MICHELE NORRIS, HOST:
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On Monday, the Vatican called for a shared body of rules to manage the global financial market. The statement came as thousands of protesters have camped out in cities around the world to protest the excesses of Wall Street. Father Thomas Reese says the Occupy Wall Street activists might have an unlikely ally, the pope.
THOMAS REESE: This will surprise those Americans who think the pope is a Republican because he opposes abortion and gay marriage. But when it comes to economic justice, Pope Benedict is to the left of President Obama. Heck, he is even to the left of Nancy Pelosi. Those who read the pope's 2009 encyclical "Caritas in Veritate," which is Latin for charity in truth, will not be surprised by this new document. In that encyclical, the pope decried the corruption and illegality among economic and political elites in both rich and poor countries. He wants a radical rethinking of economics so that it is guided not simply by profits but by an ethics, which is people-centered.
Benedict noted that economic inequalities are on the increase across the globe. He does not accept the trickle-down theory, which says that all boats will rise with the economic tide. Benedict condemned the scandal of glaring inequalities and sees a role for government in the redistribution of wealth. Yes, you heard that right. The pope favors the redistribution of wealth. When was the last time you heard even a liberal Democrat use those words? The pope also disagrees with those who believe that the economy should be free of government regulation.
An unregulated economy has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way, he wrote. Critics have complained that the Occupy Wall Street movement has no program. The people in the movement could do a lot worse than to study what the pope has said about the economy. Sadly, not even many Catholics know about the church's teaching on economic justice, which has been called the church's best-kept secret. The pope does not have a magic plan to bring about economic prosperity, but he does focus on the values that a political and economic system must support.
The priority, he says, has got to be access to steady employment for everyone, and that means not just here in the United States but also in the developing world. So if you're having a tea party, don't bother inviting the pope; he won't come. But if you see a white, solar-powered car heading towards Wall Street, it might just be the popemobile.
NORRIS: Father Thomas Reese is the author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church." He's also a research fellow with the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. To read an opposing view and to comment on this essay, go to the opinion section of our website, npr.org.