- Reform, rebuild and renew
On Thursday Pope Francis will have completed a year as Bishop of Rome, a year in which he has begun to transform the Church. But be in no doubt, argues our Rome correspondent, of just how wide and how deep go his aims for change
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Pope Francis' comments on capitalism, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, are more nuanced than Michael Sean Winters would lead us to believe ("Capital Concerns", 18 January). Yes, Francis links “the problems of the poor” with “the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation”. But in his next breathe he is unequivocal: “business is a vocation and a noble vocation”.
In other words, capitalism works “provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life”. As long as business (as the increase of goods and the generation of wealth) is conducted within an ethical framework (ie there are restrictions to its autonomy) requiring the invocation of “global solidarity”, the equitable distribution of goods, the protection of labour, the defence of the powerless and a commitment to justice, then it is not morally evil.
This understanding of capitalism allows the Church and other Catholic religious congregations (including Jesuits) to have substantial shares in businesses in the UK and overseas. A review of the British Province's financial accounts (filed with the Charity Commission), for example, shows that in 2011 nearly £300 million was speculated on global stock markets (including Wall Street). The income generated by these businesses and distributed to shareholders raised nearly £12 million for the Jesuits which in turn was used to fund worthy charitable activities including care of elderly members (over £5m) and work in missions of the Society of Jesus (over £3m).
Given this more nuanced reading of Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis' real stance in relation to capitalism emerges. It is unclear to me why certain American Catholic philanthropists, with the billions they have made running successful businesses, are discouraged from financing the restoration works of St Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Could it be they feel the interests of the poor are served better through funding frontline services, like food banks, debt counselling services etc than church conservation projects?
Henry Broadbent, St Vincent De Paul Society (England & Wales), London