Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges cheers upon his arrival in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican to hold a pre-trip prayer service for the Catholic faithful, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011.
Pope Benedict did not physically go to the Occupy Wall Street Protest (OWS), but the Vatican did the next best thing by issuing a document against Capitalist greed. “Toward Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority,” (in English translation has been described as “far to the left of almost any politician in the United States (short of Sen. Bernie Sanders)” Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, commented that the Church will hold: “…other institutions in society to accountability if they are not achieving or not helping us live peacefully or well.”
Citing three popes (John XXIII, John Paul II and Benedict XVI), the document applies the papal teaching on social justice to the current global financial crisis. The Vatican comes to the conclusion that there is need for a supranational authority like the United Nations to be approved by the G20 group of nations so that the world would have “a public Authority with universal jurisdiction; as a first stage in a longer effort by the global community to steer its institutions towards achieving the common good.”
This Vatican document is an expression of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Catholic Church. It serves as the Church’s practical moral guide to the political solution of the global financial crisis. Bishop Mario Toso, a Council official confessed that the measures proposed to address the crisis had a political ring because they “appear to be in line with the slogans and proposals” of the “indignados,” a Spanish movement with important similarities to the Occupy Wall Street protests. But while the document has political consequences, it sticks to the overriding task of identifying what is right and wrong about the various proposals to remedy this pressing problem. The question to be faced is whether any financial measure benefits the common welfare of all humanity or just increases profits for the few.
This erudite document requires a prospective reader to be aware of some technical terms. First, note that the terms “liberalist” and “economic liberalism” are taken from a European context. They refer to laissez-faire Capitalism which rejects government intervention into the working of “the market.” In other words, the Vatican rejects the solutions being offered by most conservative Republicans who urge home foreclosure, bankruptcy for the auto-industry, an end to environmental regulations to be lifted, and repeal of financial oversight laws (Dodd-Frank. Citing Blessed John Paul II, the document notes that believing in the automatic solution of “the market” to today’s problems is a new form of idolatry.
Second, the document attacks the notion that governmental policies that benefit individuals will somehow provide for the common welfare. The Vatican calls versions of trickle-down economics à la Ayn Rand to be “utilitarianism” and therefore reprehensible.
Third, Catholics and people of good will are summoned to the task of shifting political discourse and cultural perceptions towards acceptance of this supranational authority. This is not a dreamy-eyed utopian view of change, but a summons to abandon the political clichés of greed and isolationism. (“Cut taxes on job creators” and “Defund the U.N.”)
The Vatican fosters the twin concerns of solidarity – oneness with the poor the world over – and subsidiarity – the need for grass-roots action. There should be international financial norms and an agency to enforce its policies of solidarity, but a simultaneous response from the people to force their local governments to recast legislative priorities in conformity with global human needs. The two dimensions work together: after stating the internationalist goals “the higher Authority offers its subsidium, that is, its aid, only when individual, social or financial actors are intrinsically deficient in capacity, or cannot manage by themselves to do what is required of them,” with the result that “citizens make their decisions with a view to the global common good, which transcends national goods.”
Predictably, right-wing dissident views against Vatican teaching come from the likes of William Donohue who erroneously claims on radio shows with Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs that subsidiarity limits the beginning of financial reform to “the most local level.” Ignoring how subsidiarity is joined to solidarity, this flirtation with heresy would forever silence Rome. Catholic America, however, takes the Vatican seriously.