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What the Vatican Hopes From Doha

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 01, 2008

The purpose of the current UN conference at Doha, Qatar is to promote international cooperation for economic development through the revision of a preliminary agreement reached at Monterey in 2002. In case you didn’t know, Qatar is a small, oil-rich nation occupying a peninsula jutting off of Saudi Arabia into the Persian Gulf. The meetings there will finish tomorrow, but in preparation for them, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issued a “note” on November 18th entitled, “A New Pact to Re-Establish the International Financial System”.

The Vatican’s central concern is clear: It does not want the current international financial crisis to undermine what had been a growing effort in the international community to fund development in poor countries. The PCJP note is very realistic: “The financial crisis will probably ‘take away’ resources from public aid to development. However, only by allocating resources—public but also private—for ‘real’ development will a healthy financial system be able to be reconstructed, capable of really producing, because the resources have really sustained work and the economy.”

The point is well-taken, and the Pontifical Council makes no secret of the fact that it is not fond of certain features of our current financial system which impede true development: The use of off-shore financial markets to avoid taxation; the subsidization of rich countries by poor countries (largely through investments made in more developed markets, through the provision of valuable minerals, and through dirt-cheap labor); the need for residents of poor countries to emigrate to rich countries in order send money to those left at home; and investments that work only “for the benefit of a few—of the local political or economic elite—in addition to the foreign investor.”

Instead, the Vatican urges public and private commitment to sustainable development, to “investments that entail the implication and formation of local workers, the transference of technology, the spread of responsible management practices.” The PCJP identifies as the root of the current financial crisis “a daily practice that had as its point of reference the absolute ‘priority of capital’ in relation to work.” Precisely for this reason, the crisis should not be an excuse to retreat from a commitment to sustainable development. Instead, genuine recovery requires public loans and private investments which “contribute to a sustainable way out of the financial crisis, namely, to the creation of occasions of work.” And just in case you think the Vatican hasn’t been paying attention to what is going on here at home, its position contrasts with an “erroneous practice of giving loans to those who seem ‘too big to fail’ rather than to those who take the risk of creating real occasions for development.”

The Pontifical Council also notes that the current crisis was facilitated by a mistaken belief that the market’s mechanisms are sufficient to ensure prosperity, so that “trust—[an] essential ingredient of credit—was placed more in the market’s mechanisms than in relations between members.” To counteract this, the PCJP says that two things are essential: First, we need regulations that go beyond the limits of national sovereignty to include international agreements concerning global financial policy. Second, we need the kind of personal responsibility which rebuilds trust: “It must be recalled…that no intervention of regulation can ‘guarantee’ its efficacy by dispensing with a well-formed moral conscience and the daily responsibility of the market’s operators, especially of the businessmen and the large financial operators.”

The English translation of the PCJP document, provided by Zenit, is so poor as to be almost impenetrable (A New Pact to Re-establish the International Financial System). Still, you can get the gist of it if you try. The document articulates the widespread fear that the present worries of the great financial nations (represented in the mid-November meeting of the G20) will result in a decreasing commitment to sustainable development. Although it recognizes the importance of the financial well-being of the wealthy, the Pontifical Council closes its “note” with this thought: “[P]olicies and resources ‘coming from on high’ can produce immediate beneficial effects, but on their own they do not provide adequate answers to how to emerge, in a sustainable way, from poverty.” For that, says the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity” are also necessary.

What the Vatican hopes from Doha is a renewed commitment to moral responsibility, international cooperation, and financial investment that places a high value on local human wok. These are the keys, both in common sense and Catholic social teaching, to sustainable development.

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