Pope John Paul II’s recent visit to the Americas displays, once again, this pope’s deeply pastoral heart. His every word and deed called this continent’s believers to renewed Christian faith and practice. Sadly, from out of the richness of his message, the only thing the secular media noted was a misinterpretation of his views on capitalism. For example, one news report asserted that John Paul’s Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America —the presentation of which provided the occasion for this visit—“reflects the pope’s concerns about excessive capitalism, moving the church away from its earlier worries about Marxism and liberation theology.”
This analysis stems from John Paul’s critique of what he calls “neo-liberalism,” an economic system “based on a purely economic conception of man” and that “considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples.” Anyone familiar with John Paul’s social teaching will recognize here his concern that social institutions reflect the truth about human nature. The trouble with neo-liberalism, just as with Marxism, is that it sees people only as bodies to the exclusion of their souls. So John Paul is not condemning capitalism but materialism, and a system of purely materialist capitalism is just as bad as one of atheistic communism.
Here, as always, John Paul’s concern is not exclusively with the social order, but with the care of souls. As he writes in Ecclesia in America, “the foundation on which all human rights rest is the dignity of the human person … ‘made in the divine image’.” Those who have followed our work know that the pope’s concern for human dignity is our concern, and indeed the concern of all who seek to promote a vision of free-market institutions guided by this principle. I thank you for your support in this project.
Rev. Robert A. Sirico