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By Deacon Keith Fournier

5/18/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

The West, with all of its promise of freedom, flirts with an instrumentalist materialism devoid of any understanding that the market was made for man not man for the market

The Church's social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and not only outside it or after it. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner."


By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (

5/18/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in Europe

Keywords: Pope Francis, Pope benedict, Pope John Paul, economy of communion, solidarity, capitalism, distributivism, subsidiarity, economic theory, catholic economics, market economy, catholics and capitalsim, Deacon Keith Fournier

VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - On Thursday, My 16, 2013, Pope Francis received four new ambassadors to the Holy See and accepted their credentials. As has been the custom of his predecessors, he used the moment to give address matters of international importance.

He signaled his intention to challenge the very foundations of economic theory itself by reasserting the Catholic contribution that the economy was made for man and not the other way around. His predecessor, Pope Benedict, in his 2009 letter Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate) offered seeds for building an economy of communion and gift.

In reading the address of Pope Francis I once was again convinced of the continuity in the election of Francis to succeed Benedict.  The Church calls us to a preferential option or, I prefer, a love of preference for the poor; the kind of love which the Lord Himself shows in his very identification with the poor.

The implications of our response to this command are expounded upon in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of St Matthew. This means a demonstrated concern for their well being and the development of a social and economic order which includes them within its embrace and promise of advancement. This is why the Church upholds the dignity of all human work and the basic right to a living, just or family wage.

In recent encyclicals and magisterial teaching the market economy has been recognized as having a real potential for promoting all of these goods - when properly understood and morally structured. However, the Catholic Church does not take a position on which economic theory is the best among many.

She properly and prophetically stood against the materialism of the atheistic Marxist system.  She has also properly and prophetically cautions Nations which have adopted a form of liberal capitalism that there are dangers in any form of economism or materialism which promotes the use of persons as products and fails to recognize the value of being over acquiring.

She reminds our consumerist western culture that the market economy must be at the service the person, the family and the common good, lest capitalism conflate its claims to offering freedom and become what Blessed John Paul II once referred to as 'savage' in its application and encourage business practices devolving into greed.

The Church also warns against and rejects collectivism, whether of the left or the right.

The Church's social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and not only outside it or after it. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner."

Contrary to what some wrote after that letter was published, it neither endorsed nor rejected capitalism. As the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church consistently has done in the past it simply does not use the term, preferring the term market economy or free economy. That is because the market is made for man and not man for the market. Freedom is a good of the person and a free market must be one which is moral.

Markets can only be free when free people are engaged in them. Freedom is a good of the person. A free economy should also seek to continually expand by opening the way for the participation for as many people as possible, while promoting enterprise and initiative.

Also, though we are to give a love of preference to the poor, recognizing our solidarity with them, this call to solidarity is to be applied through the application of the principle of subsidiarity, rejecting all forms of dehumanizing collectivism, either of the left or the right.

Subsidiarity in both governance and economic participation rejects the usurping by a larger entity of participation which can be done at the lowest practicable level.  

The West, with all of its promise of freedom, flirts with an instrumentalist materialism devoid of any understanding that the market was made for man not man for the market. In this kind of mistaken approach to a free market economic order the accumulation of capital can come to be viewed as prior to the flourishing of the person, the family and the common good. In its wake, the poor can be forgotten and peace threatened.

The market economy can be a force for good when humanized and expanded to offer participation to more and more men and women. How to do that will require the work of Catholic economists who seek to knead the principles of the Social teaching of the Catholic Church into their work and not try to "baptize" their pet economic theories with proof texts.

Here are some of the words of Pope Francis:

Pope Francis to Ambassadors

Ladies and Gentlemen, our human family is presently experiencing something of a turning point in its own history, if we consider the advances made in various areas. We can only praise the positive achievements which contribute to the authentic welfare of mankind, in fields such as those of health, education and communications.

At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences. Certain pathologies are increasing, with their psychological consequences; fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident.

People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way. One cause of this situation, in my opinion, is in our relationship with money, and our acceptance of its power over ourselves - and our society. Consequently the financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis.
In the denial of the primacy of human beings! We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old (cf. Ex 32:15-34) has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.

The worldwide financial and economic crisis seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces man to one of his needs alone, namely, consumption.

Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have begun a throw away culture. This tendency is seen on the level of individuals and whole societies; and it is being promoted! In circumstances like these, solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance and the economy.

While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.

A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules. Moreover, indebtedness and credit distance countries from their real economy and citizens from their real buying power. Added to this, as if it were needed, is widespread corruption and selfish fiscal evasion which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The will to power and of possession has become limitless.

Concealed behind this attitude is a rejection of ethics, a rejection of God. Ethics, like solidarity, is a nuisance! It is regarded as counterproductive: as something too human, because it relativizes money and power; as a threat, because it rejects manipulation and subjection of people: because ethics leads to God, who is situated outside the categories of the market.

These financiers, economists and politicians consider God to be unmanageable, unmanageable even dangerous, because he calls man to his full realization and to independence from any kind of slavery. Ethics - naturally, not the ethics of ideology - makes it possible, in my view, to create a balanced social order that is more humane.

In this sense, I encourage the financial experts and the political leaders of your countries to consider the words of Saint John Chrysostom: "Not to share one's goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs" (Homily on Lazarus, 1:6 - PG 48, 992D).

Dear Ambassadors, there is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. This would nevertheless require a courageous change of attitude on the part of political leaders.

I urge them to face this challenge with determination and farsightedness, taking account, naturally, of their particular situations. Money has to serve, not to rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but the Pope has the duty, in Christ's name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them. The Pope appeals for disinterested solidarity and for a return to person-centred ethics in the world of finance and economics.

For her part, the Church always works for the integral development of every person. In this sense, she reiterates that the common good should not be simply an extra, simply a conceptual scheme of inferior quality tacked onto political programs.

The Church encourages those in power to be truly at the service of the common good of their peoples. She urges financial leaders to take account of ethics and solidarity. And why should they not turn to God to draw inspiration from his designs?

In this way, a new political and economic mindset would arise that would help to transform the absolute dichotomy between the economic and social spheres into a healthy symbiosis.


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