Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Pope and working families

So much has been said about Pope John Paul II over the last several days that I hesitate in posting this short note. He is perceived in progressive circles as a controversial figure, with much resistance and resentment about his positions on what are generally called social issues in this country. But for those whose daily work focuses on economic issues, there is much to laud in the Pope's legacy.
  • John Paul II was an inspiration for the trade union movement, both in Poland and around the world. As the AFL-CIO observes:
    "The pontiff’s most powerful statement on workers came in 1981 in the encyclical Laborem Exercens—'On Human Work'—in which John Paul called for 'ever new movements of solidarity of the workers and with the workers. This solidarity must be present whenever it is called for by the social degrading of the subject of work, by exploitation of the workers and by the growing areas of poverty and even hunger.'"
  • John Paul II was not shy about pointing out the evils of naked capitalism. In Centesimus Annus, the Pope wrote:

    "In spite of the great changes which have taken place in the more advanced societies, the human inadequacies of capitalism and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing. In fact, for the poor, to the lack of material goods has been added a lack of knowledge and training which prevents them from escaping their state of humiliating subjection.... It would appear that, on the level of individual nations and of international relations, the free market is the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. But this is true only for those needs which are "solvent", insofar as they are endowed with purchasing power, and for those resources which are "marketable", insofar as they are capable of obtaining a satisfactory price. But there are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied, and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish. It is also necessary to help these needy people to acquire expertise, to enter the circle of exchange, and to develop their skills in order to make the best use of their capacities and resources."
It is inevitable in the days and weeks following the Pope's passing that competing interests will seek to claim and elevate portions of John Paul II's legacy. His work on behalf of workers and unions and his advocacy for social and economic justice should not go unnoticed.


Anonymous said...

Great point. Too often, progressives concede the political characterization of religious organizations to right wingers, allowing wingers to falsely imply that their platform has been endorsed by the almighty.

Inasmuch as one man's or one church's opinion matters politically, it should be honestly presented to the people so they can make their own informed decision. If right wingers want to claim solidarity with John Paul II, they have to support every part of his legacy, not just the parts their special interests agree with.

free speech zone? said...

excellent. I left the Catholic Church years ago because of the oppression of women and, at times, children, within the church.

That said, I cannot imagine, for the Working Families Party, on issues of social and economic justice, a better ally in the religious world.

There are three camps of Catholics out there now. The first is very conservative on social issues, and misunderstand or do not know the church's stance on economic issues. The second camp are those that are Catholic in name only and have no clue about much of the history and teachings of the church. The third, which I happened to encounter in college, are those who follow the legacies of Christ, Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, Oscar Romero, etc. They are radical in their views on economic and social justice. They are freedom fighters.

In America, depending on what the new Pope brings to the table, I believe there will continue to grow this divide that will one day split the American Catholic Church into two churches, or altogether disassociate it from Rome.

Seeing how much good the church does worldwide to end hunger and poverty, I can only hope that Rome sees the light on some certain social issues before it further divides Christians and altogether forgets its two most important values: faith and works together, and supremacy of conscience.

Amy Upham