Pope’s Delayed Message on Greed

THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW By Thomas J. Reese, S.J. A new encyclical on Catholic social teaching will soon be released as … Continued

THIS CATHOLIC’S VIEW

By Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

A new encyclical on Catholic social teaching will soon be released as Pope Benedict’s response to the current economic crisis. The encyclical, “Caritas in veritate” (Charity in Truth), has been in preparation for more than two years, but was delayed because the pope wanted it updated to respond to the world financial crisis. It could be published as early as June 29 if the various translations are finished.

Conservatives will be shocked and disappointed by the encyclical, which will reflect Benedict’s skepticism toward unbridled capitalism based on greed.

Back in February, he said, “It is the Church’s duty to denounce the fundamental errors that have now been revealed in the collapse of the major American banks. Human greed is a form of idolatry that is against the true God, and is a falsification of the image of God with another god, Mammon.”

Unlike President Obama who wants to reform a system that he believes is out of control, Pope Benedict wants to rethink the whole system. As he said earlier this month, “The financial and economic crisis clearly shows that certain economic-financial paradigms that have been dominant in the past years must be rethought.”

This is good news for liberals who thought Benedict’s first encyclical “Deus caritas est” (God is love) was too heavy on personal responsibility and not heavy enough on social change. But it is bad news for conservatives. If they think that Obama is a socialist, what will they think of Benedict after the encyclical? Will they write him off as the product of “old Europe”?

The pope has given hints about the content of the encyclical. It will be heavy on concern for the poor, especially those in the Third World who are not responsible for the crisis but are unduly suffering from it. Undoubtedly it will also develop the pope’s concern about the environment. As he has already said, “Starvation and ecological emergencies stand to denounce, with increasing evidence, that the logic of profit, if it prevails, increases the disproportion between rich and poor and leads to a ruinous exploitation of the planet.”

Although we have to wait for the actual text of the encyclical, there are a number of points that are already evident from what Benedict has said and written on the economy:

Continuity of Benedict’s thought with the teaching of earlier popes will be evident. Rather than rejecting the progressive social teachings of his predecessors, Benedict will show himself to be the left of most Americans including President Obama.

• The Theology underpinning Catholic social teaching will be an important part of the encyclical. Economic policy is not measured by dollars and cents but by whether it enhances the dignity of the human person and reflects God’s commandment of love. Love is the measure of justice.

• Being a voice for the Third World is seen by Benedict as an essential part of his ministry. As he has already said, “We cannot remain passive before certain processes of globalization which not infrequently increase the gap between rich and poor worldwide. We must denounce those who squander the earth’s riches, provoking inequalities that cry out to heaven.”

Skepticism toward capitalism and the market will permeate the encyclical. Absolute faith in the market is seen by Benedict as a form of idolatry. The need for government regulation of the economy is a given.

• The Common Good and impact on the poor are the yardsticks by which the economy should be measured.

The pope will also have very negative things to say about war. As he has said before, “Violence, of whatever sort, cannot be a way of resolving conflicts. It mortgages the future severely and does not respect either persons or peoples.” Like John Paul, he opposed both wars in Iraq. He also wants to see swords turned into plowshares. “[L]ess than half of the immense sums spent worldwide on armaments would be more than sufficient to liberate the immense masses of the poor from destitution. This challenges humanity’s conscience.”

He will also have very positive things to say about the United Nations and multilateralism even if it means limits on national sovereignty.

Needless to say, Benedict is neither an economist nor a policy wonk. He will present sweeping goals and the values that should guide experts, but his prescriptions will lack the specificity of legislative programs. This is as it should be since he believes it is the vocation of the laity to implement Catholic social teaching.

Benedict also fears church involvement in the political arena where he believes the temptation to partisanship is too great. Some believe that he is suspicious of mass movements and revolution because of his experience with Nazism and the student upheavals of the 1960′s. He will call elites to conversion, but he will not call the people into the streets. While his goals are revolutionary, his politics are quite conservative. He could not lead a Solidarity movement as John Paul did in Poland or as Cardinal Sin did in the Philippines.

Ultimately, while Benedict sees working for the improvement of humanity as essential to the Christian vocation, he does not believe that we can build the kingdom of God on earth. Only God can do that. Sin will corrupt every human endeavor, which is why the church should never lose sight of it core mission of evangelization and calling individuals to conversion. He felt that liberation theology missed this point, although its proponents would disagree.

How Benedict balances personal conversion with working for social change will be one of the things for which theologians will be watching in the encyclical. The Gospels call for both, but which is emphasized can make a big difference on where the church is in people’s lives.

By Thomas J. Reese | 
June 23, 2009; 9:06 AM ET

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  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    He felt that liberation theology missed this point, although its proponents would disagree. The Church could certainly contribute to the demise of human suffering by ending its opposition to birth control in third-world countries. It could also use the massive fund-raising capacity it demonstrated in the wake of pedophile priest scandals to feed the poor, keep churches open, offer scholarships to those who can’t afford the cost of parochial school education.Liberation theology? My father was twenty minutes away from the site where Oscar Romero, of blessed memory, was slaughtered. Liberation. Theology.

  • usapdx

    WHAT HAPPENED TO THOW SHALL NOT COVET THY NEIGHBORS GOODS? WHY ARE SO MANY RELIGIOUS IN USA REPUBLICANS? WHY DO THOES THAT BRAKE THE TAX EXAMPT RULES IN THE USA FILE TAX EXAMPT INSTEAD OF PAYING THE JUST TAX? WHAT SYSTEM OF ECONMICS DOES THE POPE WANT?

  • trammatic

    It’s unfortunate how policised Catholicism has become, partially because of the two-party system in the US. I am a practicing Catholic and find no comfort in either political party. I have either respect for life on the right or the preferential option for the poor on the left, but no place with both. On some issues I’m more conservative than most; on others more liberal. This is evident in near-down-the-middle split of the Catholic voting block.I pray that Pres. Obama correct the errors of Bush administration and that the subsequent president will correct the errors of the Obama administration. But here in America, at least, that encyclical will be worthless.

  • ccnl1

    “It is the Church’s duty to denounce the fundamental errors” so says B16.Hopefully, B16 will someday utter the following words in order to fulfill that duty-Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a mamzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). Analyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, On Faith panelists) via the NT and related documents have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus’ sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects. The 30% of the NT that is “authentic Jesus” like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus’ case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics. Current crises:Pedophiliac priests, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

  • Athena4

    For starters, how about selling off a lot of the amassed weath of the Vatican? Gold, silver, Renaissance art, etc. Even B16′s Prada robes could be sold to help the poor. The Vatican should lead by example. Then again, they never have.

  • ccnl1

    Hmmm, now if B16 really wanted to increase the coffers of the Vatican, he should reinstitute the sales of indulgences with the added incentive of spells and curses on those we like (or dislike).

  • ThomasBaum

    Does anyone know the difference between child-like and childish?Someone once said, “Look at the beam in your own eye before you try to extract the splinter in your brother’s eye”, sound familiar?Someone also said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, has anyone out there ever wondered why?All that one can do is the best that they can do, kind of sad when the best that some seem to be able to do is to point out the failures or shortcomings of others, don’t you think?See you all in the Kingdom.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • zjr78xva

    “Absolute faith in the market is seen by Benedict as a form of idolatry. The need for government regulation of the economy is a given.”This is a simplistic formulation. No one has “absolute” faith in anything, nor does anyone advocate zero regulation.As always, the issue is finding the best balance between liberty and security. Human dignity demands both. To the extent that excessive meddling by political hacks and bureaucrats limits our liberty and creativity, it is counter to human dignity.

  • affirmativeactionpresident

    The pope surounded by billions of $$$ and this idiot with an agenda stating that all capitalism is greed. Shame on you you stinking skunk oil salesman. Go find a young boy, steal 20-30% of the $ from your flock to support your sham crooked church with it’s hundreds upon hundreds of year history of murder, torture and cruelity.

  • csintala79

    How ironic, the Christian right, non-Catholic, sees the papacy as an ally in their right to life fight, but froths at the mouth when the Pope criticizes capitalism. Christ had a lot to say about greed, avarice, etc., none of it positive. For over a millennia the church restricted usury and money lending, setting a very low limit on the allowed rate of return. The church was opposed to speculation. Benedict is just reasserting a long held doctrine against unbridled greed. Interestingly this same say we hear that CITI is going to double the salary of many of its employees, and this during a period when it is questionable whether we have seen the worst economically. Also it is determined that the rising price of gas at the pump has nothing to do with increased demand; rather, is the result of speculators betting on a recovery, which shows their lack of foresight as this could put a damper on a recovery. Everyone is being rather disingenuous about attributing blame for the failure of the world economy; it can be directly laid at the door of do nothings who make money by shuffling paper back and forth. One would have to add a category for purveyors of frivolity for the obscene pay checks for entertainment and sports celebrities. All the while, the wages and salaries of those who do something positive for society slip lower and lower. While those in the financial, sports and entertainment industries pull in hundreds of thousands and millions, conservative pundits begrudge autoworkers for making $50/hr., including the cost of their and retirees benefits. We are continuing the massive shift of income from the productive sector of the economy to the effete and frivolous. One day we will wake up to the realization that we can’t feed ourselves on dreams and schemes.

  • kengelhart

    I would never become a Catholic, but the Pope is saying things recently that I like to hear and I respect him more for saying. I hope that more than just Catholics are listening.

  • Regeman

    43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”Mark 12American’s need to remember this when they brag that they give more than any other nation.

  • DoTheRightThing

    Instead of taking Reese’s word for it, I’ll wait for the encyclical. And since the socialist “Community Re-Investment Act” is what caused the financial meltdown, it’s clear that socialism is not an engine able to produce the financial wealth necessary to support poor people. Instead, what’s really needed is demonstration by each “Christian” of his faith by his contributions to charities that really do help the poor (not ACORN, etc. only interested in promoting socialism/communism and destroying capitalism.) Government-based socialism IS tyranny, and can be opposed by conscientious Catholics in good standing.

  • Garak

    I’m an atheist, but I agree wholeheartedly with the Pope on this issue. Funny how atheists, agnostics, Catholics, Protestants (other than evangelical fundamentalist Bible thumpers) and Muslims agree on this.I can’t wait for the Club For Growth to run ads calling Benedict a CINO–Catholic In Name Only.

  • sathompsonjr

    Call me silly…but I just can’t accept the prospect of taking a lesson in economics and finance from the church

  • aries4

    “For starters, how about selling off a lot of the amassed weath of the Vatican? Gold, silver, Renaissance art, etc. Even B16′s Prada robes could be sold to help the poor. The Vatican should lead by example. Then again, they never have.”Nobody on the planet has that kind of money and much of the collections were created for the glory of God and man as well. So exactly who would buy it?The idea of Rubens, Michaelangelo and Raphael ending up in some place like one of those Falwell,Osteen, Robertson Six flags over Jesus places is really scary.Let’s face it: they have little or no taste in religious art. If they did, their churches would not look like basket ball arenas or football stadiums.

  • chatard

    SEE! SEE! Even the Pope says Communism is good! This is what Meacham and Quinn and Reese and the Post have been trying to get across to all you so-called Christians all along! Capitalism is evil! The United Nations is great! Nationalism (America) is bad!

  • jmcauli1

    Gloria Olivae awakens to his mission.

  • spidermean2

    Garak wrote “I’m an atheist, but I agree wholeheartedly with the Pope on this issue. Funny how atheists, agnostics, Catholics, Protestants (other than evangelical fundamentalist Bible thumpers) and Muslims agree on this.”You’ve just named all the false religions including atheism. In time, you folks will all gather together and be collectively called the anti-Christ. Doomsday is coming.

  • Chops2

    So the Popes an economist now is he? Is there anything this man can’t do (except stop his representatives from molesting kids)?Spidey:Atheism isn’t a religion. Thats the point of it. Dont be disingenuous.Secondly, why does god tell those in the “false religions” that they are correct in their beliefs? Is he lying to u, them and everyone? Why would he do so?U all can’t be right. May I suggest none of you are and there is no god.Also, can we make a bet: if doomsday hasnt come in 1 year to this day, will u admit you r mistaken? If one year is not enough time, please state how long u want.I will have the intellectual honesty to admit I am wrong when I see it. Will you if it doesn’t happen?

  • spidermean2

    The poorest countries on earth are usually Catholic. The Vatican speaking for the poor is ALL HYPOCRISY. Corruption in these countries are so rampant and it’s been that way for centuries already.This is all talk but no substance. In some places around the world, they build chapels on places which are reserved for playground. This is tantamount to stealing on other people’s land rights. It is unlawful but their attitude is “who cares? We don’t follow man’s laws”. Catholics become corrupt because they see their priests as their guiding example. The French Revolution stripped them of everything they stole.

  • spidermean2

    Chops2, I can only speculate. When America meet its worthy opponent/s, you can start the countdown.

  • spidermean2

    Chops2 wrote “Secondly, why does god tell those in the “false religions” that they are correct in their beliefs?”Actually he does. It’s all in the Bible. They just don’t listen coz as what Jesus said, they follow their father which is the devil.

  • whocares666

    Greed… look in the mirror.

  • flyersout

    God bless THE POPE, This time he

  • BobThompson

    What Chatard said. And I note two important omissions in the Pope’s thinking. He never mentions the individual and concepts of liberty and responsibility that are pillars of the American experience and I see no recognition that the engine of free market capitalism is the very thing that has raised most of the world from extreme poverty (except,of course, where the Catholic Church is the dominant social force). The Pope needs to rethink how to help the poor.

  • Frank57

    LOL Ain’t that a kick! The Poop himself getting all down and back of the bus for us poor humans…A Godly maneuver? I smell a rat…Well, I’d like to thank him personally for thinking about all us poor peasants, but I refuse to kiss his hand — just ONE of the rings on those ‘holy’ fingers could feed a remote, disease-riddled village in Haiti for at least a year……but hey, it’s the *thought* that counts, right? lol.

  • liveandlove

    iNTERESTING.

  • usapdx

    THAT PART ” BENEDICT ALSO FEARS CHURCH INVOLVEMENT IN THE POLITICAL ARENA” AND JUST WHO WROTE THE MEMO TO THE WASHINGTON D.C. CARDINAL ON ” DON’T GIVE COMMUNION TO KERRY” THAT TO HELP GET BUSH ELECTED ON HIS SECOND TERM? IT WAS POPE BENEDICT FROM HIS OLD OFFICE IN THE VATICAN BEFORE HE WAS POPE!

  • renkent777

    God is shattering the false truths that clever men established into society and exposing the truths of what his will is.This is the age of awareness of ignorance and anger . God will remove power from those who seek it for their own…Learn from it wisely ..Soon he will raise his wise men in his light to show wisdom and light to all and shine the pathway of truth to his will and to the wonderful heart of God…Love and Mercy is the gift of God so children think what you do and know God Loves you..If you do not like where you are in life..its because you dont see that your a beautiful child of God..Soceity created your ego..God created a wonderful beautiful child who is ALWAYS there for you! Ask him from your heart so show you his Love…and you will see it and feel it! Go back to when you were a child and do you remember how you felt the beauty when you saw the stars at night..Do you remember the feelings you had? it is still there awaiting for your eyes to feel again that beauty. So Rejoice to show our Love to our Creator and Our Father in Heaven!GodBless you ALL

  • PSolus

    “Does anyone know the difference between child-like and childish?”Yes–I do.”Someone once said, “Look at the beam in your own eye before you try to extract the splinter in your brother’s eye”, sound familiar?”Not at all.”Someone also said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, has anyone out there ever wondered why?”I haven’t.”All that one can do is the best that they can do, kind of sad when the best that some seem to be able to do is to point out the failures or shortcomings of others, don’t you think?”Yes; that’s why I’m a heathen.”See you all in the Kingdom.”Don’t count on it.”Take care, be ready.”Don’t worry, be happy.”Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.”Insincerely, Peregrine Bartleby Rumplestiltskin Solus

  • octomann

    Let’s wait to see what Benedict XVI actually says before commenting upon that. However it is painfully clear that some form of effective independent international supervision of the world’s economy is long overdue. My infancy was blighted by the Great Depression and now we have another to plague my old age. Does the world never learn? The evil voracious greed of the financial institutions, their wicked ruthless exploitation of the ignorant, weak and helpless, must be rigorously curbed.

  • ThomasBaum

    octomann You wrote, “My infancy was blighted by the Great Depression and now we have another to plague my old age. Does the world never learn?”Doesn’t seem like it, does it?Seems pretty obvious that we, humanity, have a “fallen nature”, it is our choice, individually, what we do about it.You also wrote, “The evil voracious greed of the financial institutions, their wicked ruthless exploitation of the ignorant, weak and helpless, must be rigorously curbed.”Is it the “greed” of the “institutions” or of people?Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • RebeccaRH

    “If personal and social sensibility toward the welcoming of a new life is lost, even other forms of welcoming (life) useful to social life become fruitless,” is also reported to be included in the encyclical.So much for the arguments of Catholic Democrats that theirs is the true “pro-life” party.This is why Catholics fit in neither political party. Yet our instructions from the Church are also that some issues take precedence over others.

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