November 4, 2011


A world political authority to manage the world economy

Back in 2009, when Pope Benedict XVI issued his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), its most controversial part was his call for a reform of economic institutions to produce “a true world political authority” to manage the world economy.

Now the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has followed up the pope’s encyclical with a 41-page document that also calls for a world political authority with sufficient power to regulate financial markets, and correct what it calls “inequalities and distortions of capitalist development.” The document was released on Oct. 24.

Surely the Vatican realizes that sovereign countries will be unwilling to give such power to a universal public authority that would transcend national interests. Why, then, would it issue such a document, which, although not written by Pope Benedict, surely has his support since it is an elaboration of what he said in his encyclical?

Because it is convinced that some mechanism is required to place the common good at the center of international economic activity. The pontifical council recognizes a growing inequality between the rich and poor in the world. It is convinced that this is contrary to the Church’s teachings regarding justice and peace.

It is unfortunate that Catholics too often pay little attention to the Church’s teachings when it comes to economics and finances. It is as if the seventh commandment, “Thou shall not steal,” doesn’t exist.

That commandment includes, as the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults says, “consideration of the relationship between the economy and social justice, the importance of solidarity among nations, and a preferential love for the poor” (p. 421).

Just as the Church bases its teachings about the life issues on the sacredness of human life and the dignity of every individual, so it does when it comes to social justice. Its focus is on justice for all people, but especially for the helpless and the poor.

And many of those helpless and poor are living in developing countries that, the pontifical council believes, are being hurt by current global economics. The current global financial crisis, the new document says, has revealed “selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a great scale.”

A major part of Pope Benedict’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” was devoted to globalization because it has become a fact of economic life. That is evident when we realize that the United States has become dependent on China to support much of our federal debt, when it is almost impossible to buy anything not made in China or other countries, and when we make a phone call to try to get a repairman and find ourselves talking to someone in India.

The pope’s encyclical said that globalization in itself is neither good nor bad. He said, “We should not be its victims, but rather its protagonists, acting in the light of reason, guided by charity and truth.” Opposition to globalization, he said, would risk missing the chance to take advantage of its many opportunities for development.

Since globalization is entrenched, the new document says, the continued model of nationalistic self-interest seems “anachronistic and surreal.” It says, “In a world on its way to rapid globalization, the reference to a world authority becomes the only horizon compatible with the new realities of our time and the needs of humankind.”

The document calls globalization “the new world dynamics.”

The Vatican is quite aware that “a long road still needs to be traveled before arriving at the creation of a public authority with universal jurisdiction.”

It will have to be a delicate project, the document says, and will have to be set up gradually. It will have to be done through international agreements and never imposed by force or coercion.

The document also stresses the Church’s constant teaching about the principle of subsidiarity, which means that governments should help and support individuals and groups for whom they are responsible without controlling their freedom and initiative.

Therefore, it says, the world political authority would intervene “only when individual, social or financial actors are intrinsically deficient in capacity or cannot manage by themselves to do what is required of them.”

We will see how much attention the secular world pays to this proposal.

—John F. Fink

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