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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Strategic CSR - The Pope

In very general terms, I am not a fan of organized religion (the Church and the institutions that accompany it). Any large bureaucracy, especially one anchored in absolute doctrine, often does more to cause harm in the world than alleviate it.
Starting from this point, it has been fascinating to watch the papacy of Pope Francis unfold. His revolutionary impact on the entrenched interests in the Catholic Church has done much to bring the Church’s actions more in line with the teachings it purports to follow. To this end, the Pope’s recent apostolic exhortation, ‘The Joy of the Gospel,’ is an important document. In the context of this newsletter, the Pope’s teachings have much to say that is relevant to the CSR debate. Here is a comment, for example, criticizing trickle-down economic theories:
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”
Here is another one that focuses on the damaging influence of money:
“One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idol­atry of money and the dictatorship of an imper­sonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: con­sumption.”
Commentary on the Pope’s thoughts can be found by E.J.Dionne in the article in the first url below. As Dionne notes, there has been a history of anti-authoritarian thought in the Church:
"Christianity has been used over the centuries to prop up the powerful. But, from the beginning, the Christian message has been subversive of political systems, judgmental toward those at the top and demanding of all who take it seriously."
Francis’ criticism, however, is leveled not only at the centers of power in capitalism, but also at the consumer ethos that drives the system:
"And in light of the obsessive shopping on Cyber Monday and Black Friday, here is a pope who paints consumerism in the darkest of hues. 'We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,' he writes. 'In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.'"
While Dionne notes that Francis is not the first Pope to criticize the unequal consequences of capitalism, he suggests that he is the first to combine that critique with such a powerful message of empowerment among the poor:
"The difference is that a concern for the poor and a condemnation of economic injustice are at the very heart of Francis’s mission. 'In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits,' he writes, 'whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.' Can you imagine an American liberal who would dare say such things?"
In contrast to the support the Pope received from Dionne (who didn’t miss an opportunity to insert his political bias into his column), the Pope’s comments prompted a spirited rebuttal by The Wall Street Journal in the article in the second url below:
“I'm glad the only economics ministry the pope runs is the Vatican's. The trickle-down theories he simplistically denounces have done more to bring people out of poverty than any government program or charitable institution in history, including the Church.”
Take care
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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Heart of Pope Francis’ mission
By E.J. Dionne Jr.
December 1, 2013
The Washington Post
Of Jane Fonda and Pope Francis
By Bret Stephens
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final