The Pope and Profit by Joe Grima
Monday, 15 October, 2007
Pope Benedict remains an incomparable international figure also because of his courage in making statements that are often unpopular and sometimes very controversial. Pope Benedict understands his mission as a world leader incredibly well. He knows that he is a world leader, not just the successor of Peter and Leader of the world's Catholics, but a person whose words leave an impact on other world leaders and the actions.
His statements are always food for thought and a reason for serious debate. Pope Benedict's address at Regensburg University about the historic roots of Islam must have been well calculated. His Holiness must have known that that statement would bring a backlash of some degree - perhaps not of the size and spread of what the retort from fundamentalist Islamists actually turned out to be. His quote was factually correct and was misinterpreted by fundamentalists who saw in their reaction an occasion to raise the stakes on their pitiable cause.
Recently Pope Benedict made another statement, in voice, which he must have known would drive a stake into the heart of one of the world's most widespread economic systems, Capitalism. In my opinion, with that statement, Pope Benedict wanted to highlight the ill effects of the Capitalist system in order to create an international debate that would emphasize the fate of millions throughout the world as a result of indiscriminate profit making. Pope Benedict said that "When profit is obtained in a just measure, it is naturally legitimate and necessary for economic development".
"However", he said, "Capitalism should not be regarded as the only valid model for economic progress". The words of His Holiness were making an extremely valid distinction between that profit which is just and legitimate and therefore forms part of the common good and that profit which, as part of an arrogant capitalist system, becomes indiscriminate and ignores the common good altogether. I compare the good and the bad of the capitalist system to the difference between eating to live, which is legitimate and natural and living to eat which is a distortion of the legitimacy of consumption.
In condemning indiscriminate capitalism, Pope Benedict was condemning international practices which eliminate both the common good and the regard for human suffering caused by excessive profiteering - the suffering of millions who in today's world are unable to make ends meet, those who have to choose between the schooling of their children and food on the table everyday, those, in so many countries of today's world, who need to turn to crime - robbery, prostitution, drug trafficking - in order to eat because prices of essential goods are unattainable with their incomes.
With his criticism of Capitalism, Pope Benedict was not advocating the defunct failed Communist system. He was not siding with those leaders (some in our own country) who believe that the State should rule people's lives in order to be able to offer everyone the bare minimum, a loaf of bread, a glass of water and a shirt on one's back. That system is long dead. What Pope Benedict was saying is that, as with everything else on this planet, profit also requires a balance.
Profit has to be balanced against the interest and the well being of the average man who has a right to live a decent life, a right to be able to send his children to a decent school, and a right to have a roof over his family's head. According to this wise Leader of the Catholic Church, profit is legitimate only when it takes into account the common good. When it does not, Capitalism becomes as bad as the system that it spent seventy years combating and which finally destroyed itself - Communism.