As I see it... When the Pope scolded us on the negative effects of capitalism, we and our media were too busy with the Zippergate Follies to hear. Listen up capitalists! Pope John Paul II, whose negative criticism of Communism had a major influence in its fall, has some constructive criticism for us, too.

Criticism is not only coming from the Pope. Capitalism is under attack throughout the world because of its emphasis on material things. It is an emphasis fostered by multinational companies that have extensive economical, financial, and technological power. The Pope is also concerned about our preoccupation with material and not spiritual things. Our materialistic society has some of the same negative side effects facing Communist Cuba—lack of morals, easy availability of abortion, and the breakdown of the family (2425).*

Advertising has helped spawn our materialism and the young adult has been the main target. The success of the "Joe Camel" ads is just one example. We need not look farther than our own families to see how advertising has effected our youth. Notice what they hold to be important. Being "cool" is important. Being cool is what is hot. Wearing $150 "Nike" shoes is in more so than wearing a cross or an "altar server’s pin." Fortunately, there are exceptions.

While we may think globally, we buy locally. We are not buying from those awful people in Third-World countries who treat their fellow humans like animals. We buy from those nice people we see on TV or at fancy, well-lighted, heated, and air-conditioned stores. Therefore, the Pope’s impassioned plea for improved human rights and social justice is not directed to us. Moreover, many Catholics who realize that it is, are lukewarm to the Pope’s and the Church’s efforts to change such things. They do not see the connection between materialism and the production of the goods. Worse yet, too many feel that the Church "should not meddle in such things."

Not only should the Church meddle in such things, it has an ethical and moral obligation to do so (Cf. 2458). The Testimony on International Debt presented before the House Subcommittee on Foreign Operations by Archbishop Rembert Weakland, OSB, is a good example. His commentaries on behalf of the U.S. Bishops Conference are as apropos today as they were on March 4, 1988, when he made them. While acknowledging the complexity of economic relations in an interdependent world, he stated the essence of the Church’s teaching on Social Justice (Cf. 2426)*, "We believe very strongly that a debt burden which resulted in a net transfer of nearly $30 billion in 1986 to the industrialized countries (principally the United States) from countries in which upward of 800 million people live in poverty so miserable that it is ‘beneath any rational definition of human decency’. . .is a scandal; it calls for a moral solution that should entail significant sacrifices on the part of those who benefit materially from this situation."

Latin America after 10 years of reeling under debt restructuring by the World Bank and the IMF (which prompted the bishops’ letter) shows that the poor got poorer and the rich got richer. Nevertheless, a recent New York Times article by Nicholas D. Kristof paints a rosy picture of a new upper-middle class Asian family in 10 years. He pictures them "loading up with cash at the corner Citibank" and driving off to "Wal-Mart and fill the trunk of their Ford with the likes of Fritos and Snickers" bought on their Visa Cards. Why did this not happen in Mexico and Latin America in 10 years?

The banks that left our neighborhoods and small towns opened branches in Asia. They finance American businesses manufacturing goods to be sold in America and other industrialized countries, made by a new generation of Asians, who cannot afford to buy the goods they make. With the new round of demands on the IMF and U.S. banks helping bail out sinking economies, we are again exporting economic colonialism. It is the poor who ultimately pay the debts pushed on their often unrepresentative governments by profit-seeking banks. The poor pay by existing in substandard living conditions and working for minimal wages while corruption, collusion and nepotism flourish as resources and capital are transferred to the relatively rich industrialized countries. This is not a win situation for us either. Archbishop Weakland observes, "Workers and farmers in the United States are losing jobs, income, and assets because their former customers... cannot afford to buy their products in view of the required debt repayments.." That is what actually happened in the past 10 years.

We cheered the failure of Communism because of its excesses. We need to fear the failure of capitalism for its excesses. The Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace (An Ethical Approach to International Debt) stated that "economic structures and financial mechanism are at the service of the human person and not vice versa." It also warned the multilateral financial organizations to avoid a collapse of the international financial system by "financing projects on the basis of their impact of growth" and to undertake a type of discernment about lending in Third-World countries "which transcends the ordinary criteria of profitability." It was a message not heard it the corporate board rooms of the multilateral financial organizations.

The materialism of the West, especially that of the United States, is a major cause of the Asian Financial Crisis. We want more for less. We want it all and we want it now. Material things have come to equate love. We give things when we should be giving love to one another. Our materialism has caused the rush to manufacture where it costs the least to produce the most. Yes, lending to US Corporations to build factories in foreign countries to manufacture there with enslaved labor, is morally wrong. However, buying foreign-made goods manufactured by people paid only bare subsistence, is morally wrong, too. When we know the truth and condone it, we are morally wrong. We share in the sin and shame for allowing capitalism to become morally bankrupt.

We may also share in the financial bankruptcy blowing in from Asia. "We have as yet experienced only the peripheral winds of the Asian Crisis," Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warns. How this latest economic mess works itself out could mean the beginning of the end of capitalism as we know it. If nothing else, as Christians, it should mean that we think about what we buy and from whom. Why? Because "the moral law forbids acts which, for commercial or totalitarian purposes, leads to the enslavement of human beings..." (Cf. 2455). As the Pope suggests, it is also in our best interests now and forever to do so.

*Numbered references explain the Church’s teachings on Social Justice. See the appropriate section in the Catechism of the Catholic Church for details. Copyright 1998 The San Francisco Charismatics, ISSN#1098-4046. All rights reserved

Fr. Joe Landi is a Parochial Vicar at St. Cecilia's Parish, San Francisco, the Archbishop’s Liaison to the Charismatic Renewal, the Editor of The San Francisco Charismatics, and the Board Chair of Sierra Point Credit Union, South San Francisco which serves the Charismatic Renewal membership. You can contact Fr. Landi by E-Mail at or read other articles in the March Newsletter or return to the Main Menu