Will Occupy Wall Street Lead to the Building of a Moral Economy?

Jeanne Christensen, RSM, Editor KCOB

Many of us have been following and/or participating in local “Occupy Wall Street” events.  It is both hopeful that voices are being raised and discouraging that, in many instances, those with power or authority have striven to silence those voices.  Encouraging is what John Gehring, from Faith in Public Life, says in his recent article (Occupy Wall Street, False Idols and Building a Moral Economy),in Catholics in Alliance —  “Even as some pundits and politicos dismiss the Occupy Wall Street movement as a fleeting burst of activism from the far left, Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace said last week that the “basic sentiment” behind the protests aligns with mainstream principles of Catholic social teaching on the economy.”  How many churches are waking up to the need to speak out about the gross injustices in the U.S. economic system? Gehring also says:

Ever since Pope Leo XIII ushered in modern Catholic social teaching with an 1891 encyclical challenging the excesses of a savage capitalism that exploits workers for maximum profit, the Catholic Church has been on the front lines of the struggle for economic fairness.  During the 1980’s, when Ronald Reagan touted “trickle down” economic theories that disproportionately benefited the richest 1 percent, Pope John Paul II warned against an “idolatry of the market” and insisted that private wealth was subject to a “social mortgage” to benefit the common good. The U.S. Catholic bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, called for an economy that serves the “dignity of the human person” and responded to the era’s anti-tax orthodoxy (which remains a powerful force today with the Tea Party) by urging that “the tax system should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor.” Pope Benedict XVI denounced the “scandal of glaring inequalities” in his 2008 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, and called for a more just distribution of wealth. And last week’s Vatican document, widely covered in the US media, spoke clearly about “the primacy of being over having,” of “ethics over the economy” and of “embracing the logic of the global common good.

The Vatican’s complete document can be found here or here.  This document is an analysis of the moral failing behind the current economic crisis.  Even more—signed by the Council’s head, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and by its secretary, Bishop Mario Toso—the document charts what might be called a “Catholic way forward” from the present morass.  To read an interesting analysis of the document, read Professor Steve Schneck’s article, The Vatican’s Breathtakingly good Statement on Economics .

George Weigel and other conservative Catholic commentators who have arrogantly dismissed Church teaching on economic justice and income inequality for years should dust off their copies of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Compendium is clear that “the Church’s social doctrine requires that ownership of goods be accessible to all.” It points out that the Church has “never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable” – insisting that a “universal destination of goods” is inextricably linked with a “preferential option for the poor.”

As Fr. Tom Reese, S.J., of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University has frequently pointed out, the Vatican’s consistent calls for a radical rethinking of global capitalism is far to the left of the most progressive Democrat in Congress.  While this causes heartburn for those self-styled defenders of orthodoxy on the Catholic right who think they have a monopoly on Catholic identity, it just might be the kind of moral medicine we need today.”


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