At his weekly appearance to say prayers at the balcony overlooking the internal courtyard of the Apostolic Palace of Castelgandolfo, Pope Benedict has spoken of the 'blind selfishness' that can result from an over-preoccupation with money in today's world.
Before the traditional Marian prayer, Benedict XVI recalled his visit on 23 September 2007 to the diocese of Velletri where he had dedicated his homily to "the correct use of worldly goods." Through the parable from the Gospel of St Luke concerning a dishonest but shrewd manager, he said, Christ taught his disciples the best way to employ material wealth.
"Money is not of itself 'dishonest'," affirmed the Pope, "but more than anything else it has the power to lead man into blind selfishness. What is needed, then, is to achieve a kind of 'conversion' of economic resources: instead of using them for our own interests, we must think of the needs of the poor, imitating Christ Himself Who ... 'though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich'."
"At this point," he went on, "we could open a vast and complex field of reflection on the question of wealth and poverty, also on a world scale, in which two forms of economic logic come face to face: the logic of profit and that of the equal distribution of wealth. These do not contradict one another so long as their relationship is well regulated.
"Catholic social doctrine," the Pope added, "has always supported the idea that the equal distribution of wealth is a priority," although "profit is, of course, legitimate and, in appropriate measure, necessary for economic development."
In this context, Benedict XVI recalled how, in his Encyclical "Centesimus annus," John Paul II had written: "The modern business economy has positive aspects. Its basis is human freedom exercised in the economic field, just as it is exercised in many other fields." Yet, Pope Benedict added, "capitalism must not be considered as the only valid model of economic organization."
"The urgent problems of hunger and the environment provide mounting evidence, that the logic of profit, if it prevails, increases the imbalance between rich and poor in a ruinous exploitation of the planet. When, on the other hand, the logic of sharing and solidarity prevails it is possible to alter and redirect our course towards equal and sustainable development."
While the Pope's message will no doubt receive an affirmative response from critics of neoliberal globalisation and others concerned about the totalising claims of consumerism, critics are likely to point out that the Church which Benedict heads up is not short of massive accumulated resources itself.