Hallelujah for Markets...from Vatican Finance Chief

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/21/2016 04:53:00 PM
The cardinal for capitalism, George Pell (de facto Vatican finance minister).
In the past I've covered "liberation theology"--the application of Marxist ideology to Christianity--and the controversies within the Catholic Church regarding it. During the time of Pope Benedict XVI, the arch-conservative who was in his previous guise Cardinal Ratzinger denounced the possibility of literally godless Marxist ideology co-existing with Christian doctrine. With the Jesuit Pope Francis though coming from Latin America--home of liberation theology--the preferential option for the poor is coming also back into focus. The main reason, of course, is because the current pontiff's stances often smack of "liberation theology." 

Touching upon these controversies is the role of the market in modern societies. Having condemned the solitary pursuit of riches as the "devil's dung" and other splendid allusions, Pope Francis and his seemingly liberation theology-friendly demeanor has struck others as a form of Catholic socialism. Previously disdained figures have been visiting the Vatican. Or, has capitalism-bashing really hit a fever pitch? 

George Pell, effectively the Vatican's equivalent of a finance minister--the Vatican is a state, after all--offers a more favorable view of markets:
George Pell, the head of the Holy See’s secretariat for the economy, told a conference hosted by The Global Foundation in Rome on Sunday that “no better model is available at the moment” than market economies, citing their capacity to “rejuvenate” after the Great Depression and recent global financial crisis, and their failure to produce the “massive alienation” predicted by Karl Marx.
His boss, though, may beg to differ. in his defense, Pell states that the Pope is actually not a socialist hardliner like some have styled him. Rather, Francis sees benefits from market mechanisms, although the focus on his more exaggerated statements against capitalism's admittedly negative excesses garners the bulk of media attention:
Cardinal Pell’s remarks contrast with the harsher tone towards unbridled capitalism often adopted by Pope Francis. In a speech last July in Bolivia he described the unfettered pursuit of money as the “dung of the devil”. Pope Francis also lashed out at multinational companies for plundering the planet in a high-profile encyclical letter on the environment published last June.

But Cardinal Pell insists that the Pope’s views may be more nuanced than is often believed — particularly by conservatives who have criticised the Argentine pope for being a socialist.

“We are all aware of Pope Francis’ commitment to social justice, his option for the poor and those on the peripheries, and his condemnations of exploitation, abuse and consumerism,” he said. “What is not so widely known is that Pope Francis himself ... has made specific and favourable reference to the role of business,” Cardinal Pell said. He cited how Pope Francis wrote in last June’s encyclical that business was a “noble vocation” and on his visit to the US he spoke of “the spirit of enterprise” as essential to a sustainable economy.
Catholicism is very hard to define from the conventional left-right duality Americans and their like view the world with. The Holy See sets its own course. Sometimes pleasing lefties with anti-war and anti-death penalty stances, it too pleases righties with its focus on the family and discouraging homosexuality. More than other things, markets can be viewed either way from Catholicism. The Acton Institute famously champions a market-friendly form of Catholicism, while Latin Americans including Pope Francis to some extent do bash its more extreme forms.

My personal belief remains the same--markets are essentially amoral. It can be used for good or ill. Those criticizing it for the excesses of capitalism certainly raise a valid point, but so do those who view it as a fairly mundane way to improve welfare in societies. Again, it's how market mechanisms are used rather than being inherently immoral or moral that raises confusion about the whole matter.