The following is an interview given by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis to L’Osservatore Romano’s Nicola Gori (March 30, 2012).
Considering the recent economic crisis, do you think the Church could suggest ways to humanize the world of finance so that it is more equal and fair?
I believe that this question has been taken on quite well by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Encyclical Letter, Caritas in Veritate, in his Address to the College of Cardinals and the Roman Curia on 22 December and more recently in his address to administrators of the Province of Lazio on 12 January. The Holy Father points out that that financial crisis is basically a crisis of ethics and anthropology, stating: “Insofar as they are instruments, the entire economy and finance, not just certain sectors, must be used in an ethical way so as to create suitable conditions for human development and for the development of peoples” (Caritas in Veritate, n. 65).
Benedict XVI also wrote: “Development is impossible without upright men and women, without financiers and politicians whose consciences are finally attuned to the requirements of the common good” (ibid., n. 71). Adding finally that “There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless people’s spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account, considered in their totality as body and soul” (ibid., n. 76). The Holy Father stated: “As this year draws to a close, Europe is undergoing an economic and financial crisis, which is ultimately based on the ethical crisis looming over the Old Continent. Even if such values of solidarity, commitment to one’s neighbor and responsibility towards the poor and suffering are largely uncontroversial, still the motivation is often lacking for individuals and large sectors of society to practice renunciation and make sacrifices. Reception and will do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. In defending personal interest, the will obscures perception, and perception thus weakened is unable to stiffen the will. In this sense, some quite fundamental questions emerge from this crisis: Where is the light that is capable of illuminating our perception not merely with general ideas, but with concrete imperatives? Where is the force that draws the will upwards? These are questions that must be answered by our proclamation of the Gospel, by the New Evangelization, so that message may become evident, so that proclamation may lead to life” (Address to College of Cardinals, 22 December 2011).
“It is important that a renewed humanism be developed, in which the human identity equates with the category of person. The current crisis, in fact, is also rooted in individualism, which obscures people’s relationship dimension and leads them to withdraw in their own small world, concerned primarily with satisfying their own needs and desires, with scant consideration for others. Are not speculation and leases, the increasing difficult integration of young people in the labor market, the loneliness of so many of the elderly, the anonymity which often characterizes life in the neighborhoods of the city and the at times superficial view of situations of marginalization and poverty a consequence of this mindset?” the Holy Father stated in his Address to the Administrators of the Lazio Region on 12 January 2012.
The Church offers the idea of the common good over and against what is often the triumph of individualism and greed. Many financiers see people simply as consumers and a means to an end (money), ignoring their inherent dignity as persons as well as the dignity of their labor. Faith is a key component here. Economic actors and market forces are reflections of decisions made by human persons who, while created in the image of God, are in need not only of the life of grace but also the moral virtues if they are to act in a manner that justly serves the common good. While there is a role for appropriate regulation of financial markets and the economy, what is needed even more so are moral leaders who understand the legitimate goal of profitability while maintaining a sense of social responsibility. The weakening of faith, especially in the Western world, has led to a weakening of the social bonds we have with one another. This gives rise to the temptation to view our neighbor as something to be used for one’s gain.
How is the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis involved in the fight for a culture of life?
The Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis has a department of five full-time persons dedicated to addressing the questions of marriage, family, youth and life. Through their leadership, efforts are directed to encompass the USCCB’s Pastoral plan for pro-life activities which include work in four main areas: Public Information and Education; Pastoral Care; Public Policy Program; Prayer and Worship. The Archdiocese has been involved in a Respect 4 Life Pro-Life curriculum supplement for our Catholic Schools for grades K-8. We honor local Catholics involved in the pro-life effort as a way to inspire and motivate more to the cause with the Champions for Life Awards. We participate in ongoing education for parish volunteers and educational resources for Clergy, as well as Project Rachel, a post abortion outreach and education for those affected by abortion. We have an archdiocesan lifefund, which provides financial assistance for women and families while pregnant or with a child under one year of age. Our Community Caring for Life Groups and Respect Life Committees in the parishes to carry out the Respect Life work outlined by the USCCB’s plan. It includes two workshops a year. The Archdiocesan Youth Advisory Board made up of High School students from the area Catholic High Schools supports for pro-life activities in their schools.
We write a monthly newsletter highlighting Respect Life news and events as well as options for legislative action. We held a Prayer Service for Life on 22 January where more than 3,000 individuals gathered in prayer to end abortion. Communication contacts throughout the diocese promote action on legislative issues requested by the Minnesota Catholic Conference and the USCCB’s office for Pro-Life Activities.
Catholic Charities also makes a decisive contribution with its four Program Divisions: Housing and Emergency Services; Children’s Services, Family Services; and Advocacy. The Housing and Emergency Services division has 12 locations in the Archdiocese and 20 programs. Children’s Services has two locations and three programs. Family Services has a main location in St Paul with various sites throughout the State and has seven programs. Its annual budget is $39,063,000. All told, nearly 35,000 people were helped last year, regardless of what faith they profess.
In addition, through the Minnesota Catholic Conference, whose Board of Governors consists of all the Catholic Bishops of Minnesota, we continue to monitor efforts and, where appropriate, offer witness at the State Capitol as deliberations continue at the state level to balance seemingly diverse interests in public policy.