Posts tagged with: catholic social teaching

The Michigan legislature passed right-to-work legislation today, a landmark event that promises to accelerate the state’s rebound from the near-collapse it suffered in the deep recession of 2008. The bills are now headed to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. The right-to-work passage was a stunning reversal for unions in a very blue state — the home of the United Auto Workers. Following setbacks for organized labor in Wisconsin last year, the unions next turned to Michigan in an attempt to enshrine prerogatives for their organizing efforts in the state constitution. A union-backed ballot proposal was handily defeated by voters in the Nov. 6 election.

rightoworkBut according to some on the Christian left, the right-to-work law is the worst thing that could happen to “workers.” Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a retired auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, argued in an opinion piece that right-to-work “devastates economic justice.” He claims to speak not just for Catholics or for Christians but quite simply for faith communities all over the world:

At the core of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and all great religions are the values of dignity and respect, values from which economic justice and the right to organize can never be separated.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s Presbyterian tradition “affirms the rights of labor organization and collective bargaining as minimum demands of justice.” Similar statements have been made by the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to name but a few. (more…)

The Michigan legislature’s historic vote today on the right-to-work issue raises the important question: Do labor unions offer the best protection for the worker? Liberating Labor: A Christian Economist’s Case for Voluntary Unionism by Charles W. Baird answers that question and explains the Catholic social teaching on the issue.

In theory, unions foster good relations between employers and workers and prevent mistreatment or exploitation in the workplace. Pope Leo XIII sanctioned trade unions in Rerum Novarum during the Industrial Revolution; however, his support was very specific and is often misinterpreted. There is a common misunderstanding that Catholic social teaching supports any type of unionism or labor association.

Baird argues that Catholic social teaching supports voluntary unionism and condemns obligatory association—which is exactly what this Michigan legislation addresses. Liberating Labor observes and explains the basic principle of freedom of association and gives a clear and simple economic analysis of labor markets as well as the economic principle of voluntary exchange. It goes on to explain why these economic concepts are consistent with Catholic social teaching. Baird closely scrutinizes the common misconceptions about the process of the labor market that have caused the widespread support of compulsory trade unions. He concludes the essay by offering his own model of unionism that is consistent with papal teaching and sound economics.

Charles Baird is professor of Economics, Emeritus, at California State University, Hayward as well as founder and former director of the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies in Hayward, Calif. Liberating Labor is the fifth book in the Christian Social Thought series from the Acton Institute. You can learn more about and purchase the monograph in hard copy or ebook here.

Anthony Esolen, in an on-going series in Crisis Magazine, ponders Catholic Social Teaching, as presented by Pope Leo XIII. Esolen says that Pope Leo’s rich view of humanity arms us today in not only promoting the free market, but in combating the meager thoughts proposed by socialism and liberalism.

How does Leo XIII do this? By truly understanding the human person.

Human beings are embodied rational souls, and everything they touch they mark with the fire of their spirit, the gift of God.  That is the ground of their right to property.  But they are not solitary atoms either, rebounding against one another in a chaotic war of all against all.  For the human soul is made for love, and can only attain its end by communion with other souls.  Therefore, long before we meet the State, we find human beings fashioning not artificial but real bodies in turn: families and clans and villages. It is absolutely crucial to understand this.

Catholic Social Teaching affirms the reality of the bodies that human beings form; they are not notional, but real and living, and they imply real rights and duties among the members, who are themselves not mere parts, but whole persons.  [emphasis original]

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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, December 7, 2012

Patrick Brennan graciously noted my engagement with his piece on subsidiarity, charitably calling it “substantive.” He takes issue, however, with my pace Brennan.” He rightly responds that “the very point of the book to which my chapter is a contribution is a ‘comparative’ perspective on subsidiarity.” He continues, “My assigned task in writing the chapter was to tell the what subsidiarity means in Catholic social doctrine, period.”

To clarify, it seems to me that Brennan is quite ably articulating and explicating a particularly vigorous and metaphysically robust version of subsidiarity often associated with Catholic social teaching, and particularly the neo-Thomist revival of the previous two centuries. My quibble, and I’m not sure if it amounts to much more than that, is with the idea that this is identical to “what subsidiarity means in Catholic social doctrine, period.”

In the papers linked in the previous post I do make more specific claims with respect to subsidiarity in “other” traditions, particularly the Reformed. But given the shared medieval (and even to a great extent the early modern) background and the diversity there, I do wonder whether that more robust, ontologically-freighted version of subsidiarity is the only version at play in the specifically Roman Catholic tradition, either before or after 1891.
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Earlier this week we noted that Patrick Brennan posted a paper, “Subsidiarity in the Tradition of Catholic Social Doctrine,” which unpacks some of the recent background and implications for the use of the principle in Catholic social thought. As Brennan observes, “Although present in germ from the first Christian century, Catholic social thought began to emerge as a unified body of doctrine in the nineteenth century….” Brennan goes on to highlight the particularly Thomistic roots of the doctrine of subsidiarity, “a new idea creatively culled from the depths of the Catholic philosophical and theological tradition that had roots in Greek philosophical speculation.”

While recognizing the innovativeness of Taparelli’s thought and the genius of 19th and 20th century revivals of neo-Thomism, it is also worth noting the basic “catholicity,” or universality, of a doctrine like subsidiarity within the broader Christian tradition. If Christian social thought has been around since the first century, then so have its constitutive elements, in more or less developed form. And pace Brennan, it is not clear to me that there is one univocal version of subsidiarity, at least as it arises out of the early modern period.

With this in mind, I have just posted two papers that explore the early modern backgrounds of subsidiarity and related concepts like natural law which focus particularly on the provenance of these ideas in the Reformed tradition.
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Patrick McKinley Brennan, a professor at Villanova University School of Law, has a new paper that considers the place subsidiarity in the tradition of Catholic Social Doctrine:

Subsidiarity is often described as a norm calling for the devolution of power or for performing social functions at the lowest possible level. In Catholic social doctrine, it is neither. Subsidiarity is the fixed and immovable ontological principle according to which the common good is to be achieved through a plurality of social forms. Subsidiarity is derivative of social justice, a recognition that societies other than the state constitute unities of order, possessing genuine authority, which which are to be respected and, when necessary, aided. Subsidiarity is not a policy preference for checking power with power. This chapter traces the emergence of the principle of subsidiarity to the neo-Scholastic revival that contributed to the Church’s defense against the French Revolution’s onslaught aimed at eliminating societies other than the state. The concept of subsidiarity has implications for the present, changing socio-political landscape in the United States as the Church faces a state that is poised to compel the Church to violate the moral law.

Read more . . .

Ann Schneible, who interviewed Rev. Robert A. Sirico for Vatican Radio today (see PowerBlog post for audio) also published an interview with the Acton Institute president and co-founder on the Catholic news site, Zenit. Excerpt:

ZENIT: In response to those Christians and Catholics who are hesitant about buying into the idea of a free market economy, how can one demonstrate that there are elements to a free market – or Capitalist – economy which are compatible to Catholic social teaching?

Father Sirico: There are a number of elements that can make the connection. I keep going back to this anthropological question because that’s the beautiful way to do it. I think it was Chesterton who said that Catholicism is the religion of stuff, by which he was really addressing the Incarnational nature of the Church. We have incense, and bells, and candles, and vestments, and all these things. In other words – in a non-liturgical context – the material world is good. We see that in the book of genesis. And God places us in the material world and asks us to pursue sanctity there.

The moment he places us in the material world, he places us in the context of limitations and scarcity. This gives rise to economics – which means that we have to find a way that is in accord with our nature, that is ethical, that is appropriate, that is effective – to make use of nature for the glory of God. It is in the same way an architect who studies geometry uses that geometrical precision and technique to build the façade of a cathedral, and thereby rendering praise to God. So too in a different way, the entrepreneur, who discovers the use of something or the combination of other things and represents and organizes them and creates a network and a marketing campaign to build a business, that that architectural construct ends up sustaining many families who participate in that, and sustain many consumers in the sense that they buy a good or a service at a higher quality and for a lower price than they would have otherwise, thereby giving their family a little more money to use at their discretion; all of these things, too, can be considered rendering nature for the glory of God. And that’s enterprise; that’s business. I don’t like the word “capitalism” because I think it’s too narrow a word. I like “free economy,” or “free market.”

Read “A Moral Case for a Free Economy — Acton Institute’s Co-founder Explores Free Market Economy in New Book,” an interview by Ann Schneible on Zenit.

On Vatican Radio, Acton President and co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico discusses his new book Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for the Free Market Economy with reporter Ann Schneible.

According to Vatican Radio, the broadcasting station of the Holy See:

… Fr Sirico highlighted his objectives in writing this book. Defending the Free Market, he said, was written “with the intention of making accessible economic ideas that I thought were important in general terms; but, in particular, especially for religious people, to understand there is what we call a normative or moral dimension to economic activity.”

“It’s not just, live by the Ten Commandments and open a store,” Fr Sirico explained, but he wanted to demonstrate “that there’s something more internal to the whole dynamism of a market economy that makes sense both economically and morally.”

Click on the media player below to listen to Schneible’s full interview with Rev. Sirico:

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Anthony Esolen has written a rollicking piece in Crisis bemoaning the misrepresentation, misuse and mangling of Catholic Social Teaching. In a phrase, he’s sick of it.

I’m sick of hearing that Catholic teaching regarding sex and marriage is one thing, in that old-fashioned trinket box over there, while Catholic teaching regarding stewardship and our duties to the poor is another thing, on that marble pedestal over here.  I’m sick of hearing that Catholic teaching regarding the Church and her authority is one thing, the embarrassing Latinate red-edged tome tucked away in that closet, while Catholic teaching regarding the laity is another, and pass that bread this way!  No, it is all of a piece.  What the Church says about divorce is inextricable from what she says about the poor.  What she says about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is inextricable from what she says about the respects in which all men are created equal—and the many respects in which she insists upon a salutary inequality.  When we fail to see the integrity of the faith, not only do certain truths escape our notice; the rest, the truths we think we see, grow monstrous, like cancers, and work to destroy the flesh they once seemed to replace.

This is the first in a series of articles on Catholic Social Thought. Esolen addresses the issue of “imposing our morality” on our neighbors, what Pope Leo XIII really had in mind when discussing socialism, and why asking Michelangelo to promote porn isn’t a justifiable idea. If the rest of the series is anything like this article, it’ll be a real treat.

Here is the comment posted this this morning on the National Catholic Reporter article titled, “Statement on economy denounced by archbishop fails to pass.”

Full statement follows:

An important clarification.

Archbishop Fiorenza’s assertion that the Acton Institute views Rerum Novarum as “no longer applicable today” is incorrect. The archbishop is most likely basing this claim on a June 2012 America Magazine blog post by Vincent Miller titled, “Sirico Completely Wrong on Church’s Social Teaching.”

See link.

In the post, Miller cites an interview Fr Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, did with the New York Times on a story about Duquesne University and the attempt by adjunct professors to organize a union there. Miller claimed that Fr Sirico’s comment to the Times was “astounding in its ignorance or mendacious misrepresentation of the basis for the Church’s support for unions.”

To which Fr Sirico replied on the Acton PowerBlog:

“Anytime I can get a progressive/dissenting Catholic magazine/blog like the Jesuit-run America simultaneously to quote papal documents, defend the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, embrace the Natural Law and even yearn for a theological investigation “by those charged with oversight for the Church’s doctrine” of a writer suspected of heresy, I consider that I have had a good day.”

And further on:

Mr. Miller jumps to the conclusion that by saying that Leo’s observations of the circumstances for workers in 1891 were historically contingent, I am somehow arguing that what Leo said has no bearing today. Now, that is a particularly odd reaction because the entire thrust of Leo’s encyclical, beginning with its title, was precisely aimed at looking around at the “new things” (Rerum Novarum) that were emerging in his day, and reflecting upon them in the light of Scripture, Tradition and the Natural Law. If the situation in Pittsburgh and the graduate students teaching part time courses in 2012 is remotely comparable to the subsistence living conditions under which many workers lived in the latter part of the 19th century, this has somehow escaped my notice.

Nonetheless, I am delighted to see Mr. Miller is vigilant about the Church teaching and his citations from magisterial texts; not a single line of any of those cited do I disagree with.

Read the whole thing here.

John Couretas
Communications Director
Acton Institute