The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

A modest proposal for the pope

With the world economy on the brink of calamity, if not collapse, here’s an idea.

It comes to us from Austin Ivereigh at the blog of America magazine, In All Things:

The task: to recover the connection between money and material reality, to restore the human dimension to financial transactions, to underpin borrowing with the kind of realism which is only possible when we still see the human being behind the bank account.

Enter, then, a new phase for modern Catholic social teaching, which began, in 1891, with the denunciation in Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum of the deification of the market and the consequent instrumentalisation of the human person.


Rerum Novarum appeared in the wake of the crisis of what is sometimes called “Manchester capitalism” – the kind of market-worship we have seen these past years on Wall St.

As we slip into recession, and the idols crumble, people will surely turn (as they did in the 1930s, remember, following the Wall St crash) to Catholic social teaching.

Your Holiness, now would be an excellent moment for an historic, idol-smashing, human-dignity-restoring encyclical that could turn out to be the foundation of a revived social-Catholic movement of the twenty-first century.

(But you’ve probably already thought of that.)

Indeed. And the next encyclical, we’re told, is due any second now. Stay tuned.

Comments read comments(9)
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Deacon Dean

posted September 30, 2008 at 9:36 am

I have, for some time now, found the terms “human resources” and “human capital” to be de-humanizing and insulting. It points to a culture that does not respect the human PERSON.

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steve p

posted September 30, 2008 at 10:15 am

Gee, imagine that. The Catholic Church had something to say about these matters over 100 years ago?*shakes head in disbelief*And all this time I thought Rome was filled with paternalistic, Mary-worshiping, backward-looking fuddy-duddies. And to think they might have a message for the world that is actually relevant for our day and age!

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posted September 30, 2008 at 2:42 pm

One of the things that made me a Catholic was the wisdom of the popes. Realizing of course that conversion is an ongoing process, the "I must be a Catholic" part largely came about for me by trying to prove the church wrong. I actually started reading papal encyclicals, especially older ones which enabled me to see the "result" of the "wisdom & warnings." I often tell people, "just go back 100 years and start reading." Just last night I went back to read a lot of what JPII warned/wrote against consumerism. He knew this day was coming for us. It's especially interesting to understand, from his perspective, how consumerism knows no social class. JPII said that consumerism is the worst of the "isms", even Nazism.

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posted September 30, 2008 at 4:26 pm

When you said “modest proposal” I really, really got the impression that this was going to be about something different.

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Maximilian Nightingale

posted September 30, 2008 at 9:43 pm

Rerum Novarum rocks the Casbah. I lent it to my AP government teacher because he was curious about the crazy idea of the family being the basic unit of society. Yay Pope Leo XIII!!!

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posted October 1, 2008 at 9:43 am

Klaire makes an excellent point. Papal encyclicals are essential reading for Catholics who want to understand their faith. If more people (not just Catholics) would read what the popes have written, there would be a much greater appreciation for the wisdom, beauty, and harmony of Catholic teaching. I don’t think Pope Benedict needs to write a new encyclical as much as the priests and catechists need to start harnessing the wealth of church teachings. Unfortunately, I fear that most of them either don’t know that this information exists, or they think that anything written prior to 1963 is not applicable to contemporary Catholicism. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you began to hear homilies quoting and expounding upon “Rerum Novarum?” Alas, we are more likely to hear a priest quote a politician or an activist celebrity.

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steve p

posted October 1, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Adam,Such as…?[Dcn. Greg, perhaps you could adapt the John Cleese, “And now for something completely different…”]

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