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The recession and Catholic social teaching

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 Contents - Mar 2009AD2000 March 2009 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Lent: preparing for the risen Christ - Peter Westmore
Lefebvrists: Benedict XVI's bold move for Church unity - Michael Gilchrist
News: The Church Around the World
Vocations: Indian priests: still plentiful but fewer available for overseas - AD2000 Report
American seminaries mostly 'healthy', but many problems remain
Did Antonio Gramsci have second thoughts? - Babette Francis
Pope welcomes election of new Russian Patriarch Kirill - Michael Gilchrist
Foundations of Faith: Protestant Churches: origins and beliefs (2) - Frank Mobbs
Obituary: Fr Richard Neuhaus (1936-2009): bringing the Gospel to public life - Fr Raymond J. De Souza
The recession and Catholic social teaching - Mark and Louise Zwick
The family and the culture of death: a challenge for Christians - Fr Dennis Byrnes
Marian Valley, spiritual oasis for young Brisbane Catholics - Br Barry Coldrey
Letters: Pivotal question - Fr M. Durham
Letters: In communion? - Errol P. Duke
Letters: Cure for AIDS - Ben Veitz
Letters: Generosity - Fr A. Joseph
Poetry: Collages
Books: Labour and Justice, by Gavan Duffy - Peter Westmore (reviewer)
Books: THE BIBLE AND THE QUR'AN, by Jacques Jomier OP - Tim Cannon (reviewer)
Books: Books available now from AD2000 Books
Reflection: Benedict XVI: why kneeling is central to Christian worship - Benedict XVI

God brought Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin together to form the Catholic Worker movement at a time when the world was facing an economic crash similar to today's. They critiqued robber barons, banks, the financial system and the free market ideology known in their time as laissez-faire capitalism. They did not look to socialism as a solution, but were able to develop an alternative based on the Gospel, Catholic social teaching and the lives of the saints.

There is a disconnect for Catholics between the word of the Gospel and the economic culture. Speaking at the recent synod, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that the word of God is the true reality, that the disappearance of hope along with the money was the result of building our lives on sand.

Jesus said his Gospel is not about building bigger barns (or bigger banks). It is about giving rather than receiving. The economy that is collapsing has been based on 'barn building' and on individual and corporate self-interest. Its marks have included a scandalous divide between salaries of CEOs and workers in their companies around the world, and deregulation and privatisation have left the market to wolves. Banks have pursued reckless policies that benefit only themselves. People are owned by their credit cards and by debt at exorbitant interest rates. Environmental concerns have been sacrificed. The media, which might inform the citizenry, are a part of the conglomerates.

We oppose abortion. However, our culture countenances every form of self-indulgence and then expects average people to practise heroic virtue in carrying a child in difficult circumstances.

Some have sadly been patriots-in-arms in promoting the machinations of the worst of the marketeers, attempting to equate Catholic ethics with no-limits capitalism. But, recently, the Vatican spoke, in the person of Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace: 'The logic of the market up to now has been that of maximum earnings, of making investments to obtain the greatest possible profit. And this, according to the social teaching of the Church, is immoral.'

Less publicised than bank and business failures is the human suffering that has come from turning everything into a for-profit business, from medicine to privatised prisons. Measuring everything by an ambiguous figure called the GDP (gross domestic product) and 'growth' is not a human measure at all.


International trade agreements which benefit the United States have increased poverty in countries to the south and pushed people to migrate. Attacks in recent years blaming immigrants for our economic problems not only were untrue, but outright calumny. The raids on businesses, the imprisonment of immigrants, and the cruel, hurtful laws against them passed in many states are destroying lives and families - not helping the economy.

The government's response to the crisis has been to enrich the very people and institutions that caused the problem in the first place and to continue the same approach: 'What is needed is more of the same: more free market, more free trade, more credit for lending at interest.'

Dorothy Day criticised the appeal to acquisitiveness that dominates advertisement in our culture: 'There have been many sins against the poor which cry out to high heaven for vengeance. The one listed as one of the seven deadly sins is depriving the labourer of his share. There is another one, that is, instilling in him the paltry desires to satisfy that for which he must sell his liberty and his honour ... newspapers, radios, television, and battalions of advertising people [woe to that generation] deliberately stimulate his desires ...'.

For believers, our economics has been upside down. More of the same is not the answer. We would do better with the logic of the Gospel, Catholic social teaching and the lives of the saints.

Mark and Louise Zwick edit the 'Houston Catholic Worker' where their article was first published.

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 22 No 2 (March 2009), p. 13

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