Understanding Pope Francis’ writing on economics
Legatus chaplain Fr. Chas Canoy writes on the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation . . .
At a recent Legatus chapter event, we had some lively dinner conversation at our table concerning the pope’s view on economics. The question came up of some ways to respond to friends and family who may ask or have asked you about it, given all the commentary out there like Rush Limbaugh’s. If you too are wondering, please continue to read on. If not, then I wish you and your family a blessed Advent and a beautiful Christmas season!
First of all, I would first encourage you to take some time over the holy days to read Evangelii Gaudium (EG). Until you get that chance, I think it’s important to keep in mind what the Pope is NOT saying. He did not say, for example, that capitalism is in and of itself an unacceptable economic system. We also know, from past Church teaching such as John Paul’s Centesimus Annus, that this is far from the truth.
What Pope Francis is pointing out are the abuses that exist or to which free market economies can be inclined if the agents of capitalism neglect or have little or insufficient regard for the common good and the dignity of the human person, particularly the poor. It’s important to note that he has also spoken against Marxist thought and liberation theology. Given his South American background, he has observed corruption of both types firsthand.
1. Protecting the dignity of the human person and fostering the common good are two fundamental principles of any just society (see Gaudium et Spes). Consequently, every sector of society, including economics, should have as its object and aim the flourishing of its people, with these two elements particularly in mind.
2. Thus, the pope said, “Money must serve, not rule” (EG 58). In other words, just as the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath, so the free market is for the benefit and flourishing of man, not man for the free market. The one who sees it as the latter may be culpable of what Pope Francis calls the “idolatry of money” (EG 55).
3. The pope is not an economist. The Church is authoritative in faith and morals, not economics. Whatever the pope’s private views are on the economy, he recognizes that economics and all secular fields have their own proper autonomy. At the same time, economics is not amoral. There are ethical dimensions to economics and every sector of secular society, and in these dimensions the pope acts as pastor and guide.
As you may already be thinking, none of these are inimical to capitalism, properly understood. In fact, I would propose, as I’m sure many of you would, that capitalism, properly ordered to the good, is indeed the most conducive at achieving human flourishing and fostering the common good. While the free market has some natural or innate correctives within its system, the Pope however wants us to understand that it’s not impermeable to the exploitation of the powerful and that in fact no economic system is adequate to ensure sufficiently the protection of the dignity of every human person. Systems ultimately don’t do that; people do.
FATHER CHAS CANOY is a priest of the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. He is the chaplain of Legatus’ Ann Arbor Chapter.