Summary: We cannot ever forget that when we are planning any project, large or small, for development, that the whole person's development is the target.

February 22, 2010

Chair of St Peter

Caritas in Veritate

When Pope John XXIII released his encyclical Mater et Magistra, a letter that critiqued both socialism and unfettered capitalism, the late William Buckley, who rejected much of the Church’s social doctrine, famously wrote “Mater-yes; Magister-no.” The Church’s teaching on our responsibility to each other has not had wide popularity among the “haves.” But in the sense that we are all imperfect and in need of God’s grace and conversion, we are all really “have-nots.” The feast of the Chair of Peter is a good time to remember that the Holy Father’s teaching authority is a gift given, not a burden imposed. And the teaching in this latest encyclical can be a valued step forward in our restructuring economies and cultures by Gospel principles.

Benedict continues in his discussion of business and ethics by setting before us the example of companies that transcend the traditional distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit firms. Traditional companies have in some cases subscribed “to social aid agreements in support of underdeveloped countries.” Some companies have set up parallel charitable foundations. Groups of companies act together to promote social welfare. This is a new experiment “a broad new composite reality embracing the private and public spheres, one which does not exclude profit, but instead considers it a means for achieving human and social ends.” Their structure becomes secondary “secondary in relation to their willingness to view profit as a means of achieving the goal of a more humane market and society. It is to be hoped that these new kinds of enterprise will succeed in finding a suitable juridical and fiscal structure in every country.” They can make the marketplace more civilized and more competitive. But this cannot be the exclusive preserve of rich countries. (47) In countries hitherto marginalized from the circles of influence, he asks us to move ahead “with projects based on subsidiarity, suitably planned and managed, aimed at affirming rights yet also providing for the assumption of corresponding responsibilities.” And he reminds us again that the centrality of the human person, which is the entity being developed and doing the development, must be preserved. “Development programmes, if they are to be adapted to individual situations, need to be flexible; and the people who benefit from them ought to be directly involved in their planning and implementation. The criteria to be applied should aspire towards incremental development in a context of solidarity — with careful monitoring of results — inasmuch as there are no universally valid solutions.” He recommends both the macro and micro development project, and, “above all there is need for the active mobilization of all the subjects of civil society, both juridical and physical persons.” He decries the practice by which those who receive aid become second-class to the aid-givers, and by which the poor “serve to perpetuate expensive bureaucracies which consume an excessively high percentage of funds intended for development.” This is not just an issue for international aid. If, for instance, we accomplish universal health care at the expense of charitable institutions and local governance, then we will have gone backwards, not forwards, with our own national development.

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