Bob McKeon

November 21, 2011

A few weeks ago, I received an email from one of the leaders of the Occupy Edmonton camp. He had just read about a statement issued from the Vatican a few days earlier about the global economic crisis. He asked if I or another rep from the Catholic archdiocese could attend a public rally being organized the following Saturday and talk about the Vatican statement.

The statement mentioned was titled Towards Reforming the International Financial Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority. It was issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Catholic commentators critical of the statement were quick to point out (accurately) that it did not possess the magisterial authority of a papal encyclical. However, a careful reading of the statement reveals that its major themes are well grounded in the official Catholic social teaching documents of Pope Benedict and his predecessors.

The statement was timed to come out just prior to the G20 Summit in France, so that it could inform discussions of the world leaders at the summit.

Significantly, the Occupy Edmonton leader was not the only one to make the link between the global Occupy movement and the Vatican statement.


Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Justice and Peace Council, was asked to compare the statement with the demands of the Occupy activists. He answered that "the document proposes ideas that seem to be in line with those proposed by the demonstrators, but really are in line with the magisterium of the Church.

"It is a coincidence that we share some views. But after all, these proposals are based on reasonableness."

The Vatican statement raises important issues. It mentions that while overall global wealth has grown substantially in recent decades, "the distribution of wealth did not become fairer but in many cases worsened." It criticizes an "economic liberalism that spurns rules and controls."

The statement repeats the warning of Pope John Paul II made in 1991, about the risk of an "idolatry of the market, an idolatry which ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities."

Twenty years later, the pontifical council insists that "this warning needs to be heeded without delay." It supports the judgment of Pope Benedict that the global crisis "is not only economic and financial, but above all moral in nature," and that the economy needs ethics to function correctly.

The statement speaks often of the key themes of Catholic social teaching including solidarity, human dignity, common good, participation, subsidiarity and concern for the poor.

With these powerful words from the pontifical council, I knew that there was a strong relevant message that I could bring to the Occupy Edmonton rally in the five minutes assigned to each speaker.

I said yes, and accepted the invitation to address the demonstrators on the sidewalk in front of Canada Place along Jasper Avenue.

The rally was being organized to express support for what was described as "the Robin Hood tax," a proposed international tax on financial transactions and currency trades. This was a bit of street theatre as many of the demonstrators wore forest green felt hats and face masks.


This proposed international tax, better known as the Tobin tax, is a serious policy proposal that has been around for many years. This tax could raise funds to support urgently needed international development projects, and as well as moderate risky speculative financial transactions.

Several European governments, including France and Germany, have expressed support. In Canada, Prime Minister Harper has expressed strong opposition, and said Canada would vote against it at the G-20 Summit.

The statement of the Pontifical Justice and Peace Council presents specific recommendations for addressing the present global economic crisis. It includes a proposal to consider an international "tax at a fair rate on financial transactions," a tax that could support global sustainable development according to the principles of social justice and solidarity.

I have been asked to speak about Catholic social teaching to diverse audiences in many different venues, but this Occupy Edmonton rally on Jasper Avenue was a new experience for me.

The message I presented was very well received at the rally. What will the reception be in our local parish halls?

(Bob McKeon: