Papal Encyclical Asks Capitalism to Show Heart

From Associated Press

Pope John Paul II has written a major document that urges the capitalist world to reflect on its responsibilities toward poorer nations.

The pontiff timed the ninth encyclical of his 12-year-old papacy to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum,” the first major encyclical on social issues.

Although the new encyclical has not been made public, its contents have been described in general terms by the Pope himself and officials who have seen it. The Vatican said Friday that it will make the document public next Thursday, after bishops around the world have been sent a copy.

Encyclicals are addressed by the Pope to bishops worldwide and contain major pronouncements on issues of great concern to the church and the world.


Throughout his papacy, the Polish-born John Paul denounced Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. But with equal vigor he has denounced unbridled capitalism with its stress on profits as no model to replace Communist-run economic systems.

In his last encyclical on social doctrine in February, 1988, John Paul blamed both the East and West blocs for turning developing countries into “cogs on a gigantic wheel.”

Some looking ahead to the new encyclical have wondered whether the pontiff, following the collapse of East Bloc Marxism, is using the document to declare a preferred economic model.

But a Vatican official close to the experts who helped prepare it said it “is not a document of economics” but instead “calls on people to look at the moral consequences” of economic systems, especially market economies.

As for capitalism, the source said the document reflects John Paul’s new view “that Western capitalism has produced results but is not perfect.”

The encyclical points out that the defeat of communism doesn’t necessarily mean a victory for capitalism, the official said, referring to the difficulties Eastern Europe is experiencing in trying to switch to market economies.

This situation should cause capitalist countries to reflect on their responsibilities toward these struggling economies, the Pope reasons in the encyclical, the official said.

One possible “moral” response, for example, could be greater opening up of their markets to the developing countries, the official said.