Franciscan Principles for the Political Economy

Franciscans and their Finances“In 2007 I published a text on a Franciscan approach to economics. The book originated in a challenge posed to the Capuchin Order by three African Capuchins at the Order’s General Chapter of 2000. The three friars were reviewing the state of the Order in Africa, trying to contextualize the political and ecclesial challenges facing Africans, when they humbly and pointedly accused the worldwide fraternity of ‘not hearing the cry of the poor in Africa.’ The charge stung and confused the delegates listening to them. Hadn’t the Order sent legions of missionaries and developed hundreds of parishes, schools and clinics? Hadn’t the Order supplied financial resources for the establishment of the Order, along with churches and schools, in both Eastern and Western Africa? Hadn’t hundreds of European and North American priests and brothers labored intensively and for decades to make a positive difference in the lives of Africans? What had we not heard? What had we not seen? The three friars were clear. We had not understood the poverty of the poor of Africa. We did not understand its roots and its causes, its origins in a Western economic system and worldview that valued competition over compassion, individualism over community, and materialism over the spirit. The friars asked us to listen more closely to their concerns and to work with them to develop solutions that would heal and mutually benefit both sides of the growing global economic divide.

This challenge accelerated the Capuchin Order’s analysis of its own economic models, already in progress and led by then Minister General, now Bishop, John Corriveau, OFM. Cap. In a series of 20 circular letters to the Order, Corriveau had enunciated a vision for a new way of living our common life and sharing our resources in a more globalized world. Rejecting the underlying aggression and competition of late 20th century market fundamentalism, Corriveau called on Capuchins to rebuild our local, provincial and international economies on more solid and more secure principles of communion and compassion. Calling on friars to develop a ‘fraternal’ economy, Corriveau suggested that we could build stronger economic ties and a more stable network of international relationships, if we were willing to forego the spasms of fear that classical capitalism’s ‘scarcity thinking’ (as opposed to classical Bonaventurian ‘abundance thinking’) promotes. My book traces the history of this line of thought and provides formators with some tools on how to begin training the next generation for this new economic paradigm.

The first thing we have to learn is that Franciscans have something vital to say about contemporary economics. This is not new. Franciscans have always been involved in the economic questions of the day. The early friars were intimately involved in the debates about currency and the proper use of resources and power in the 12th and 13th centuries. Francis’ teaching on poverty was never meant to reject the world and jettison the friars into some parallel, disembodied universe without commerce or common good. Quite the contrary! Francis’ intent was to have friars understand the troubled roots of the economy of his day and to have them face the violence and the greed that fueled the development of the rising feudal economy. Francis’ penitential humanism was to be a stimulus to a new economic security among the brothers and in society, fueled not by greed but by a humble recognition of a common heritage as sisters and brothers under one good and loving God.

Capuchins believe it is time to take another look at the Franciscan tradition for help in developing a more relational economic paradigm for the 21st century. In my book, I outline five principles that we believe can help us construct a more relational experience of economic activity than is presently displayed in the ‘pick yourself up by your own bootstrap’ idiom of aggressive capitalism. The five principles are:

  1. Transparency – mutuality in all things. All the goods, economic activities, and ministerial decisions are at the service of the whole. There are no hidden schemes by leadership or membership.
  1. Equity – Individuals and communities get what they need and contribute what they have for the common good and building up of communion. Service replaces entitlement.
  1. Participation – Build mechanisms of cooperation and communion of persons without domination or deprivation.
  1. Solidarity – Those who have more give more to those deprived. All work to undo structures of sin that serve as obstacles to communion.
  1. Austerity – The minimum necessary, not he maximum allowed. Live and work simply, so that others can simply live and work.

Think about the present financial crisis. Had any of these five principles been working in the financial system, we would not have gotten into the traumatic global situation we are in. These principles are derived from the wellspring of Franciscan theology, specifically meditations on the Trinity and our participation in God’s inner life of communion. Franciscans are asked to use these five principles when working through their economic decisions, both privately and communally.”

– David B. Couturier, OFM Cap., Franciscans and Their Finances – 


 

– Lucas G. Westman

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