Pope Francis, a ringing challenge to the financial system

Pope Francis gestures on June 5, 2013 at the end of his weekly general audience on St Peter's square at the Vatican.</p>

Pope Francis gestures on June 5, 2013 at the end of his weekly general audience on St Peter's square at the Vatican.

Pope Francis used World Environmental Day as an opportunity to issue a ringing call for moral balance in the financial world. The Vatican Press Office described the pope's words as “off the cuff” — departing from prepared remarks — as he addressed the Wednesday general audience at St. Peter’s:

“What is in charge today isn't the human person but money. Money is in command. And God our Father has given us the task of caring for the earth not for the money, but for us: for men and women. This is our charge. Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption. It is a culture of waste."

Francis’ apparently spontaneous phrase “culture of waste” is sure to draw comparisons with John Paul II’s “culture of death,” which the late pope used in reference to abortion and capital punishment. The term was embraced by the pro-life movement and many bishops in promoting church opposition to abortion.

“Culture of waste” as Francis used it seems to have more flexible meaning, suggesting a loss of moral standards in civilization, including an international banking system that makes waste of the world’s poor:

“If in so many parts of the world there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news. It seems normal. It must not be this way! And yet these things come to be normal … On the other hand, a drop of ten points on the stock exchange constitutes a tragedy. If someone dies that isn't news but a ten-point drop in the markets is a tragedy! Thus people are discarded as if they were garbage.”

The pope developed the metaphor of waste, linking it to the human food chain:

“Human life, the person, is no longer felt to be the primary value to respect and care for … This culture of waste has also made us insensitive to a squandering and wastefulness of food … Consumerism has caused us to get used to the daily excess and waste of food, which we are no longer capable of seeing for its true worth, which goes well beyond mere economic parameters. Remember, however, that the food that is thrown away is as if we had stolen it from the table of the poor, from those who are hungry!”

He continued:

“I invite you all to reflect on the problem of the loss and the waste of food … Let us all make the serious commitment to respect and care for creation, to be attentive to every person, to oppose the culture of wastefulness and waste, and to promote a culture of solidarity and encounter.”