New York — Just as Pope Francis is calling for a rethink of the free market economy, some Catholics are emphasizing capitalism is in keeping with Catholic doctrine, and say they are backed by Pope St. John Paul II.
At the recent webinar, “Pope John Paul II Centennial: The Liberation of a Continent’s Political-Economic Systems of Christ,” Father Robert A. Sirico and John Paul biographer George Weigel analyzed the benefits of a free economy through the doctrine of John Paul.
Sirico is the president of the Acton Institute, a Michigan-based think tank promoting free market policies undergirded by religious principles.
According to Sirico, secular attempts to weaken a free economy “have resulted in material deprivation, human impoverishment and great sadness.” Instead, he said economic policy should try to expand productivity and the availability of goods.
They point to the democracy and capitalist economy of the United States as a place with prospering systems, though many would refute that point as more socialist ideas are picking up steam in certain parts of the country.
Pope Francis took a strong stance against the “free economy” in his recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, noting the “marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith.”
Francis wrote that this type of market promotes inequality and lends itself to violence. Look no further than the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as his latest reasoning why it doesn’t work.
There was hardly any mention of Francis in the webinar other than to acknowledge his perspective comes from his personal experience in Argentina and what he’s seen in Latin America. However, Sirico said that doesn’t mean we should abandon the teachings of John Paul, who experienced the fall of socialism during his pontificate.
“I don’t think there’s any necessary contradiction certainly in the moral or theological level between Francis and John Paul, but I do think in terms of depth, in terms of experience, we need to retrieve the magisterium of John Paul II,” he said.
Sirico placed an emphasis on the importance of money, entrepreneurship, charity in a free economy from John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. Citing the encyclical, he said money is a key part of human communication and cooperation. And successful entrepreneurs help a community by providing goods and services people want. Entrepreneurship is also an example of a person using the creative talents God gave them, Sirico said.
He also argues that charity needs to be left to local communities for the good of the church.
“This is in large part important to us theologically because when state bureaucracies insinuate themselves between us and those in need the church itself loses a rich source of our own spiritual nourishment,” Sirico said.
To make sure the Church doesn’t abandon these teachings from John Paul the first thing people of faith need to do is reread John Paul encyclicals to get a more complete understanding of the Church’s teaching, he added.
Weigel, author of 1999’s Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, said John Paul had a unique insight on the value of labor.
“John Paul speaks of work not as punishment for original sin but rather as work for our participation in God’s ongoing creation of the world,” Weigel said. “Our work is not making more but being more. Work is part of human vocation. Work is part of human responsibility.”
Weigel closed his remarks on a more personal level, speaking about his many meetings with the late pope.
“He was a remarkably natural human being. The most intensely curious man I think I’ve ever met. To the very end he wanted to know what’s going on,” Weigel said. “It was his way of trying to tune into what the Holy Spirit was trying to do in the world.”
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