‘Too big to fail’


By Frank Wessling

When the big banks and brokerage firms in New York City were near collapse two years ago because of risky practices it was said that some of them were “too big to fail.”

If they went down with their billions of dollars in financial connections to other businesses and to millions of individuals here and around the world, it would be like pulling out the center pole of a tent. We would all be hurt in the consequent disaster.

That’s why the federal government, on behalf of all Americans, bailed out a few giant financial firms and rescued some of our biggest businesses, such as General Motors.

This “too-big-to-fail” intervention was noticed from the Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI. He alluded to it during his visit to England earlier in September, flipping the concept so that the “big” focused not on the financial web that knits the world together according to a secular view. Rather, it was the call of the poor, the Church’s web of concern, that Benedict proposed for our attention.


Speaking to an audience of political leaders in London, he said “it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity toward the poor.” He urged more “effective action” and “fresh thinking,” though, so that all the world’s peoples can enjoy decent living standards.

Then came a sharp jab at the tendency to go slow and small with development aid. The pope said:

Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail.” Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important. Here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail.”

We quickly and easily feel a threat to our material security. The pope asks us to feel with the Gospel and be equally sensitive to the pain of the poor. We can’t be morally and spiritually secure while knowing that beggars sit outside our gate.

Where does Benedict get such an idea? Try Luke 16:19-31 and Matthew 25:31-46.

The same concern affected representatives of the world’s Catholic bishops at the 1971 World Synod of Bishops which said:

Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.

We should hear the call of the poor for solidarity on their behalf, and do whatever it takes to build and sustain a web of compassion around the world. As long as such a web does not exist, or is in tatters, we risk spiritual bankruptcy.

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