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Question: Did Pope Benedict Attack Capitalism in His 2013 World Peace Day Message? Answer: No!

By Deacon Keith Fournier
January 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pope Benedict's profound letter on World Peace Day should be read by every world leader. It should also be ACCURATELY reported on. Did Pope Benedict attack Capitalism in his 2013 World Peace Day Message? The answer is No! He spoke the truth. He issued a caution, reaffirmed the truth about human freedom and inited upon the primacy of the person, the family and the true common good.

CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - In a message released on New Year's Day, the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI used a few words which were quoted out of context in numerous media reports. The Message is entitled "Blessed Are the Peacemakers", the theme of this Year's World Day of Peace, and can be read here.  It is a brilliantly written exposition of Catholic Social Doctrine which offers tremendous insights sorely needed in this urgent hour.

In the middle of 4,000 words addressing a full palate of social concerns -  including the obligation to defend human life, protect marriage and the family, respect fundamental human rights such as religious freedom and encourage truly just economic development - he made reference to a "a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism."

Those few words gave rise to headlines in several media sources which were either intentionally false or reflected sloppy journalism. I will leave such a judgment to others. However, this kind of caution has been given before by the magisterium - and rightly so. 

Here are two of many examples of poor coverage: Breitbart News reported on the speech in an article entitled "Pope Attacks Capitalism in New Years Speech." The Daily Mail out of the UK reported on the speech in an article entitled "Pope's hope for peace in 2013 despite fears over the threat of terrorism and capitalism."  Both titles, as well as the articles which followed, revealed that the authors did not read the message from Pope benedict XVI in its entirety.

I was reminded of similar reactions to Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 Encyclical letter, Charity in Truth. In that encyclical letter the Pope addressed what the Church calls integral human development. The early responders attempted to read the letter through the prism of political categories such as "left" and "right", "liberal" and conservative". The incessant efforts to characterize the principles offered in that letter as "for or against capitalism" also missed the insights offered by Pope Benedict XVI on economic development and the primacy of the human person, the family and the common good.

The field of moral theology referred to as Catholic Social Doctrine is often misunderstood and misrepresented. The Catholic Church does not propose any economic system or endorse any particular economic theory. However, as an expert in humanity, she insists that every economic order be placed at the service of the human person, human freedom, human flourishing, the family and the common good.

This teaching is called social because it speaks to human society and to the formation, role and rightful place of social institutions. The Social Teaching of the catholic Church is neither left nor right, within the contemporary politicized use of those words. The Church "walks the way of the person" because she continues the work of the Lord Jesus in whom is revealed the fullness of the human person.

The Social teaching maintains that there are unchangeable truths, such as the dignity of every human person at every age and stage, which provide a framework for viewing and structuring our social life together. We should recognize and follow them if we ever hope to build a truly just society.

This human dignity is present in every person, at every age and stage, because it reflects the Image of God in all men and women. It is this foundational vision of the human person which informs the Catholic position concerning the respect for every human life whether that life be in the first home of the womb, a wheelchair, a jail cell, a hospital room, a hospice, a senior center or a soup kitchen.

It does not propose any particular economic theory but insists that every economic order must first be at the service of the dignity of the human person and the family and further the common good. The social teaching offers principles which are to be worked into the loaf of human culture in order to build a more just society. That includes principles meant to inform how we order our economies. Because they are principles, they leave room for the application of prudential judgment.

The Church challenges any notion of freedom which begins and ends with the isolated, atomistic, person as the measure of its application. She proclaims an authentic view of human freedom as having to always be exercised within a moral constitution. Freedom must be ordered toward choosing what is good, respecting the truth about the human person, human flourishing, the family and the real common good.

Freedom must be exercised in deference toward our obligations in solidarity to one another. The Church calls us to a preferential love for the poor, 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. She upholds the dignity of all human work and the basic right to a living, just or family wage.

In recent encyclicals 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 cautioned 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 always be placed at the service of the person, the family and the common good, lest capitalism devolve from offering economic freedom and opportunity and become inhuman in its application, devolving into greed.

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.

Pope Benedicts few words properly addressed this kind of an errant approach to the market economy. The market economy can be a force for good when humanized and expanded to offer participation to more and more men and women. However, if Pope Benedict's few words caused a stir, I will conclude with a even stronger words used by his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, when addressing the same danger.He was also correct in issuing a caution and his words need to be heard as well. 

On the hundreth anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's encyclical on economic concerns, Blessed John Paul wrote: "Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model, which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World, which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress? The answer is obviously complex."

"If by capitalism is meant an economic system, which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a `business economy,' `market economy,' or simply `free economy'."

"But, if by `capitalism' is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality and sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative."(Centesimus Annus, n. 42)

Pope Benedict's profound letter on World Peace Day should be read by every world leader. It should also be ACCURATELY reported on. Did Pope Benedict attack Capitalism in his 2013 World Peace Day Message? The answer is No! He spoke the truth. He issued a caution, reaffirmed the truth about human freedom and insisted upon the primacy of the person, the family and the true common good.

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