If you want to know the Catholic definition of fast, it would be the amount of time it takes for certain Catholics to explain why the latest Vatican document doesn’t apply to them. 

Witness the reaction to a new document from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace with the rather ungainly name of “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority.” Released on Oct. 24, it was quickly followed by a raft of press releases by various groups explaining that it wasn’t from Pope Benedict XVI, that it wasn’t binding on consciences, and damning it as economically naïve. 

Anyone who has been listening only to the political debate in this country likely will be shocked at the scale and scope of the Vatican’s suggestions.

The 18-page document’s specific technical suggestions of a tax on financial transactions, reward-based capitalization of banks and a global economic authority are surely — as its own authors admit — open to debate and discussion. But how impressive that in only a matter of hours Catholic commentators were able to prayerfully reflect on its call to justice and still explain why it could safely be ignored. 

The rest of us might respond more humbly. 

While the document was not issued under the signature of Pope Benedict, it situates itself in a long line of papal texts, starting with Blessed John XXIII’s “Pacem in Terris” and concluding with Pope Benedict’s most recent encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate.” 

The core message, as he articulated again this summer in a mid-flight press conference, is this: “The economy cannot be measured according to the maxim of profit but rather according to the common good of all, that it implies responsibility for others and only really functions well if it functions humanly, with respect for others. And with the different dimensions: responsibility for one’s own nation and not only for oneself; responsibility for ... the whole of humanity.” 

Feel responsible even for the poorest in lands far away? No wonder that message is a tough swallow for Americans, Catholics included. A recent poll shows that more than 70 percent of Americans want to eliminate all U.S. foreign aid spending. 

For those Catholics willing to consider this document prayerfully, they will understand that its primary assumption is that “every individual and every community shares in and is responsible for promoting the common good.” 

The document chronicles a series of financial crises worldwide that have continued from the 1970s until the present day, but sees the housing and banking collapse in the United States in 2008 as “something decisive and explosive.”  

The document praises many of the aspects of globalization, but notes that the decline in regulations have created an economic system that is out of control, and it condemns “an economic liberalism that spurns rules and controls.” 

The heart of the document is its call to “adopt an ethic of solidarity.” That is, we are asked to embrace “the logic of the global common good which transcends merely contingent, particular interests.” That no major U.S. politician would feel free to issue such an appeal is a sign of how far apart current U.S. political discourse is from the priorities of the Vatican and Church social teaching. 

We urge all Catholics to read this document and the related encyclicals on social teaching as they prepare themselves for the election year to come. More importantly, we urge all Catholics to take to heart its concern for the voiceless many who share our planet: the suffering, the forgotten and the powerless. 

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.