World economic crisis

Fr Pawel Rozpiatkowski

Soon besides the fight for energy sources we can face fight for drinking water, the sources of which are diminishing.

Moral conscience and not the market must begin ruling over the world.

There are divergent opinions how long the crisis will last but today no one questions that it will affect almost all people. Politicians do their best to minimise its effects. According to the representatives of the Church the proposed solutions are like pouring new wine into old wineskins. In the end both the wine and the wineskins are ruined.

The stand of the Church

What can the Church have to do with economy? Economy is not taught at major seminaries. Clergymen usually do not deal with it but in spite of that the Pope as well as the cardinals often speak about the financial crisis. The letters of the bishops’ conferences and particular bishops worldwide refer to the economic disturbances. Priests speaking from the pulpit do not omit the subject, either. Why do the clergy grant this right to themselves? Because moral system should be at the foundation of economic models. But currently, the models have been regulated by the contradiction of moral rules, i.e. fear and greed. In their letter to President Bush the American bishops, diagnosing the causes of the crisis, which started in the USA, stated that wrong conduct and people’s practices had led to it. They pointed to greed, speculations, exploitation of the weakest and unworthy practices. Therefore, economy should be both effective and just. Furthermore, it will not even be effective without moral foundations but it will bring about suffering to the weakest, which the latest economic events have shown.

He predicted the crisis

Almost 25 years ago Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said during one of his lectures on the relationships between the Church and economy, ‘It becomes more and more obvious that the development of economic systems, which concentrate on common good, depends on the determined ethic system, which can again be ‘born’ and maintained by strong religious convictions.’ Therefore, religion is indispensable for economy. Without it economic systems, even those having noble aims, always end badly wanting to do their best.

In the short term

What do the hierarchs say? They say completely different things than the political leaders. The latter usually appeal to people not to change their consumptive customs and life style and they try to convince people that all things will return to normal. Reducing these statements to a common denominator the hierarchs say that the domineering social model governed by the crazy pursuit of profit has bankrupted, and pumping unimaginable sums of money, without changing the foundations, to revive this model will again end in failure. The Japanese bishops openly criticised ‘market fundamentalism’, controlled by the free market principles without any moral norms. The British Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor expressed the most severe criticism. At a charity reception he said straight that in the year 2008 ‘capitalism died’, which astonished the gathered businessmen and exposed him to the criticism of politicians and the media that supported them and which were part of economy and followed the same principles. Practically all hierarchs stress that people must change if the situation is to be good. Like the Gospel has repeated for two thousand years – what is needed is conversion. That’s why Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris has spoken about the necessity to change style life since the present situation showed clearly that man is not allowed to do what he wishes. It is hard to find a statesman who thinks in the perspective of one term; he always looks to the future. Certainly, politicians try to amend the proposed solutions as soon as possible, being afraid of the withdrawal of voters’ support since as we know great men’s favours are uncertain. The government anxiously looks at the events in Latvia, Lithuania, Great Britain or Russia where again there are manifestations that have been forgotten for several years.

Four crises

In his speech to the diplomats accredited to the Apostolic See Benedict XVI said, ‘The current global financial crisis must be seen in this regard also as a bench test: are we ready to interpret it, in its complexity, as a challenge for the future and not only as an emergency to which we must find short-term solutions? Are we prepared to undertake a profound revision of the prevalent model of development in order to correct it with concerted, far-sighted interventions? In reality, this is required by the state of the planet's ecological health and especially the cultural and moral crisis whose symptoms have been visible for some time in every part of the world, far more than by the immediate financial problems.’ Where did the crisis of morality and culture come from? Briefly speaking from departing from the sources, which nourished our civilisation. From the Greek philosophy with its rational discourse: from the Roman tradition respecting the law; from Christianity with its respect for individual and his/her conscience, clear foundations and values without which we could not speak of liberalism, democracy and parliamentarism. Departing from these three sources evoked intellectual crisis with the dictatorship of relativism and moral crisis that changed the people of the West into creatures without scruples. Together all these things are like a tumour that exhausts our society.

To burn the deity

Speaking about rescue plans for economy the representatives of the Church do not say – they are not competent about this – about technical details to rescue budgets, improving the financial conditions of banks and companies. But they speak about the foundations on which a new building must be erected. The solution concerns the transformation of man. And this is not only an appeal to the individuals’ consciences (to them as well) but to societies that can and should help to bring about these changes. How is man to change? What has he do with himself? The solution is not easy at all. Man should limit himself. The only drive of human attitudes and behaviours cannot be the overwhelming desire to possess. It cannot be that the only ‘god’ of people is money. And concretely speaking? In his letter for Christmas Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, referring to the crisis, suggested to give up elaborated delicacies and buying the most expensive presents, following the principle: to be more that to have more. In a more subtle way, but generally speaking about the same thing Benedict XVI stressed during Mass at the beginning of the year that the condition to fight poverty is ‘to create equality, reducing the gap between those who waste the superfluous and those who lack what they need. This entails just and sober decisions, which are moreover made obligatory by the need to administer the earth's limited resources wisely.’ The above quoted Cardinal Vingt-Trois convinced us of the rightness of Christ’s solution – giving up his life to give it to brothers. Therefore, one must change one’s aims, desires and dreams since they have led to a border point where we are now. The world must be ruled over by moral conscience and not by the market. What is good does not go hand in hand with what is beneficial. And although the Church does not reject the idea of free market it suggests to submit it under a bigger social control, first of all to submit it to the state in order to – as Bishop William F. Murphy, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development of the American Bishops’ Conference said – meet the main needs of the whole society.

"Niedziela" 8/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: