Opinion: Papal economics


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Knowing I’m a papal proclamation buff, a friend referred me to the headline of a story about Pope Benedict XVI’s just-released encyclical, ‘Caritas in Veritate’ (Love in Truth).The headline read: ‘In Encyclical, Pope Proposes New Financial Order.’

‘Apparently he thinks the SEC really should regulate derivatives and he worries about mission creep over at the Fed,’ my friend quipped. ‘The pope also thinks that Sallie Mae should be regulated as a bank.’


Not quite, but Benedict does argue in the encyclical, released on the even of the G-8 summit, for what conservatives will see as a form of international economic regulation, if not world government.

In typically turgid Vaticanese, the pope writes: ‘In our own day, the state finds itself having to address the limitations to its sovereignty imposed by the new context of international trade and finance, which is characterized by increasing mobility both of financial capital and means of production, material and immaterial. This new context has altered the political power of states.’ And the solution? ‘Once the role of public authorities has been more clearly defined, one could foresee an increase in the new forms of political participation, nationally and internationally . . .’

Benedict is in a long tradition of popes who offered prescriptions for enlightened economy policy. In my Catholic high school, required reading included ‘Rerum Novarum,’ the 1891 encyclical in which Pope Leo XIII offered a defense of union organizing that could have been ghostwritten by a labor activist. Leo said that ‘some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen’s guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. . . . ‘

Capitalism-friendly Catholics have always had trouble with the Vatican’s leftish line on economics and have wrestled with the problem of how they can be loyal to the pope and opt out of this part of the program. Their discomfort must tempt liberals in the church to hurl the conservatives’ favorite gibe back at them: ‘cafeteria Catholics.’