VATICAN NOTEBOOK Edward Pentin
he recent document on the economic crisis issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace contin ues to be a focus of debate.
The “note”, which was not part of the papal Magisterium, was published on October 22 to coincide with the G20 meeting in Cannes earlier this month. Among other things, it focused on reforming the international financial system by proposing a supranational authority and a taxation on financial transactions to aid the economies of poorer countries.
Many criticised the paper for being unrealistic and utopian and wondered whether it had been fully cleared by the Vatican Secretariat of State. Vatican sources said it had, but it still wasn’t clear who had written it.
Professor Leonardo Becchetti, an Italian expert on microcredit and fair trade, helped to present the document at the Vatican, and was therefore widely thought to have been one of its main architects, but he denied having much to do with its creation.
The truth is that the document was the product of a wide variety of people both within the Vatican and scholars beyond the Holy See, according to Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the justice and peace council. The document originated from two major seminars in the US aimed at discussing the Pope’s social encyclical Caritas in Veritate. The cardinal said it was also the fruit of input given by members and consultants of the pontifical council which includes a “discreet group of experts” in the field of economics, some of whom came from St Thomas University in St Paul, Minnesota, USA. But, it’s not clear if any scholars of the free market were consulted.
The emphasis on a global authority, arguably the most controversial aspect of the document, emanated from the council’s plenary meeting last year. The cardinal said members of the dicastery agreed it was an idea that “needed to be teased out more”, and that the G20 meeting offered them an opportunity to present their conclusions.
“We got it into our heads that we should try and accompany that meeting with some kind of invitation, reflection, from our side,” the Ghanaian cardinal recalled. “So we shared our ideas with our consultors, threw ideas around, had different input, digested it, and then put it into circulation again.” He didn’t think the idea was utopian because it was contingent on UN reform. Cardinal Turkson stood firmly by the document, saying the Church has a duty “to say that something is wrong”. He found criticism of it “strange and difficult” as he argued that the Church was merely proposing, not imposing, possible resolutions to the crisis (the global authority idea had already been proposed in encyclicals by John XXIII and Benedict XVI).
Calling it eurocentric was therefore “unfortunate”, he said, because it implied the Vatican “hated capitalism”. Rather, he added, the council merely wished to remind the world to place the human person, not profit or money, at the centre of economic life.