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Conference on Humanizing the Global Economy


Introductory Remarks of Bishop Wilton D. Gregory
January 28, 2002

Brother Bishops, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to welcome all of you to our Conference on Humanizing the Global Economy. I would like to acknowledge in particular those of you who have traveled far to be with us. Your expertise is most needed and welcome.

This is in many ways an unprecedented gathering, significant in its origins, in its breadth, and in its theme. For its origins, this gathering benefits from four decades of collaboration between the Episcopal conferences from Canada, Latin America, and the United States. It takes its particular inspiration from the 1998 Conference at Seton Hall University on third-world debt relief, sponsored by the U.S. Bishops' Conference and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The Seton Hall Conference was historic: key decision-makers, within and outside government, reached a greater understanding of the ethical dimensions of third world debt and its complex links to poverty. The Conference was one of many positive influences that contributed to significant progress on debt relief. Major country lenders agreed to broaden and deepen the multilateral debt relief granted under HIPC (the Heavily Indebted Poor Country initiative), and many of these countries also forgave 100-percent of their bilateral debts to HIPC countries. Inspired by this result, the inter-American Bishops asked that this gathering be organized to take the debt relief discussion to a new stage, examining the ethical dimensions of a wider topic, economic globalization.

This gathering is also significant in its breadth. There is a diversity and depth of experience represented here that is impressive and essential to our discussions. The past few years have confirmed that events, including economic decisions, in one region have significant repercussions around the globe. The interdependence of the world's peoples is more extensive and deeper than ever before. No country or region can authentically debate the moral and human dimensions of globalization in a forum closed to the views of others. This reality is globalization's legacy, and it is familiar to us. The Catholic Church was globalized well before globalization became a phenomenon. Catholics comprise a large, diverse, and indeed worldwide faith community, and they are found in every aspect of economic and public life. We believe that the Church can play a special role in the globalization debate, given its presence around the world.

That brings us to this gathering's theme. We believe that the Church's diverse experience and its many global ties can contribute to a rich and vital discussion on the human and moral dimensions of globalization. This theme is often neglected in public debate, which is frequently polarized and partisan. In the days of this gathering, we seek to examine globalization through the eyes of faith and from the perspective of Catholic moral teaching. Catholic social teaching offers a set of principles and values, ideas and criteria that can help structure and shape the discussion. Church leaders are also here to listen and learn from the experts present form many relevant fields, including finance, business, labor, economics, and government.

The organization of this gathering reflects, in some respects, the Seton Hall Conference, both in terms of the range of participants and the structure of the agenda, in the hope of achieving some measure of that Conference's impact. However, we should recognize at the outset that there are key differences in the deliberations here. The debt relief conference took place at a moment in time when the issues were crystallizing. The Church had a firm position, a clear moral mandate, and was addressing a narrower set of issues. In our program this week, debt relief remains prominent on the agenda, but our subjects now extend to the wider dimensions of economic globalization, especially those affecting the poor. These include trade policy, development assistance, foreign investment, and immigration. For some of these issues, the Church's approach and response are still being formulated. This gathering seeks to advance the dialogue and to further the debate, not to finish it. As in Seton Hall, we have a clear ethical mandate, but the results we seek are greater understanding, broader perspectives, and increased dialogue, rather than immediate solutions. We also hope that this gathering will help each of us become more aware of our respective roles and responsibilities for humanizing the global economy.

We have a useful platform to begin our work. In fact, the Episcopal conferences sponsoring this gathering represent regions that are a microcosm of the potential, tensions, and challenges at stake. When you think of globalization, think of Youngstown, Ohio; Vancouver, Canada, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Des Moines, Iowa; Juarez, Mexico; Miami, Florida; and Montreal, Canada.

We will hear shortly from Bishop Jimenéz a perspective on globalization in the Latin America region. It is a perspective to which we in the northern hemisphere must listen carefully. To address the impact of globalization on human dignity, we must first understand deeply the effect on human lives, in a concrete and specific way. Our Latin American brothers and sisters can help to raise the consciousness of decision-makers and citizens here – and they can also help us understand better how the global economy might become an engine for human progress, how we can best exploit its potential to change the future.

Our Canadian partners bring a unique perspective that in some ways can bridge the experience of the United States and Latin America. Canada is a major participant in the global economy but also must contend with a powerful neighbor, from whom it at times benefits and at times is disadvantaged. Archbishop O'Brien will provide his insights into the Canadian perspective this morning.

As for the United States, we have a major responsibility for the impact of globalization, as the world's leading economic power. Many observers place this country at the center, as the driving force for globalization. People and businesses throughout the hemisphere benefit from the opening of markets and the removal of barriers to cross-border trade. But U.S. policies are not always even-handed. For example, we encourage developing countries to open their markets even while we retain relatively high tariffs on the products that those countries are best able to export. As per capita wealth has increased here in the United States over the past decade, we have shared less and less with the poor in other parts of the world. Our foreign assistance levels are scandalous as a percentage of the nation's resources and wealth – we rank last or next to last among major donor countries over the past several years.

The Church in the United States can and should spark a deeper reflection on the ethical dimensions of this country's policies and their impact on human dignity. Our concerns reflect how our policies may affect the daily lives of Americans. Even though the global economy benefits a great number of citizens, it has its losers even in America. Many workers and farmers pay a heavy price for globalization, through lost jobs and decreased wages. For example, some observers estimate that my own State of Illinois has lost more than 25,000 jobs in manufacturing as a result of NAFTA. Smaller, local forms of organization, such as family farms and small business, are threatened by the increasing trend to corporate concentration. [Let me share a couple examples from my own diocese...].

During this gathering, we will need to address both the benefits and this darker side of globalization as we take a moral measure of globalization, in the United States, across the hemisphere, and around the world.

I wish all participants a pleasant stay here in Washington and I hope that you will find the arrangements here at Catholic University to be comfortable and convenient for our deliberations. Staff members from our Conference will be available throughout these days to assist you in any logistical details, so please do not hesitate to ask if you have any needs.

Once again, thank you all for coming, and may our work together bear much fruit as we seek "to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to let the oppressed go free". (Luke 4)


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