Pope Benedict XVI today called for reforming the United Nations and establishing a "true world political authority" with "real teeth" to manage the global economy with God-centered ethics.
In his third encyclical, a major teaching, released as the G-8 summit begins in Italy, the pope says such an authority is urgently needed to end the current worldwide financial crisis. It should "revive" damaged economies, reach toward "disarmament, food security and peace," protect the environment and "regulate migration."
Benedict writes, "The market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak."
The encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) is a theologically dense explication of Catholic social teaching that draws heavily from earlier popes, particularly PaulVI's critique of capitalism 42 years ago. And echoing his predecessor John Paul II, Benedict says, "every economic decision has a moral consequence."
Issued days before his Friday meeting with President Obama, the pope's views here are "to the left of Obama in terms of economic policy," particularly in calls for redistribution of wealth, says political scientist Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
The encyclical also echoes Benedict's many speeches, saying that to reach sound a global economy every responsibility and commitment must be rooted in the values of Christian truth.
Without that, he says, "there is no social conscience and responsibility." Neither, he says, are mere "good sentiments" enough. Human progress requires God, and today's choices concern "nothing less than the destiny of man."
Although Benedict says the church has no "technical solutions to offer," he asserts that religion has a role in the public square. His very specific suggestions on the economy, ecology and justice are addressed not just to Catholics, but to everyone, from heads of state to household shoppers.
According to the encyclical:
•Labor must be safeguarded after years of rampant market forces leaving citizens powerless in the face of "new and old risks" and without effective trade union protections.
•Elimination of world hunger is essential for "safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet," and the problem is not resources but their inequitable distribution.
•"Demographic control" through an "anti-birth mentality" that promotes abortion and birth control "cannot lead to morally sound development." He blasts those who support abortion "as if it were a form of cultural progress."
•The environment is "God's gift to everyone" and we have a "grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations" in good condition, says Benedict. He laments, "how many natural resources are squandered by wars!"
•"Financiers must rediscover" ethics and not use "sophisticated instruments" to "betray the interests of savers."
•Consumers, must "realize that purchasing is always a moral — and not simple economic — act." In this context, the ecological crisis is seen as a crisis in human ecology.
"The pope is saying you need just structures and people who act justly," says Steve Colecchi, director of the office of international justice and peace for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "He's calling on every level of society to be rooted in an ethical vision of the human person."
The "true world political authority" that Benedict calls for should keep solutions as simple and local as possible but still create solidarity for the common good.
Reese notes the "strong language here on the redistribution of wealth — not something people like to talk about in the USA. If the Catholic right is against the redistribution of wealth, they're against the pope. He doesn't believe an unregulated marketplace is going to solve all the problems of economy and poverty."
Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara (Calif.) University, praised Benedict for including an emphasis on "life ethics" as "essential" to a healthy social and economic order.
Lew Daly, senior fellow at Demos, a New York City-based public policy organization and author of God's Economy: Faith-Based Initiatives and the Caring State, praised the text as "a turning point for the church and particularly for the American church, because our nation and our society is both the epicenter of wealth and the epicenter of inequality.
"Nearly half of the world's population lives on less than $2.50 a day and nearly 80% live on less than $10 a day. In the meantime a relative handful of corporations and wealthy families have grown rich far beyond the greatest emperors and kings of the past.
"There may be growth, but a faithful Catholic does not call this progress, the pope argues, until the growth is more equitably shared according to the design of the Creator," says Daly.