Article by CAPP Chairman Mr. Domingo Sugranyes Bickel

The encyclical Centesimus Annus was published twenty years ago and yet we can still hear the booming voice of that great Pope say: “man is the way of the Church”.

For the Blessed John Paul II social teachings are no mere appendix to the message, but an essential part of the progress of faith.“The “new evangelization”, which the modern world urgently needs ……. must include among its essential elements a proclamation of the Church’s social doctrine. As in the days of Pope Leo XIII, this doctrine is still suitable for indicating the right way to respond to the great challenges of today, when ideologies are being increasingly discredited”(C.A. 5).

Rerum Novarum begins as a response to the “ardent desire for novel things” that characterized social economicsin 1891; in courageous pursuit of Leo XIII John Paul II looks at realitywith none of the timorousprudence that Catholic thought sometimes has shown when confronting economic facts: “The Church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well. When a firm makes a profit, this means that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied. But profitability is not the only indicator of a firm’s condition. It is possible for the financial accounts to be in order, and yet for the people — who make up the firm’s most valuable asset — to be humiliated and their dignity offended” (C.A. 35).

Economic life and the expectation of profit that goes with it are fully acknowledged and legitimized, they are necessary facts.But with them comes a warning: in business, in economic life, truth and falsity coexist and abuse lurks at every step.Remembering his predecessor, Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate states: “Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end that provides a sense both of how to produce it and how to make good use of it. Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty” (CV 21).

2008 marked the beginning of a “crisis” which today increasingly looks like a protracted state of depression; the economic context of rich Western countries reminds us of how vulnerable that construction is and of how quickly power balances and secured positions can change.

The economic downturn reminds us that while, as John Paul II acknowledged, Marxist ideology has lost its credibility, another arrogant ideology presumes to define economic life as a self governing mechanism that excludes any outside reference.Hence Benedict XVI’s prophetic denouncement: “The conviction that man is self-sufficient and can successfully eliminate the evil present in history by his own action alone has led him to confuse happiness and salvation with immanent forms of material prosperity and social action. Then, the conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from “influences” of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way” (CV 34).

The voice of the present Magisterium follows the path outlined by John Paul II, fully and fearlessly acknowledging human activity and the incentives essential to economics.As any other activity, economic activity can be good or work against man’s interest.We must be mindful of the need to civilize the economy, says Benedict XVI (CV 38) and look for what is positive in order to proceed in the right direction: “The Church’s social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and not only outside it or “after” it“ (CV 36).

This cannot be achieved without a prior personal quest; it requires ability to discern and courage in one’s respective field according to one’s level of responsibility and sphere of influence.The Foundation Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice was created by John Paul II for the very purpose of promoting formation on the basis of that important encyclical.18 years later, as we get ready to make a first assessment of the work done so far, we intend to double our efforts to enhance and strengthen a still too marginal current in the economic world.

Fondazione Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice