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Catholic voices against runaway capitalism

  • 20 February 2017


The presidency of Donald Trump should bring a renewed focus on the dangers of unbridled capitalism. The Catholic Church has a rich trove of teachings on the subject that have been missing in action for the past 30 years and need to be rediscovered, fast.

Pope John Paul II had no time for Communism, which is unsurprising since he had to live under it before becoming pope. He was firmly determined that theologians not naively enable or endorse Communist politics, which was made clear in a 1984 Vatican directive penned by then-Cardinal Ratzinger (today Pope Emeritus Benedict) forbidding elements of allegedly Communist-influenced Liberation Theology.

In the same year President Reagan, who was carried to office with the support of the religious Right, established diplomatic relations with the Vatican for the first time ever. An alliance between the Church hierarchy and right-wing US politics was established which had no reason to outlive the Cold War but somehow remained firmly in place for three decades.

The Church's tacit support for the Republican agenda is likely to vanish under Trump with the US bishops having already challenged him on migration and refugees. That should not be the only point of difference.

What's been forgotten or at least soft-pedalled in those 30 years is that John Paul II's writings, like those of his predecessors and successors, are just as critical of unbridled capitalism as they are of socialism. The Church has warned us for well over 100 years to steer a path between the excesses of both.


"People spend a similar amount of time at work as they do with their families yet the level of engagement with work and business-related moral questions in the English-speaking church is woeful."


Now is the time for a well-articulated Christian challenge to the problems of capitalism which seem likely to get worse before they get better. The United States is already more unequal today than it ever has been in history, even worse than it was in the days of the robber barons.

Where is the voice of the local churches on widening wealth inequality fuelled by stagnant wage growth and on the privatisation of public services? Or on financialisation of the economy, which fuels both of those trends? Or on tax justice?

This silence is unique to the English-speaking world. In other countries, Catholics are on the front foot about the problems of capitalism and stand with the marginalised, particularly in Pope Francis's native