When the Vatican recently released a report on the world economy and ways to fix it, it got some press coverage but not a lot.
It's no surprise that the best analysis of it came from John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter, easily the best Vatican observer out there.
John suggested that the report from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, "Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Political Authority," is an indication that the growing voice of the church from the Southern Hemisphere is beginning to be heard more clearly in official documents.
As John noted, on economics, this voice is in harmony with more progressive voices in the U.S. while on such social issues as abortion and equal rights for gays, it's more in harmony with American conservative voices. That's an intriguing combination, and no doubt it will undergo some changes in the years ago.
What I think it's helpful to remember when the Vatican (or any faith community) issues statements about a particular topic is that it almost certainly is not the first time it has said something about the subject.
Economics, for instance, has been a Vatican concern for a long time. In modern times you'll find the subject addressed in the 1963 encyclical "Pacem in Terris" from Pope John XXIII. Indeed, that document contains a whole section called "Economic Rights," which begins this way: "In the economic sphere, it is evident that a man has the inherent right not only to be given the opportunity to work, but also to be allowed the exercise of personal initiative in the work he does." My guess is that you won't find anything like that declaration of an "inherent right" to be "given" a chance to work anywhere close to the next Republican Party national platform -- and maybe not even the Democratic platform.
In more recent times, a 2009 encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI called "Caritas in veritate" also deals some with economics, and even praises Pope Paul VI for his "keen sense of the importance of economic structures and institutions."
My point is that big institutions like churches and denominations usually speak from a sense of history so there is some continuity to what is being said. The evidence of change, thus, can be found when the latest statement seems to bend more than usual from the previous position. And that may well be what we have in this latest Vatican document.
* * *
THIS GUY, TOO, MADOFF WITH DOUGH
Speaking of economics, as I was above, it turns out that not every person who invokes the name of God when talking about money is trustworthy. An upstate New York man, for instance, used a lot of God talk to lure people into his ponzi scheme, for which he was just sentenced to serve 12 years in prison.