In its two millennia of existence, the Catholic Church has picked up more than a few valuable tchotchkes, including billions of dollars worth of real estate, thousands of churches, and an art collection that is -- literally -- priceless. It's not surprising, then, that when one thinks of the grandeur of the Church of Rome, saving money isn't usually the first thing that comes to mind.
But as we attempt to sum up the soon-to-end papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, an interesting pattern emerges: The former Cardinal Ratzenberger, successor to John Paul II, endorsed quite a few positions that could have a major effect on the personal finances of millions of people. As it turns out, the pontiff dubbed the "Green Pope" for his stances on the environment was also a major advocate for families struggling with money.
Here are five ways Benedict's papacy may have impacted our lives and pocketbooks.
Pope Benedict XVI: 5 Ways He Was Also an Economic Shepherd
The pope's environmental views are fairly well known. In addition to covering the roof of the Vatican in 2,400 solar panels, he swapped out all the gas-powered automobiles in the papal fleet for electric cars. Perhaps most important, he called on Catholics to beware of the dangers of "ecological sins," such as causing environmental blight.
While the pope's support for renewable energy may not have directly affected your electric bills, his support for conservation helped propel the subject further into the global mainstream. And, although the threat of eternal damnation may not affect the decisions of the average environmental polluter, there's always the hope that the pope's efforts to encourage mankind toward a more tender stewardship of the environment may have a lasting effect.
Given Jesus' miracle of the loaves and fishes, it shouldn't be too surprising that Pope Benedict had something to say on the subject of global hunger. In "Caritas in Veritate," his third encyclical, he declared that "the elimination of world hunger has ... become a requirement for safeguarding the peace and stability of the planet ... Feed the hungry is an ethical imperative."
While he noted that better infrastructure and investment in technology could help combat hunger, the ultimate problem, he argued, was moral: "It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination."
By making the wealthy responsible for ending hunger, the pope effectively called for a global redistribution of wealth -- a call that, some argued, placed him squarely in the socialist camp.
Speaking of socialism, Pope Benedict also called on global elites to increase access to education. Noting that "the most needy populations ... lack not only economic and technical means, but also educational methods and resources to assist people in realizing their full human potential," he advised richer areas and nations to contribute to the educational and cultural resources of poorer ones, particularly countries in which global tourism has had a major impact. As he wrote, "international tourism... can be a major factor in economic development and cultural growth, but can also become an occasion for exploitation and moral degradation."
By highlighting the fundamental importance of education "to the complete formation of the person," Pope Benedict lifted it into the category of a vital moral good, and as such, made spending on education an explicit moral imperative for any country considering its economic priorities and responsibilities. For families, the message couldn't be clearer: Societies are responsible for providing high quality schooling to everyone.
Another major theme for Pope Benedict was the moral necessity of sharing. With globalism bringing the world closer together, he noted that real generosity -- genuine sharing -- was a moral issue: "The sharing of goods and resources ... is not guaranteed by merely technical progress and relationships of utility, but by the potential of love that overcomes evil with good." In this regard, he exhorted believers "to steer the globalization of humanity in relational terms, in terms of communion and the sharing of goods."
For the millions around the world who have found themselves on the losing end of the global economic system, that's a message that can't be heard soon enough.
The Catholic Church's aggressive stance against modern birth control didn't change during Pope Benedict's tenure, but he did acknowledge the importance of responsible family planning. In "Caritas in Veritate," he encouraged "responsible procreation," calling on states to help "ensure that parents are suitably prepared to undertake their responsibilities."
While the Pope's phrasing was oblique, his stance was clear: He was calling on parents to limit the number of children they bore, for economic reasons. While hardly revolutionary in the broader world, this was a bold statement for a church that, historically, has tended to leave family planning in God's hands.