The Catholic social teaching on the subject of capitalism has been consistently promulgated by all of the last three popes in office. As always, the substance stays the same, although the tone and writing styles may or may not.
In his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II reflected on socialism and capitalism in light of the recent fall of the Soviet Union. Although he acknowledged that profit has a “legitimate role” in the function of a business and that “the Marxist solution” to economic inequality had failed, he also spoke of the “inadequacies of capitalism” and said that profit is the not the only indicator that a business is doing well. The human dignity of workers matter too, and if capitalism is left unchecked it becomes “ruthless” and leads to “inhuman exploitation.”
Pope Francis's words are consistent with John Paul's:
Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used
and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is
now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression,
but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to
be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer
society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no
longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the
outcast, the “leftovers”.
- In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down
theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free
market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and
inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed
by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those
wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the
prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To
sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for
that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost
without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling
compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain,
and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s
responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we
are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the
meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere
spectacle; they fail to move us. Evangelii Gaudium
Benedict did a great job of handing down the torch against radical, unbridled capitalism in his 2009 encyclical:
But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the
importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market
economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and
political context, but also because of the wider network of relations
within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the
principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot
produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well.
CARITAS IN VERITATE
If you pay close attention you see that the differences "perceived" do not stem from the actual words of the pope, but from the media and how its spun by them. The liberal media like to jump on Francis' side because he wears his heart on his sleeve, whereas Benedict was shunned as ultra-conservative, not because he taught anything different, but because he wanted to return to some of the liturgical traditions that pre-date Vatican II. At the same time we see radical conservatives like Rush attacking Francis who very strongly exhorts Christian leaders and laypeople to wake up and pay attention to this 30 year old teaching on the social injustices of rampant capitalistic endeavors.
This is a very volatile subject that is one spark away from igniting a politico-religious debate...so I'm going to stop here.