Pope Benedict on capitalism

VATICAN CITY — This week’s CNS Vatican Letter focuses on some of Pope Benedict’s recent comments regarding the Gospel and social justice. As the world waits for the pope’s first social encyclical, it might be instructive to read what he wrote in a 1985 presentation to a Rome symposium, later published in Communio magazine. It’s been posted on the Web site of the Acton Institute.

In his 1985 text, “Market Economy and Ethics,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger takes a dim view of the argument that the free market produces distributive justice best when it’s allowed to operate solely according to the laws of the market, without interference from morality.

He frames the question this way:

Here, however, we must face the objection raised especially after the Second Vatican Council, that the autonomy of specialized realms is to be respected above all. Such an objection holds that the economy ought to play by its own rules and not according to moral considerations imposed on it from without. Following the tradition inaugurated by Adam Smith , this position holds that the market is incompatible with ethics because voluntary ‘moral’ actions contradict market rules and drive the moralizing entrepreneur out of the game. For a long time, then, business ethics rang like hollow metal because the economy was held to work on efficiency and not on morality. The market’s inner logic should free us precisely from the necessity of having to depend on the morality of its participants. The true play of market laws best guarantees progress and even distributive justice.

But the pope sees this as a form of determinism — that “man is completely controlled by the binding laws of the market while believing he acts in freedom from them” — and also rejects the supposition that the natural laws of the market are in essence good. The problems of the global economy demonstrate otherwise, he says.

He concludes that ethics must have a place in any economy:

It is becoming an increasingly obvious fact of economic history that the development of economic systems which concentrate on the common good depends on a determinate ethical system, which in turn can be born and sustained only by strong religious convictions. Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.

Interesting reading, and remember, this was 1985.

Even at the Vatican, it’s beginning to feel a bit like …

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Burlap shields work on the Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square this morning. (CNS photo by Cindy Wooden)

VATICAN CITY — Although shops in Italy will not haul out all of their Christmas decorations until Advent begins Nov. 30, the Vatican seems to be on the North American preparation schedule.

Vatican workers, equipped with hard hats and tool belts, already have spent a week putting up the burlap-covered scaffolding that will keep the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square from public view until Christmas Eve.

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A Vatican employee secures the scaffolding around the Nativity scene in front of St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS photo by Cindy Wooden)

This morning, while two workers continued putting together the metal and wood scaffold and covering it with brown burlap, six others were building the frame for the scene itself.

So far, the Vatican has not published the floor plan for this year’s presentation, which is populated with larger-than-life-sized statues of the Holy Family. The Vatican scene usually has several different rooms and, keeping with Italian tradition, changes every year.

The Vatican may not start early according to U.S. standards, but its Nativity scene remains in place long after U.S. stores have decked themselves in red hearts for Valentine’s Day.

Vatican workers won’t be back to dismantle the Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square until the morning after the Feb. 2 feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

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