US Catholics give mixed reaction to Vatican’s economy document

WASHINGTON – 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”).

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.”

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.