There is no obvious connection between the new document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for the Promotion of the Integral Human Development, and the discussion of Bl. Paul VI encyclical Humanae Vitae on its 50th anniversary. However, a link can be made, and it is about the Church’s ability to be prophetic.
The document Oeconomicae et Pecuniariae Questiones, released May 17, does not come out of the blue. It provides a theological framework to the Catholic Church on economic issues, with a particular perspective on the Social Teaching of the Church. Things needed to be framed. The Church, during the last 40 years, has always confronted the issue from the Social Teaching point of view. All the Social Teaching of the Church is based on the Gospel. This latest document just sheds light on that.
It does so underscoring that human beings have a relational nature, that there is a moral need to have an ultimate goal that is not the personal profit; a goal that is above all the integral human development based on ethics beyond individualism.
This is not a new topic. In 1985, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, delivered a lecture on Market, Economy and Ethics at the symposium on “Church and the Economy in dialogue.” In that lecture, he emphasized that “an economic policy that is ordered not only to the good of the group — indeed, not only to the common good of a determinate state — but to the common good of the family of man demands a maximum of ethical discipline and thus a maximum of religious strength.”
In 1986, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Piece released a document entitled “At the service of the human community: an approach to international debt,” that even led to a reform of the financial system.
The document was widely quoted on the Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that was one of the two documents issued in the 1980s by the former Sant’Uffizio to address the issue of Liberation Theology.
That document was a response to the Marxist claim about society (ideas make reality, and not vice versa) that the Latin American theological thought bought into, strongly influenced by European thought.
The document asked for “new frontlines of solidarity”, in order to respond to the grave economic problems and world imbalances” – this appeal is now reiterated by Pope Francis and the Holy See diplomatic network when they call for a “globalization of solidarity.”
Among the precedents, it must be noted that Benedict XVI delivered two speeches that mentioned financial issues at the 2010 Synod and the Special Synod in 2011 on the Middle East. In the 2011 speech, finance was included among the false Gods, while the 2010 speech underscored that finances might collapse, but God never could.
Always in 2011, a document released by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace shed light on the need to establish a global authority with universal competences to regulate finances. It was not only that. Facing a world still strongly characterized by a balance among States established with the peace of Westphalia, the Holy See, since John XXIII, was asking for a major participation of States.
This Holy See request was at the basis of the support given to the Society of Nations and to the United Nations after, although with all the reservations and the need to reform them.
The original aim of the Society of Nations was that of “a comprehensive intra-state democracy designed to ensure global cooperation, peace and justice,” in the words of British writer Rana Dasgupta – who is about to publish a book entitled “After Nations.”
In the end, behind the latest document published by the Vatican, there are a series of prophetic views that already delved into the issue, though it must be said that this brilliant analysis of the situation never turned into something more concrete.
A theological document was however needed to give a precise framework to the Pope’s words and the Church’s initiatives, always more at risk of being misunderstood.
In fact, more than a risk, it is certain they will be misunderstood. Behind the transnational financial issues, there are many special interests that make of the Catholic Church its main antagonist.
At least because, when the international organization evolved from empires to States, there was a switch from inclusive societies, looking for a synthesis among peoples, to exclusive societies, based on ethnic affiliation and the so-called peoples’ self determination.
Peoples’ self determination somehow reduces everything to issues of sovereignty, while the intrinsic dignity of every citizen is set aside.
Dasgupta also noted that this notion of peoples’ self determination brought about difficult situations, with peoples without nations and governments obliged to build identities and bureaucratic hierarchies that excluded other peoples.
In this situation, big ideological thinking emerged. In fragmentation and exclusivity, ideologies can be spread and generate a dictatorship of the thought needed to control the human being. This fragmentation paved the way to the sexual revolution with its dramatic change of vocabulary. And this situation was that in which Bl. Paul VI published the encyclical Humanae Vitae, that now reached its 50th anniversary.
This is where the link between Humanae Vitae and Oeconomicae et Pecuniariae Questiones is revealed. The document on the economy tries to provide a theological and moral framework to a phenomenon that the Holy See has closely observed in the last years, and that step by step became more ideological, getting to the current situation.
Bl. Paul VI’s document on fertility and procreation responded to the signs of the times. A real ideology around the sexual revolution. Even the Church was affected by this ideology. Societies’ categories were applied to Church and doctrine, almost requiring the Church to change its teaching.
Paul VI was able to look beyond the moral issues, as the Church has done on economic issues.
Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, noted in an interview that “Humanae Vitae was prophetic, as all the dangers it previewed came true and entered in the modern life: nihilism, materialism. The superior sense of human existing is missing, and so behind façades there is emptiness.”
God is crucial, both for economic-social issues and for issues of sexual morality. This is the reason why the Holy See was able to foresee much of the current situations, both on economic issues and on moral issues. The Church noted the drift that was going to happen after the sexual revolution, and took measures, paying a high cost in terms of relations with the world (e.g. the secular campaign against Humanae Vitae, that is still on) and in terms of internal discussion.
The latest document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Dicastery for the Promotion of the Integral Human Development can help the discussion on Humanae Vitae because it puts God at the center of the stage and provides a theological framework.
This setting must be remembered when proposals to adjust Humanae Vitae on the basis of pragmatism are advanced, with the aim of meeting the wishes of individuals and not the aim of looking at a greater interest. In the end, the new mentality, the ideology that has spread among nations and beyond nations, allow men and women the hedonistic pleasure of sex, but not true freedom.
This true freedom must be exercised as a citizen, must be claimed when economic systems create unjust inequality, must be lived as children of God.
This will be certainly food for thought