A Timorese colleague who lives on Java recently visited Kansas City on his first trip to the United States. After talking with him about the local economy, I asked if he would be interested in seeing a retail store, thinking he would be fascinated by our nearby Wal-Mart.
No need, he replied. They recently built one in his native village.
Sometimes I find it difficult to describe the beast, but the notion of economic globalization gained another foothold, in my psyche during the exchange with my Indonesian friend. I am not certain of the consequences of a new Wal-Mart in Indonesia, but it is an easily visible manifestation of a revolution, unthinkable not too long ago, that is radically changing the economic order.
Think back for a moment to the early 1980s. It was then the U.S. bishops set out to ponder a century of Catholic social teaching and to apply it to the U.S. economy. They formed a committee -- headed by Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, respected by his peers for leadership and intelligence -- and asked it to make moral sense out of changing economic life.
Weakland led a process of study, consultation, public hearings and drafting and redrafting texts leading up to the 1986 pastoral letter on the economy, "Economic Justice for All."
One decade later, it had become clear to Weakland and other Catholic economic observers that the pastoral, while containing seemingly timeless principles, had not adequately addressed the most dynamic economic development of the 1990s -- globalization.
No prognosticator had anticipated the confluence of the Cold War's end and the rapid rate at which national and regional economies were yielding to wider global forces -- even as some local economies, such as nations in Africa and Asia, had seemingly dropped off the economic map.
"Ten years later we know that such a distinction between domestic and global does not serve us well," Weakland said in May. "The global concern was a small section of the first document; now it would be the centerpiece."
Weakland has been echoing a concern of many Catholic ethicists, arguing that Catholic social teachings have failed to stay abreast of some of the most important developments in a newly emerging global economic order. Failure to update could mean Catholic thought won't be represented in some of the most far-reaching discussions of modern times.
With this in mind, Weakland and staff from a Washington-based think tank, the Center of Concern, decided two years ago to hold a conference in May of this year to examine economic globalization and the moral issues it was raising. Titled "Social Responsibility in the Age of Globalization," the conference was a way of observing the pastoral's 10th and the center's 25th anniversaries.
Months before the gathering in Milwaukee, the center's staff began culling information from Catholic statements. Using faxes and …