Acton Institute Powerblog

Catholic Bishops and the Economy

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The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) web site has a new page devoted to Catholic teaching on the economy. It is essentially a reorganization of existing resources, and it does helpfully provide access to the various bishops’ statements over the course of the last couple decades, as well as Vatican sources such as the Catechism and encyclicals.

Here is not the place to revisit the whole question of the USCCB and its economic proposals and statements. Suffice it to say that, in my view, its approach has been moving in a positive direction since the release of the problematic 1987 document, Economic Justice for All. There is more focus on principles: the Catholic Framework for Economic Life (1996), and the related Ten Principles with Reflection Questions push the conscientious Catholic in the right direction, without specifying policy stands that are contingent and debatable.

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of


  • MVS

    I was raised with Liberation Theology, which is nothing more than Marxism wearing a cross and roman collar. Actually, it is worse, because it makes people think that Dialectical Materialism is compatible with The Gospel. It is not. Would someone let the USCCB know that? It’s difficult to distinguish the USCCB’s platform to that of the Democratic National Committee, which is indistinguishable from Bolshevism. (NB: I am an Independent, NOT a Republican and I would be equally critical if the USCCB’s platform mimic the Republicans.)

    The bishops are not competent authorities to speak about Economics. They are supposed to be competent to speak on issues of faith and morals but only insofar as they repeat what the Church has always taught. The Church has always taught that every person ought to be charitable. That is, the rich offer money and comfort to the poor, and the poor are genuinely thankful rather than resentful and envious. Those who give charity must be allowed to give it freely, not at the end of the barrel of a gun. That’s precisely what government welfare programs do: force middle class people to pay for programs designed by rich people to pay for the poor people. So the rich shirk their duty onto the middle class, and the welfare recipients do nothing but complain that they deserve more for nothing.

    The USCCB ought to be calling for the government to get out of the welfare business because it interferes with the Church’s and her members’ prerogative to be charitable without coersion.
    Charity that is based entirely on individuals helping other individuals of their own free will. I don’t remember Jesus telling us to start an organization to aggregate funds gathered from a forced tax in order to set up programs that serve the needs of those selected by special interest groups for attention. He commanded individuals to love individuals. Welfare, by nature of being coercive, cannot be charity, only a caricature of it; just as Satan cannot be God, but only a caricature of Him. And we know how much damage Satan causes, so why would we sign on to the Satanic project known as “welfare”?

    The only economic system that regards the individual as an individual is the Free Market system. And when I say “free market” I do not mean this Keynesian crony capitalism that masquerades as capitalism. I mean real capitalism in which the individual is not aggregated but understood as an ‘actor’ or ‘agent’ in the Aristotelian-Thomistic sense. That kind of capitalism is a natural outgrowth of Catholic Anthropology. It is an economics that comes from Catholic Morality, which comes from Catholic Metaphysics, which comes from God. The economics as supported by the USCCB does not come from the Catholic Tradition, but from Marx.

    It’s sad: the USCCB clearly has taken the lead from Saul Alinsky rather than St. Thomas Aquinas.

  • I admit to reading just the bishops’ letter on the 2009 budget after visiting their new Web site you mention, but if it is any indication it doesn’t look much different than their budget letter of (pick a year). They continue, it seems, to look to an ever growing government and ever growing government, i.e. taxpayer, spending to solve/alleviate problems, as MVS noted above.

    It is for direction such as this that it is of little surprise that such an adamant pro-abortion candidate for president was able to garner the majority of the Catholic vote. For far too many of us, the promise of economic improvement is more important than taking a real stand on protecting babies in the womb.

    Worse still is that the policies championed by this administration will, in the long run and possibly the short-term too, will do more harm than good for the economic well-being of all.

    It’s a shame we can be “bought” so easily.

  • Roger McKinney

    The USCCB would do far better to go back to the morality in economics of the late Scholastics, especially those of the school of Salamanca. Current thought by the USCCB is nothing but warmed over socialism. The Scholastics had depth and wisdom and found true morality in a free market.


    I think the Bishops need to write at a more specific level. Most Catholics don’t know their religion well and confuse the Transfiguration with a Swedish medical procedure. It would be ideal if there was some stress on the 10 Cammandments in dealing with Social Justice (as if Social Justice was in someway different from other forms of justice).
    Fr. Sirico’s lecture on the 10 Pillars of Capitalism come to mind as a good tutorial for the Bishops. Bishop Chaput’s book “Render Unto Caesar” makes it clear that Christians are to be known by their Love and was the basis for the Faith’s success by the 3rd Century. How to love truly is difficult and Chaput cites the example of St. Thomas More, as a man for all seasons, in the face of vicious government.

  • Roger McKinney

    The National Center for Policy Analysis had an interesting article last year on optimal taxation. It found that the US could double growth in per capita GDP by reducing total taxation (state, local and federal) from 45% to 19% of GDP. Most tax money goes toward redistribution of wealth. In effect, we have chosen to support the less fortunate rather than provide them with a job, for higher rates of growth mean better, higher paying jobs. High taxation also hurts charities by reducing the amount of money available for giving. Bishops need to rethink their emphasis on state charity and acknowledge the benefits of freedom.

  • CR

    Of course the Bishops (USCCB) are “in bed” with the government! For example, when they collect money for the Catholic Relief Services (2005 total = +/- $540 million), they also “collect” from the “government” (2005 = +/- $380 millions)!!! I use to wonder why they don’t make a stand regarding the recent (Fascist/Marxist or whatever noun you may want to use) actions the government is taking. Not any more. We are loosing are freedoms, and where are our shepherds. Another example comes to mind, there is an Archbishop in FL that recently requested money for Marxist & against heterosexualism causes. (Someone wrote him an e-mail… he never answer). God bless America!

  • Jay Matuga

    We have bishops approving church building of grotesquely modern buildings that put parishioners in debt for decades and there are the same people that now address U.S. ecomonics. Are you kidding me?