the real economy.
— More effective management of financial shadow markets that are largely uncontrolled today.
Such moves would be designed to make the global economy more responsive to the needs of the person, and less “subordinated to the interests of countries that effectively enjoy a position of economic and financial advantage,” it said.
In making the case for a global authority, the document said the continued model of nationalistic self-interest seemed “anachronistic and surreal” in the age of globalization.
“We should not be afraid to propose new ideas, even if they might destabilize pre-existing balances of power that prevail over the weakest,” it said.
The “new world dynamics,” it said, call for a “gradual, balanced transfer of a part of each nation’s powers to a world authority and to regional authorities.”
“In a world on its way to rapid globalization, the reference to a world authority becomes the only horizon compatible with the new realities of our time and the needs of humankind,” it said. Helping to usher in this new society is a duty for everyone, especially for Christians, it said.
While the Vatican document focused on financial issues, it envisioned a much wider potential role for the global political authority. The agenda also includes peace and security, disarmament and arms control, protection of human rights, and management of migration flows and food security, it said.
Establishing such an authority will be a delicate project and will no doubt come at a cost of “anguish and suffering” as countries give up particular powers, the document said. The authority should be set up gradually, on the basis of wide consultation and international agreements, and never imposed by force or coercion, it said.
The authority should operate on the principle of subsidiarity, intervening “only when individual, social or financial actors are intrinsically deficient in capacity, or cannot manage by themselves to do what is required of them,” it said. Countries’ specific identities would be fully respected, it said.
The authority should transcend special interests, and its decisions “should not be the result of the more developed countries’ excessive power over the weaker countries” or the result of lobbying by nations or groups, it said.
“A long road still needs to be traveled before arriving at the creation of a public authority with universal jurisdiction. It would seem logical for the reform process to proceed with the United Nations as its reference,” it said.
At a news conference Oct. 24, the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, emphasized that the document was “not an expression of papal magisterium,” but instead was an “authoritative note of a Vatican agency,” the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In that sense, he said, it would not be correct to report that “Pope Benedict says” what’s in the document, he said.
The document did make a point of quoting from the teachings of several popes, however, including those of Pope Benedict XVI, who in his 2009 encyclical “Charity in Truth” (“Caritas in Veritate”) said there was “an urgent need of a true world political authority” that could give poorer nations a bigger voice in financial decision-making.
The document also cited Blessed John Paul II’s 1991 warning of the risk of an “idolatry of the market” in the wake of the failure of European communism. Today his warning “needs to be heeded without delay,” it said.
In fact, it said, the primary cause of the current global crisis has been “an economic liberalism that spurns rules and controls” and that relies solely on the laws of the market.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the justice and peace council, said the Vatican document could be a useful contribution to the G-20 summit in France Nov. 3-4, which is looking to reform the international monetary system and strengthen financial regulatory measures.
The document noted that the G-20 includes developing countries and said this represented progress from the time when there was just a G-7, a group of seven industrialized countries that shaped economic policies.
In general, over the last 30 years there was a tendency to define the strategic directions of economic policy “in terms of ‘clubs’ and of smaller and larger groups of more developed countries,” it said. While this approach had some positive aspects, it appeared to leave out the emerging countries, it said.
PHOTO: Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, holds up a Vatican document on global finance at the start of a Vatican press conference on the document Oct. 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)