What John Paul II made of capitalism

Book published last week and George Weigel's response

5/2/1984 President Reagan meeting with Pope John Paul II at the Fairbanks Airport in Alaska

The following comes from a Jan. 31 story in The Tablet (U.K.) by Jonathan Luxmoore

The publication of a long-suppressed text by a young Catholic
university lecturer in Communist Poland illustrates the tensions and
subtleties of the Church’s struggle against Communist misrule – and
debunks the claim that Pope John Paul II was a champion of neo-liberal economics

When a two-volume book by the future Pope St John Paul II was published for the first time on Monday, it was the final act in a 20-year effort to see it brought to the world’s attention. Katolicka Etyka Spoleczna (“The Catholic Social Ethic”) could significantly change our understanding of some of the key threads in the late pope’s life and work. It will certainly require the revision of the standard biographies, and will be a serious rebuff to those who have sought to portray him as a life-long true believer in liberal capitalism.

The 120,000-word text, published by Poland’s Catholic University of Lublin, shows the then Fr Karol Wojtyla was deeply versed in Marxism. It also reveals a young priest keenly aware of social injustices, drawn to ideas being taken up by liberation theologians in Latin America and sympathetic to campaigns to limit the excesses of the free market.
Read the entire Tablet story here.

The following comes from a Feb. 7 posting on First Things by George Weigel.

For almost three decades the Catholic left has turned intellectual somersaults arguing that John Paul II didn’t write, and indeed couldn’t have written, what the rest of the literate world recognizes as a guarded endorsement of regulated markets in the 1991 encyclical, Centesimus Annus. The further charge from the fever swamps is that I, along with several friends and colleagues, willfully distorted the pope’s teaching in an effort to spin him into some sort of papal libertarian or neo-liberal. Alas, for those who continue to chew this cud, their argument implies that the man whose teaching they claim to be defending was a fool who didn’t know who his friends were or what they were doing.

A little chronology (available in much greater detail in my memoir, Lessons in Hope: My Unexpected Life with St. John Paul II) should set the record straight for those capable of learning from it.

Centesimus Annus appeared in May 1991. John Paul read my commentaries on the encyclical in both the secular and Catholic press, and during our subsequent meetings, over meals at Castel Gandolfo or in the Apostolic Palace, offered not a word of concern or correction about my analysis. Indeed, on more than one occasion he thanked me and others of my friends for having made Centesimus Annus so well known throughout the Anglosphere.

A year later, with John Paul’s encouragement, colleagues and I began an annual seminar on Catholic social doctrine for graduate students from North America and Europe; that seminar will meet for the twenty-eighth time in July. Centesimus Annus has been the seminar’s intellectual framework from its inception, a fact of which the pope was quite aware, as he often sent notes of greeting to the faculty and students. In 1994, the seminar (and its faculty’s interpretation of Centesimus Annus) moved from Liechtenstein to the pope’s “beloved Kraków” at John Paul II’s urging; and there we have remained ever since.

In May 1995, I proposed writing the pope’s biography and the history of his pontificate. Over dinner in early December that year, John Paul agreed to cooperate with the project. In a subsequent letter, he accepted my offer “with wholehearted thanks,” writing that I was “in a very good position” to do the job as, among other things, I had studied “assiduously the more important encyclicals.” This is the response of a man who thought I was spinning him for partisan purposes?

The English language edition of Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, which included an amplified version of the analysis of Centesimus Annus I had written in 1991, was published in September 1999, and the Polish edition appeared in May 2000. In late 2000, John Paul told me that he had read the book twice, “once in English and once in Polish.” A year later, he said he was reading the Polish edition, Świadek nadziei, yet again. When I asked him why he was reading the book a third time, as he surely knew the story better than I did, he replied that I helped him think back on things that he might not otherwise have a chance to reflect upon. Again, there wasn’t the slightest suggestion that I had misinterpreted his thought, in Centesimus Annus or in my analysis of any facet of his magisterium.

In sum: Over a period of some fourteen years and numerous conversations, John Paul II, who was keenly aware of how he was interpreted (and misinterpreted) around the world, never once suggested that I or any other of my colleagues and friends were misrepresenting his thought.

For the past twenty years, a recurring subplot in this melodrama has revolved around a set of lecture notes, Catholic Social Ethics, which are relics of the future pope’s teaching in Kraków in the mid-1950s. In his 1998 biography of John Paul II, Man of the Century, the late Jonathan Kwitny made a considerable fuss over these notes, suggesting that they evinced a sympathy for Marxist critiques of capitalism. As I knew that Kwitny was not overly familiar with mid-twentieth-century Catholic social doctrine and the critiques of Manchesterian liberalism common to both Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI, I decided to look into the matter during the preparation of Witness to Hope. So I asked John Paul II whether Catholic Social Ethics was his, and in the pope’s name one of his closest aides, then-Bishop (now Cardinal) Stanisław Ryłko, tried to clarify things in a conversation we had in November 1997.

In 1953, Rylko told me, Father Karol Wojtyła was assigned to teach the social ethics course at the Kraków seminary, which had previously been taught by a specialist in the field, Father Jan Piwowarczyk. Wojtyła adopted Piwowarczyk’s course notes, amplifying and emending them as he thought appropriate; he saw no need to rewrite material prepared by one of Poland’s leading authorities on the Church’s social doctrine, but added observations and analyses, drawn from his own experience and reading. As Ryłko put it to me, Wojtyła “elaborated” Piwowarczyk’s text, “but it was not,” in the main, “his matter.” I reported all of this in Witness to Hope—and perhaps foolishly imagined that that settled things.

Read Weigel’s complete response here.

 

Comments

  1. Joanne Kartak says

    The publication of Katolicka Etyka Spoleczna (“The Catholic Social Ethic”) couldn’t have been published at a better time. Must confess, however, that after reading the article, the first thing I did was find my copy of George Weigel’s “WItness To Hope” and relive the joy of reading my favorite biography of Pope John Paul II.

  2. This is an excellent example of revisionist history promoted by the right wing in the USA and in the Church. Pope John Paul II was critical of Marxism…and unbridled free-market capitalism. Pope John Paul II was a personalist and promoted the dignity of each person over the sometimes cruel de-humanizing impacts of mass society and various economic systems. Although he is a Saint, Pope JP II very badly mishandled the Bishop Maciel matter.

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