Prairie Messenger Header

Pope Francis challenges dominant economic assumptions, especially in the West

09/30/2015

The CCCB Commission for Justice and Peace resource A Church Seeking Justice: The Challenge of Pope Francis to the Church in Canada examines three aspects of Catholic social teaching to which Pope Francis is giving significant attention: the dignity of the human person and work; teachings on war and peace; and ethical reflections on economics and political responsibility. This final excerpt is on Economics of exclusion and isolation/poverty.

The full document is available in English and French at: http://www.cccb.ca/site/eng/media-room/4268-a-church-seeking-justice-the-challenge-of-pope-francis-to-the-church-in-canada. Included in the text are a series of text boxes which focus on the Canadian context.

22. In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us that “economy, as the very word indicates, should be the art of achieving a fitting management of our common home, which is the world as a whole” (EG 206). . . .

23. In continuity with Catholic social teaching, Pope Francis has challenged dominant economic assumptions, especially in the West, introducing Gospel values into economic discourse. While competition and free markets are celebrated in our economic system, “the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest” result in many being “excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape” (EG 53).

It is assumed that economic growth “will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” but this unquestioned assumption reflects a “crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system” (EG 54). The worship of money, a “dictatorship of an economy lacking a truly human purpose,” reduces people to their role as consumers, perpetrates exclusion and denies the primacy of the human person (EG 55). Whatever “stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market” (EG 56).

24. The economics of exclusion, isolation and poverty create a “throw-away culture” that “does so much harm to our world. Children are discarded, young people are discarded because they do not have work, and the elderly are discarded with the pretext to maintain a ‘balanced’ economic system, at the centre of which is money, not the human person. We are all called to oppose this poisonous throw-away culture!”

Christians, together with all people of good will, “are called to build with patience a different society, more hospitable, more human, more inclusive, which has no need to discard one who is weak in body and in mind, but a society that measures its ‘pace’ precisely on these persons.”

25. Pope Francis’s observations on human dignity and justice reflects the church’s traditional emphasis on a “preferential option for the poor” and its recognition of the dignity of human work in God’s plan for creation. . . . Justice, fairness and respect for every human being demand that we “find ways by which all may benefit from the fruits of the earth.” A fundamental principle of the church’s social teaching is the “universal destination of all goods.” . . .

26. Financial reform based on ethical considerations invites a “generous solidarity,” where money serves, not rules, and where those with abundant resources intentionally “help, protect and serve the poor” (EG 58). Pope Francis speaks of “a non-ideological ethics” that could bring about “a more humane social order” (EG 57), where the dignity of each person and the promotion of the common good would shape all economic decision-making (EG 203). Education, access to health care and employment for all would be priorities in such an ethical economy (EG 192). . . .

A new political economy
27. Referring to Benedict XVI’s encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, Pope Francis reminds us that “precisely because it is human, all human activity, including economic activity, must be ethically structured and governed.” . . .

29. . . . In his message for World Food Day in 2014, Pope Francis notes that to defeat hunger, we need a new paradigm for development policies, a rethinking of our international laws regarding production and trade of agricultural products; we need “a change in the way of understanding work, economic objectives and activity, food production and the protection of the environment”; and we need “a new kind of co-operation” involving states, international institutions, organizations of civil society, and communities of believers if we are to build a genuine future of peace. . . .

31. Catholic social teaching rises out of a passionate engagement with the world around us, guided by the teaching and example of Jesus, and the Kingdom he came to proclaim. That teaching is not only in the treasury of encyclicals of the past 125 years, but also in the preaching and life of the church throughout its history.

When in 4th-century Constantinople St. John Chrysostom told his hearers not to “adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all,” he was laying the foundations of Catholic social teaching; likewise, in 13th-century Assisi when St. Francis kissed the leper and sowed seeds of peace; and in 18th-century Montreal, when Marguerite d’Youville gathered together a group of women to serve the needs of the poor in their midst. Catholic social teaching was being proclaimed and lived by drawing attention to those in need and by allowing the Gospel message to transform the way we live and act as a society. . . .

33. Canada is a great nation, in many respects among the most blessed on the planet. Still, as we listen to the words of Pope Francis, echoing the words of the Gospel and the long tradition of Catholic social teaching, we hear a direct and profound challenge.

In the text boxes which form an important part of this document, we have sought to make connections between the Holy Father’s teaching and some of the justice issues needing to be addressed in our own cities and nation. . . .