Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia spoke recently at the Napa Institute on Pope Francis’ view of economics. Archbishop Chaput reminded the audience that the pope was not an economist, but spoke rather as a pastor and theologian. He went on to say that some of what the pope has to say about economics is “hard for some of us to hear” but told his listeners to read the pope’s writings for themselves, without the filter of the media.
Archbishop Chaput also stated that Pope Francis’ message is not so different from that of his predecessors.
In matters of economic justice, Francis’ concerns are the same as Benedict’s and John Paul II’s, and Pius XI’s and Leo XIII’s. He understands economic matters through the lens of Church teaching in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Like his predecessors, he defends human dignity in a world that consistently threatens it. But Francis stresses more directly than they did that human solidarity is a necessary dimension of human dignity. We need both. Human dignity requires not just the protection of individuals, as in our prolife work, but an on-going commitment to the common good.
Solidarity, he says in Evangelii Gaudium, is a relationship of love and reconciliation. It’s a mutual concern for the other’s good. He finds this modeled for us in the Mass and in Mary’s great yes to God. Defined economically, it puts “the community and the priority of the life of all, over the appropriation of goods by the few.” To put it negatively, “what satisfies one at the expense of the other, ends up destroying both.” We need to live in solidarity with one another because we can’t change our social structures if we don’t. Without learning solidarity, any new political or economic structure will become as corrupt as the old.
Archbishop Chaput admits to “ambiguity” in the pope’s thinking on economics, and that the pope offers no “systematic” thoughts on the topic. But we have to remember that he is a spiritual leader and not an economist.
When he calls for a better distribution of wealth among social classes, he doesn’t say how this should be done and what a proper distribution would look like, or who will decide who gets what. But he’d probably say that he’s giving us the principles of a rightly ordered social and economic life as the Catholic Church understands them, and that the Church gives to laypeople, and especially those called to public service, the job of best applying those principles in each nation.
Francis is classically Catholic in his social concerns. He stresses that the social doctrine of the Church “maintains that one can live authentically human relations of friendship and sociability, of solidarity and reciprocity within economic activity.” Business is a proper activity of man. In Evangelii Gaudium, he calls it “a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life . . . striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.” He does place “the social function of property and the universal destination of goods” before private property. We’re given private ownership of goods because they need to be protected and increased, so the goods we have will better serve the common good.
Pope Francis calls for justice in our economic lives, just as we strive for justice in every other area of our lives. Our economics, as Christians, must be informed by our faith and our desire to serve Christ.