Questions about poverty and social teaching are on the forefront of Pope Francis’ mind, as he’s made convincingly clear in his young papacy. This calls for cogent thinking on the topic, according to Fr. John Flynn, LC in “Francis and Catholic Social Teaching: Debates About Economy, Equality and Poverty Sure to Continue.”
Flynn cites Jerry Z. Muller, professor of History at the Catholic University of America, who gives credit to the astonishing “leap in human progress” that capitalism has brought about, but cautions that some find the disparity between rich and poor, the powerful and the dispossessed, to be grounds for anti-capitalist sentiment. Muller points out that this type of inequality seems to be growing internationally.
Flynn looks for answers to how Christians should address such economic inequality in several articles of the Acton Institute’s Journal of Markets & Morality, (Vol. 15, No. 2). First, he looks at Antonio Pancorbo’s “Illustrating the Need for Dialogue between Political Economy and Catholic Social Teaching.”
Pancorbo expressed a number of criticisms of the welfare state, but he also acknowledged that it is commonly accepted that society should provide for people’s essential needs. He admitted that Caritas in Veritate referred to inequality as a social evil, but then also argued that maybe it is more productive to reduce poverty, rather than trying to eliminate all inequality.
“Sound economic thinking should collaborate with the Church in establishing guidelines for action that are morally acceptable, that do not ignore economic laws, and that propose technically feasible solutions to economic and political matters,” he concluded.
“The Moral Meaning of Markets,” written by Ryan Langrill and Virgil Henry Storr, of George Mason University, appeals to a broader view of virtue in the market place. They acknowledge that greed exists, but is not inevitable.
Finally, Flynn turns to “Biblical Warnings to ‘the Rich’ and the Challenge of Contemporary Affluence,” by Clive Beed, retired from the Department of Economics at the University of Melbourne, and Cara Beed, retired from the Department of Social Science at the Australian Catholic University.
There was no middle class in Biblical times and the levels of wealth have drastically changed since then, they observed. They also admitted, “The existence of wide gaps between rich and poor is anathema to God’s designs.”
The Bible’s warnings to the rich do not apply to modern middle class people, they affirmed. Nevertheless, Christians do have a responsibility to help those who are poor and this applies much more so to those who are rich.
Surely, Pope Francis will continue to publicly weigh these issues as his papacy continues, giving Christians more to ponder as they seek a way to alleviate dire poverty and live out the Christian ideal in their economic lives.