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Initial Reactions to Centesimus Annus

The Wall Street Journal, May 1

Centesimus Annus is a ringing endorsement of the market economy. The endorsement is, however, joined to powerful challenges…

“John Paul affirms a ‘new capitalism.’ But the term he prefers is simply ‘free economy.’ Of course socialism is economically disastrous, but what he calls the ‘evil’ of the system imposed by the communist ‘empire’ is the denial of freedom. Readers will miss the gravamen of this encyclical if they do not recognize that it is, first and most importantly, an argument about human nature. Capitalism is the economic corollary of the Christian understanding of man’s nature and destiny…

“The pope says that we can now see how prescient Leo XIII was in his scathing critique of the socialist idea 100 years ago…According to the pope’s argument, interpretations of Catholic social teaching along socialist or semi-socialist lines, together with the idea that the Church proposes a ‘third way’ between capitalism and socialism, are in serious error…

“The present encyclical must surely prompt a careful, and perhaps painful, re-thinking of conventional wisdoms about Catholic social teaching. It may be, for instance, that the controlling assumptions of the American Bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, must now be recognized as unrepresentative of the Church’s authorative teaching…

“While the bulk of the 114 pages of the encyclical is devoted to economics, its import is to deflate the importance of the economic. Economics, politics, culture – these three define the social order, and the greatest of these is culture. And at the heart of culture is the spiritual and moral…

“While Centesimus Annus is a ringing affirmation of the free economy, there is nothing in it to justify complacency among the friends of capitalism. Socialism is dead, but ‘the new capitalism’ has hardly met the challenges raised by the pope.“

Richard John Neuhaus, Editor, First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public life.

The New York Times, May 2

“The encyclical, Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year), includes the fullest, and in many ways the most positive, treatment of the market economy in any papal documents…[it] acknowledges the role of profit and the wisdom of harnessing rather than suppressing self-interest in the service of economic production.“

Peter Steinfels, Staff reporter.

The Associated Press, May 2

“Laying out his model for a post-communist world, Pope John Paul II today acknowledged capitalism’s successes but denounced the ‘consumer society’ as akin to Marxism for ignoring moral values.”

National Public Radio, May 2

“The latest encyclical focuses on the practical materialism of market economies, their unbridled search for profit, consumerism, and selfishness without solidarity. The Pope says it is not possible to understand man on the basis of economics alone. And he calls for state intervention to regulate market economies through a strong legal system that also takes into consideration the ethical and religious needs of the human person…

“The encyclical reflects the Pope’s concern that what he calls the viruses of Western capitalism now threaten to contaminate the lands of Eastern Europe, recently liberated from Marxist ideology.”

Sylvia Poggiolli, Broadcast correspondent.

The Washington Times, May 3

“If Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum was revolutionary in the history of Catholic thought, Pope John Paul II’s new encyclical, Centesimus Annus, is cataclysmic. For the first time ever, a pope has explicitly endorsed the free market as the ‘victorious social system’ in the world, and the type of economy that ought to be proposed in all places, especially in the third world. Champions of the morality of a market economy, and others who care about the plight of the poor, will rightly rejoice that the leader of the largest institutional religious body in the world has given his own moral sanction to the free economy.“

Ken Craycraft, research associate, The American Enterprise Institute.

The Los Angeles Times, May 3

“Centesimus Annus...is a watershed event in modern religious thought about freedom…In its concerns for workers’ rights, for families and voluntary associations, and for religious liberty, and in its endorsement of democracy, the Pope develops classic themes of papal teaching about the modern economy and the modern state. But John Paul also breaks crucial new ground by his forthright, if challenging, endorsement of what he terms the ‘free economy…’

Centesimus Annus is emphatically not for Catholics only. In the recent style of papal encyclicals, it addresses itself to ‘all men and women of goodwill.’ Freedom’s future will be more secure if the developed democracies, as well as the new democracies and the Third World, enter the conversation so boldly initiated by the man who may come to be known as the Pope of Freedom.“

George Weigel, President, Ethics and Public Policy Center.

The Washington Times, May 3

“Pope John Paul’s new encyclical is an explicit defense of free markets…

“Agreeing with the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, the pope calls socialism wrong not only because it violates human nature, ‘which is made for freedom,’ but because it is ‘impossible.’ Under socialism life becomes ‘progressively disorganized and goes into decline.’ If self-interest is violently suppressed, it is replaced with a burdensome system of bureaucratic control which dries up the well-springs of initiative and creativity.”

Llewellyn Rockwell, President, Ludwig von Mises Institute.

The New York Times, May 5

“In Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II has added a new chapter [to Catholic social thought]. Where previous encyclicals have tended to treat market competition as a form of economic anarchy and economic self-interest as simple greed, he hails the market’s efficiency and approves of its capacity to harness self-interest. The encyclical also focuses on the need to develop productive forces like scientific and technological know-how, organizational skills and entrepreneurial risk-taking.“

Peter Steinfels, Staff reporter.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 5

“There is no question about which economic system John Paul rejects: socialism, especially in its Marxist guise.”

Editorial.

The Washington Post, May 7

“The pope’s splendid new encyclical...adds a new characteristic to his defense of liberty. It has been clear for many years that Pope John Paul II supports democratic institutions more than any previous pope and sees them as the best way to secure human rights. It has also been clear to some that he supports a type of ‘reformed capitalism.’ But this new encyclical makes clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that the pope endorses the ‘business economy,’ the ‘market economy,’ or simply the ‘free economy’ as the goal he now proposes for formerly Communist and Third World societies…

“The institutional limitations on capitalism on which the pope insists are two: first, a juridical framework that protects other fundamental liberties besides economic liberty; and, second, a grounding of all liberties in a moral and religious core. In short, the economic system must be limited by a democratic polity and by a strong set of moral and cultural institutions…Only in this way will it, better than other systems, meet basic needs and constantly raise the level of the common good of peoples…

“The pope’s greatest originality...may lie in going beyond questions of politics and economics to questions of morality and culture. In a sense, the political argument of the 20th century has been resolved in favor of capitalism. Thinking of the chief battleground of the next century, the pope turns to the disappointing use that existing free societies are now making of their freedom. He turns to the inadequacies of modern culture and morals…

“You can tell the quality and depth of a nation’s culture, the pope trenchantly states, by observing what it produces and consumes. This simple remark imposes a new moral accountability on capitalist firms, advertisers and media. In this century, the pope thinks free peoples have neglected their responsibilities to the quality of the moral atmosphere, the cultural ecology in which they try to raise their children and to be faithful to their destiny of free citizens…

“This is a great encyclical. It will release enormous energies in Eastern Europe, the Third World and advanced societies. It should read as well in 2091 as Leo XIII’s accurate predictions about socialism in 1891 still read today. No other world leader could have produced such a profound tour d’horizon. Get a copy and see for yourself. You will be glad you did.”

Michael Novak, George Frederick Jewitt Chair in Religion and Public Policy, The American Enterprise Institute.

National Catholic Reporter, May 10

“Considering the world economic order, the pope appears to be advocating a system somewhere between what he sees as the failed Marxist state socialism and inadequate Western capitalist models…The pope takes issue with the idea that profit should be a just economy’s sole motivating force…Examining communism’s collapse in Eastern Europe and posing the question of whether capitalism is ‘the victorious social system,’ John Paul responds ambivalently…

“Pope John Paul’s latest social encyclical, at some 25,000 words, contains enough to please conservatives and progressives alike. For the conservatives, it contains strong affirmations of free markets; for progressives’ an equally strong demand that these markets be regulated by society and the state to serve the common good…

“Considering economic systems, the pope states their moral test rests in the way they serve the common good. Communism failed; capitalism’s record has serious, sometimes disastrous shortcomings…

“This is a far cry from the high-rolling, union-busting, deregulated capitalism of the Reagan-Bush years, yet commentators in the United States, Catholics among them, are already saying that the document endorses capitalism and ends the argument about socialism or a ‘third way.’ In fact, it does not end the argument; it opens it up…

“Moreover, the pope calls for a concerted worldwide effort (italics in the original) to bring about those basic conditions — an effort which also involves sacrificing the positions of income and power enjoyed by more developed economies…

“By definition, an economic system that uses local, national and international controls to take money from the rich and share it with the poor is not capitalism. It is already something else, and the pope suggests that ‘business economy’ or ‘market economy’ or simply ‘free economy’ would be better names for it…But it is clear that in the new morality, people, not economic principles, are primary…

Centesimus Annus is the second consecutive encyclical in which John Paul expresses ecological concerns...The church’s pro-life agenda is expanded to include environmental concerns, slowly moving from a strictly anthropocentric to a more creation-centered viewpoint. The shift is subtle, for many slow, but discernable nonetheless-and altogether significant.“

Editorial.

National Catholic Reporter, May 10

“Pope John Paul’s latest en-cyclical...has at least two authors. Call them Dr. Karl Jeckyll and Professor Hyde-Wojtyla. Jeckyll believes-no, knows-that the church is always right about everything. He starts from the confident statement that ‘from the Christian vision of the human person there necessarily follows a correct vision of society.’ Necessarily? Have Christians always lived up to their lofty vision of society?...

“Jeckyll draws the logical consequence: Those who do not share in the Christian vision cannot have ‘a correct vision of society.’ Bad luck on secular society: doomed to be wrong…

“As if that were not enough, the church apparently takes all the initiatives in the social sphere, nothing is granted to the ‘labor movement.’ Monsignor George Higgins, please note. Once this principle is established, the next step is to exaggerate the role of Rerum Novarum

“...it seems best to treat Centesimus Annus as a long editorial written by the leading Central European intellectual (only Vaclav Havel comes anywhere near him). He has great experience of communism. We treasure his insights and admire his philosophical acumen. He appears to be saying that he does not possess any authority in contingent matters. Not per se. Not as such…But appearances are deceptive…

“John Paul could give all of us a lead...if only he could give his more absolute claims a rest. The world is his oyster. It would be unfortunate if his epitaph were: He would not stoop, he failed to conquer.”

Peter Hebblethwaite, Vatican Affairs Correspondent.

The Washington Times, May 14

“We poor mortals are blessed indeed if, even once in our prosaic lifetimes, we are witness to watershed changes in human thinking. Already many of us have seen the changes wrought by WWII in the 1940s and the death knell of communism in the late 1980s…

“But now we are witness to another intellectual and spiritual marker, one whose importance to the maps of mankind’s future can scarcely be overestimated. This is the new encyclical by Pope John Paul II affirming the Roman Catholic Church’s approval of the concept of a free market over a socialist economy. This effectively reverses the direction of previous church documents…

“The pope’s timely encyclical will be a boon to the free market thinking that is beginning to bloom in Poland with the end of communism and the historic freeing of the economy. Indeed, the encyclical may well make a market economy possible there…

“The pope’s new encyclical will be a boon to Latin America. The entire hemisphere is in the throes of being transformed, in economic thinking, in much the same way that Spain was transformed in the 1970s - toward a modern, wealth-creating state based upon an individual work-and-savings ethic…

Before our eyes, countries and societies formerly frozen in the hopeless old ways...are beginning to moderate their behavior and become modern. The pope’s encyclical will be an invaluable tool for the coming transformation.“

Georgie Anne Geyer, Nationally syndicated columnist.

UPI Religion Radio, May 24

“It is not just Eastern Europeans nor just Catholics who may learn from this encyclical. Protestants and others of good will throughout the world, especially those who are tempted to discouragement or apathy regarding needed change, can profit from the encyclical. If, by God’s grace, tyrants can fall in Eastern Europe, might not we hope to see righteousness and justice increase elsewhere? John Paul calls all of us from helpless cynicism to hopeful citizenship…”

Diane Knippers, Deputy Director, Institute on Religion and Democracy.

National Catholic Reporter, May 24

“Pope John Paul’s new en-cyclical...is one of the truly great documents of Catholic social teaching and will do more to help the poor around the world than any previous encyclical. Following the fall of socialism, he has recognized with greater clarity than any other religious leader the superior capacity of free economies to meet the aspirations of ordinary people everywhere…

“A central theme of the encyclical is the affirmation of the moral and economic superiority of a market economy or a ‘business economy,’ as he sometimes calls it, to any of its modern alternatives…

“What is most surprising to some about this encyclical is the pope’s strong criticism of the modern welfare state or, a he calls it, the ‘social assistance state.’ Many Americans have criticized our welfare state for its inefficiency and expense, for weakening the family and for turning the poor into passive clients with little incentive to help themselves…He calls on all of us to help the poor in more ‘neighborly’ and personal ways both to strengthen families and to empower local institutions…

“The pope’s candid reflections...will encourage the nations of Eastern Europe now undergoing great social and economic changes and will energize those in the chronically poor nations of the underdeveloped world. After the fall of socialism, the pope points to a ‘business economy’ as the model we should look to for reform and growth in those parts of the world…

“We urge our fellow citizens, especially in the business and academic communities, to study the pope’s encyclical carefully. It articulates in clear and moving words the faith that many of us hold, not only the Catholic faith, but on a penultimate level, our faith in the institutions of the United States of America. In its celebration of what can be achieved under free economies, and in the challenges it sets for the future, this encyclical is an important event for the Catholic church and for all those who wish to advance liberty and prosperity in the world and to elevate our public life.”

William E. Simon, Former secretary of the Treasury, and Michael Novak.

America, May 25

“The consequent papal balancing of the virtues and debits of each system has in recent decades maddened political conservatives in this country. After John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra, in 1961, the conservative quip was: Mater, si; Magistra, no. The same sort of criticism of the papal attitude was heard after John Paul II’s Sollicitudo Rei Socialis in 1988, for by then, the critics insinuated, the Pope should have shown himself more appreciative of capitalism’s Communist-fighting vigor. Now that communism has in fact had its great downfall, this sort of criticism takes a different form-namely, reading Centesimus Annus as if it announced not only the historical victory of capitalism, but its moral triumph as well…does the Pope conclude to the ‘triumph’ of Capitalism? Hardly.“

Editorial.

Christian Century, May 29

“The keys to economic and human development identified here are not unfamiliar to Protestants. Centesimus speaks of “work” in terms that echo the “Protestant ethic” about which Max Weber wrote. It speaks also of private property in terms that sound like John Locke (whom some have called the Protestant social philosopher). And it manifests an appreciation of technological advances that was common in Protestant modernism—although praise for technology does not extend to abortion or to modern weaponry…

In the past a chief Protestant critique of the Roman Catholic tradition was not only that it had lost its evangelical accent, but that it became so Roman it had lost its catholicity. This charge is more difficult to make after this century of encyclicals, and especially after Centesimus. Ecumenical Protestants often wrestle with questions of inclusiveness and pluralism that neither evangelicals or Catholics face directly. Our witness would be enriched by both the evangelical imperus and the catholic vision present in this encyclical.“

Max L. Stackhouse, Editor-at-Large