For today's Common Good Forum, we feature Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga's keynote speech at the June 3rd forum Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism, which was hosted by The Catholic University of America's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.
I would like to start quoting Michael Sean Winters’s recent article in NCR:
“Last week, the Holy Father addressed leaders of United Nations who called on him in Rome. He gave a short talk, which included these words calling for ‘the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State.’ Then, America's conservative chattering classes went ballistic. John Moody, executive vice president at Fox News and a former Vatican correspondent, might be expected from his time covering the Holy See to have rendered a nuanced appraisal of what Pope Francis said. Nah. The title of the piece -- and I know writers do not usually choose their own titles -- is: ‘Pope Francis should stick to doctrine, stay away from economic 'redistribution.' Of course, Pope Francis was speaking from the social doctrine of the Church. The Church's teachings on social justice are as firmly rooted in our theological doctrines as are the teachings on any other issues.”
And the following day he wrote: “Here comes Father Zuhlsdorf, who runs a popular conservative blog. ‘I wonder how many people are still listening to him seriously on this issue,’ opines Reverend Father. Not content to take a swipe at the Pope, he goes after a few cardinals, adding, ‘I suspect other people might have the same reaction that I have when hearing/reading this stuff. It comes across as naive, out of step with history. Has any nation successfully dealt with poverty through redistribution? I don't think so. Moreover, who would supervise this process of global redistribution? Angels? EU bureaucrats? The UN? Card. Rodriguez Maradiaga? Card. Kasper?’.”
As you see, the theme of today is very actual.
But instead of trying to quote all what we know about the Social Doctrine of the Church, I would like to make an analysis of the Pastoral Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” regarding our subject, because as it happens frequently, many people do not read the original texts and react from comments by others or fragments out of the context.
Very much in the spirit of the developments of the Church in Latin America after the Second Vatican Council, the Holy Father underlines the preferential option for the poor. “The poor are the privileged recipients of the Gospel”(48). Already at the 5th General Conference of the Latin American Bishops’ Conferences in Aparecida, Brazil, where Cardinal Bergoglio was the President of the editorial committee, he said that the poor in the dominating neo- liberal economic system were superfluous, mere waste and rubbish. This statement of Cardinal Bergoglio was written down in the final document of Aparecida in 2007: “A globalization without solidarity has a negative impact on the poorest groups.” It shows something quite new: social exclusion. This undermines the very root of “belonging to the society” when people are no longer only at the underclass, marginalized or without influence, but are cast out. These “outcasts” are not merely “exploited”, they are considered “superfluous” and “human waste” (AP 65).
Quoting this seems important to me in order to understand the background of Pope Francis’s view on the situation of the poor in today’s asymmetric, distorted global economy.
Whereas the poorest 600 million of the world’s population have to make a living with an average of 300 euros per annum, the other 600 million well-off people each on an average dispose of an annual income of 27,000 Euros. What a discrepancy and what great injustice ! And, not to forget what livelihood for the hungry, especially the children, is actually concealed behind those figures. Meanwhile in Germany e.g. there is one doctor for 266 persons, in Liberia for example there is one for 82,000. Notwithstanding the Millennium Development Goals the international community formulated with a view to 2015, the fact is that today still about 870 million people go hungry. Two billion of the world’s population does not have access to life’s essential medicine and one billion do not have sufficient and clean drinking water.
Generally, there is a growing inequality and polarization between the rich and the poor in many countries today. This holds true for developing countries, emerging countries as well as industrialized countries. It also goes for the United States and China. The gap between incomes today in the US is wider than 100 years ago. 0.01% of the richest in the US have an income as 50% of the poorest of the population. During the last 20 years the 5% richest in the US made a progress in their possessions like the 50% of the whole population (cf. Thomas Pogge, Yale University). The rich can, unlike the poor, profit from globalization. Increasing competition on the world market encourages this dynamic entailing a reduction of wages. The libertarianism de-regulation of the markets and financial market is much to the disadvantage of the poor (cf. Francois Bourguignon “Globalization of Inequality”).
“This economy kills” (53) This in fact is the most provocative economy- critical statement of Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium. Certain economic circles in industrialized countries thereupon criticized in turn the Pope saying, “The Church despises the Rich.” And they argue: Already from the Gospel and from the Acts of the Apostles, Christian Faith does not at all promote a positive attitude towards the market, towards competition, towards riches and luxury. The goods gathered on earth by the Christians meet with reservation. Wherever property is suspect, entrepreneurship and profit maximization cannot flourish. In this connection the Catholic Social Teaching and the social encyclicals of the late Popes were attacked. They would show a problematic concept of private property. Francis’s view would be shaped by the difficult economic history in Argentina and by the post-Marxist theology of liberation. Francis would not recognize that poverty and inequality have been reduced thanks to market economy reforms. He would furthermore ignore that today, thanks to the successful growth of a capitalist economy, the number of people suffering from hunger and thirst is far smaller than some twenty years ago. The Pope would be naïve and unable to see that to overcome poverty, market economy and capitalism were absolute indispensable.
These are some of the essential arguments which libertarianism economic circles raised against EG of the Pope.
But let us ask what is Francis’s concern in EG? Let us look at the text itself: In the numbers 52-59 he characterizes some of the challenges in today’s world. An “Evangelization of joy” cannot just light-heartedly close its eyes to reality. In that case it would remain illusionary and would hardly benefit people in difficult situations. Evangelization in the meaning of the Pope therefore always asks for an analysis of the situation based on the Gospel; Francis does not ask for a neutral sociological analysis, but for an evangelical discernment: Discipleship and evangelization according to Francis means, taking the point of view of Jesus Christ and looking at the people’s and the world’s reality with His eyes. This goes for all areas of human day-to-day life and for all dimensions of evangelization.
Let us now take a closer look at how Francis views the present economic situation from the perspective of the Gospel. In the numbers 182-216 he details the practical consequences of the challenges.
“No to an economy of exclusion” (53). With this title Pope Francis already denotes the essential characteristic of today’s economy, which he rejects. He ties in with the Ten Commandments. The commandment “You shall not kill” (Ex 20,13) defines a limit aimed at securing the value of human life. From this biblical view he says “no to an economy of exclusion and to inequality in income” (53). And Francis describes this in concrete terms very clearly: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion.” And I think each and any of you may know of similar fates from people in your country.
As a pastor in a very poor country I know how much of daily insecurity is connected with this situation of poverty- insecurity for the children in particular, but also big worries for mothers and fathers that do not know how to get drinking water, food, medical care or school education for their children. Global economy under the conditions of libertarianism excludes such people. Since their point of view a human being is a consumer. If she or he is incapable of consuming this type of economy does not need her of him, can do away with her or him. From this, Francis concludes: “It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underclass or its fringes or its disenfranchised- they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but waste, “rubbish” (53).
This diagnosis Cardinal Bergoglio already made in 2007 in Aparecida and he still considers it crucial for today so that he- as Pope- restates it in EG. Yes he even finds a stronger wording, because he sees that in this libertarian global economy, not the human being is at the center but profit and money. He speaks out a sharp prophetic verdict: “This economy kills” (53).
Francis analyzes the economy from the point of view of the poor which is in line with Jesus’s perspective. He does not let himself be deceived by the trickle-down theory, which is based on the conviction that if the market is allowed to freely unfold itself this would favor general economic growth which at length is the way out of misery. As someone who lived with the poor, Francis rejects such theory, since facts speak another language and never ever have confirmed this (cf. 54). Taking the financial crisis of 2008 and the following years as an example, Francis points to the deep anthropological crisis which characterizes our time in that it “denies the pre-eminence of human beings.”
The worship of the golden calf (Ex 32, 1-15) today is demonstrated by the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an economy without a human face, lacking a real human purpose (cf.55). He denounces the unbridled greed for power and property as well as “ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the market and financial speculation” (cf. 56). This denies the state’s right of control, whose intrinsic task is to protect the common good. The idolatry around the market concentrating on the increase of profit, disregards all that is weak and equally disregards environment (cf. 56). Money must serve, not rule (cf.58).
The Pope calls for ethics based on God and cares for a more humane social order. He quotes an old saying from Saint John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s own wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs” (57).
It may be that such words in particular have raised the criticism from certain economic circles of Francis being naïve. He clearly puts a finger in the wounds of unjust social order and the unbridled economic system. He speaks for instance of unfettered consumerism going along with social inequality, the arms race and corruption. He also clearly sees the mechanism that accuses the poor of violence. And prophetically he levels the accusation: “Some simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poorer countries themselves for their troubles” (60).
According to Francis, society lacks the capacity to feel compassion, to hear the outcry of the poor and to weep when faced with the desperate situation of the poor. He talks of a “globalization of indifference” (54). He wants to overcome this and restore human compassion in all people. By no means has he despised economy nor does he condemn the rich, he has clearly stated: “The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and to return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings” (58).
The presentation on economy so far showed Francis’s concern regarding some important challenges according to the methodological three steps: seeing, judging and acting.
Now let us turn by way of example towards Christian acting in the sense of evangelization and come to the numbers 176-216 of the EG.
In his introduction to chapter 4 (The Social dimension of Evangelization)- in number 176- Francis points out that evangelization means “to make the Kingdom of God present in our world”. Thereby he underlines something which is important and which we should keep in mind: if evangelization does not duly consider the social dimension we run “the constant risk of distorting the authentic and integral meaning of the mission of evangelization” (176). With this, Francis again reverts to what he had said already in number 61, i.e. “We also evangelize when we attempt to confront the various challenges which can arise”, such as social exclusion, inequality etc. Francis thus does away with a narrow understanding of evangelization which only aims at a mere proclamation by words. Francis bases the Church’s social responsibility on the doctrine of Trinity and anchors it at the very center of our Faith. The social commitment thus is not something occasional, which could be added to evangelization. It is in fact a core dimension! Francis speaks of an “inseparable bond”, which- if it gets lost- would “make us lose our amazement, our excitement and our zeal for living the Gospel of fraternity and justice!” And, theologically profound, he adds: “God’s Word teaches that our brothers and sisters are the prolongation of the incarnation for each of us: As you did to one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it to me (Mt 25, 40)” (179).
Theologically, Francis even goes one step farther: The Gospel’s offer does not just consist of a personal relation with God. God offers the Kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4,43). Thus our answer to his love should not “be seen simply as an accumulation of small personal gestures to individuals in need” (180). In his own figurative language Francis refers to this as “a kind of charity a la carte”, a series of good deeds in order to calm our conscience. This I understand is a clear statement at the rich and at the Church in rich countries. The point is to love God who wants to rule the world. “To the extent that He reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity” (180). Evangelization understood this way, striving for the Kingdom of God, has a universal dimension; it encompasses all people, all social classes, all peoples and the whole of Creation (Cfr.181). An authentic Faith is eager to change the world and participate in constructing a better world with decisive consequences for economic life. Because then not our personal wellbeing is given priority, but the common good. This explains Francis’s main concerns: social integration of the poor, and peace and social dialogue (Cfr.185).
God’s Kingdom, which God offers and to which we all are called, is incompatible with injustice, poverty and exclusion of part of humanity. What he demands is solidarity: “The word solidarity is a little worn and at times poorly understood” (188). Solidarity is more than a few sporadic acts of generosity. “It presumes the creation of a new mindset” (188) which recognizes the social function of property and the universal destination of goods as realities which come before private property. “The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good” (189). Referring to Saint John Chrysostom’s wise saying, the Pope explains that the poor must be given back what is rightfully theirs. This asks for dealing with the structural causes of poverty and injustice.
And Francis describes another dimension of solidarity: We must hear the cry of the poorest peoples; respect the rights of the peoples and not alone the human rights. He widens the scope to encompass the whole planet which is to serve the wellbeing of all humankind “…the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity” (190). The more fortunate, Francis demands, should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others. We cannot do without solidarity; its lack will have direct influence on our relationship with God. Here Francis refers to the first letter of John which says: “If someone has worldly possessions and sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him?” (3,17).
Basing his arguments on theology and the Social Teaching of the Church, Francis turns to economy. Someone who like him has profound knowledge of the life of the poor says that elimination of the structural causes for poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed. The hungry or sick child of the poor cannot wait. Apart from this pragmatic view Francis recognizes in those unjust structures an illness of the system as such. “As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems” (202). Any economic policy therefore must be re-structured focusing on the dignity of each individual and on the common good (cf. 203). We no longer are to trust the blind forces and invisible hand of the market. Economy should reject a mere economic growth and increase of profit at any price, which means even at the price of excluding workers, because it is growth in justice that should set the direction.
To bring about such change of mindset in economy it needs entrepreneurs practicing solidarity. Such acting Francis designates as “noble work” (203). Thus the Church does by no means despise the rich, as critics from economic circles argue against EG. Francis is also not against the efforts of business to increase the goods of the earth. The basic condition however, is that it serves the common good.
In this connection Francis also talks of the role of politicians. Their work he regards “one of the highest forms of charity, in as much as it seeks the common good” (205). Here he sees- referring to Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate”- the “principle of love” put into practice. We are used to linking this principle of love to the micro-relationships, as friendship, family and small groups, but it must be extended to macro-relationships encompassing the social, economic and political relationships. Francis has a high opinion of politics in as far as it can be oriented towards overcoming the absolute dichotomy between economy and the common good, taking the poor’s needs seriously and guaranteeing fair access to the common goods (cf. 205)”.
To end, I would like to comment numbers 205, 206 and 241 of EG.
The document correctly stresses the importance of politics and common good-oriented governance for a more inclusive economy and society. For that purpose, however, it is not enough to appeal to the individual morale of politicians. More importantly, the electorate should be educated about common good-oriented governance in order to take more informed decisions when casting their ballots and to be able to hold their governments responsible and accountable in the years between the elections. What is necessary is a “culture of political participation.”
The church should encourage the lay faithful to take a keen interest in public affairs and get involved in civic activities oriented towards the common good. Even though politics is often regarded as a “dirty” game, who else than committed Christian citizens can clean it up?
The global common good calls for better global governance. This holds especially true for the protection of the environment and natural resources, the financial and monetary systems and international trade. Beyond the respective international organization, there is a need for a global civil society. The church is a global player who could facilitate global cooperation in that respect and work towards global alliances for global “common good oriented governance.”
The document rightly positions the Church as an important player of civil society. Her commitment to the common good makes her a sincere mediator of cooperation between various sectors of society. For that purpose, she should not be afraid to enter into alliances with other social forces of good will in order to promote a more inclusive society and integral human development.