Posts tagged with: catholic social thought

Blog author: sgregg
Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Detroit News published my commentary on Catholics and health care reform in today’s newspaper. A slightly longer version of the article will appear in tomorrow’s Acton News & Commentary:

Catholic America is about as divided about health care reform as the rest of the country. But there are a small number of non-negotiables for Catholics that principally concern any provisions that facilitate or encourage the intentional termination of innocent human life or diminish existing conscience exemptions.

These issues dwarf everything else for Catholics who take their church’s teaching seriously when applied to the health care legislation. No matter how good the rest of the legislation might be in widening access to affordable health care, it is a principle of Catholic faith and natural law that you cannot do evil so good may come from it. St. Paul insisted upon this almost 2,000 years ago (Romans 3:8), and it is constantly affirmed by Scripture, tradition and centuries of magisterial teaching.

For this reason, much of the Catholic contribution to the health care debate, especially that of Catholic bishops, has focused on these issues. But imagine the health care legislation involved a massive expansion of government involvement that didn’t promote abortion or other non-negotiables. Would Catholics be obliged to support passage of such legislation?

The answer is no. Catholic moral teaching has held that the realization of good ends (such as making health care more affordable and accessible) mostly falls into the realm of prudential judgment. The church has always recognized that faithful Catholics can disagree about such matters.

Read the entire article here.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico had two recent appearances on Relevant Radio’s Drew Mariani Show to discuss the new social encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI.  His first appearance was prior to the release of the encyclical and he explained how Christians who support the free economy believe that it should not be based on greed.  To have a just society, we must have just people.  When money becomes the end of a person, and a person’s whole life is directed to that end, Rev. Sirico points out that then a person is destroyed.  Finally, he closes with an important message: If we do no understand love then we do not understand ourselves because we are the result of God’s love.

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In his second appearance, Rev. Sirico explains why Pope Benedict XVI does not have any intention to declare himself in the middle of a political debate with the release of Caritas in Veritate.  The pope does not recommend a political model.  Instead, Caritas in Veritate is meant to lay down the principles on how to govern a society.  The encyclical accepts the reality and benefits of a market economy but states a market economy does not contain the moral guide that a society needs.  Rev. Sirico also asserts that the ambiguities that are in Caritas in Veritate are intentional.  Certain principles need an application which requires the virtue of prudence.  The pope allows ambiguity because this will foster a debate and from the debate the Church can gain a greater insight from what it is trying to get to and then re-articulate its message.  Rev. Sirico reminds us that it is important to understand that the Church’s social teaching is not a dogmatic pronouncement that is not debatable.  Instead, it is a dynamic process.

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Katherine Jean Lopez of National Review Online interviewed me about the new papal encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, shortly after its release this morning here in Rome:

LOPEZ: Obviously the topic of ethics and the economy resonates with people today. What can a Catholic take away from the new encyclical when it comes to his lost job, the stimulus, or government takeovers?

JAYABALAN: It’s hard to summarize such a long and complex document into a lesson or two, but I’ll try. First is the absolute importance of Truth to our understanding of charity, efficiency, and economics. For Catholics, this means the Church’s fundamental theological and moral teachings, which should be received as gifts rather than burdens, as difficult as they may seem to us. The Church’s theological understanding of charity and justice should make all Catholics feel responsible for each other and think and act accordingly. This is the real meaning of solidarity.

During the interview I was also asked about the importance of the encyclical to non-Catholics and what they can take away from it:

LOPEZ: What can the non-Catholic learn from the encyclical?

JAYABALAN: He doesn’t distinguish between Catholics and non-Catholics in the encyclical but calls all of us to broaden our use of reason beyond the merely technical or scientific. Benedict also recalls the limited nature of the state and its inability to provide the most important thing — love.

As Benedict argues in his previous encyclicals, as well as the current one, the state is no replacement for the family or the church: The state cannot love us  — and it would be a scary thing even if it could.

Even where the state does have some responsibilities, it may obey the principle of subsidiarity — that is, let individuals, families, churches, businesses, and local communities handle their own problems first. This is the setting for the pope’s call for fraternity and a vibrant, diverse civil society.

The entire interview can be read at The Corner.

Relativists beware. Whether you like it or not, truth matters – even in the economy. That’s the core message of Pope Benedict XVI’s new social encyclical Caritas in Veritate.

For 2000 years, the Catholic Church has hammered home a trio of presently-unpopular ideas into the humus of human civilization: that there is truth; that it is not simply of the scientific variety; that it is knowable through faith and reason; and that it is not whatever you want or “feel” it to be. Throughout his entire life, Benedict XVI has underscored these themes, precisely because much of the world, including many Christians, has lost sight of their importance.

Perhaps Caritas in Veritate’s most important truth-claim about economic life is that the market economy cannot be based on just any value-system. Against all relativists on the left and the right, Benedict maintains that market economies must be underpinned by commitments to particular basic moral goods and a certain vision of the human person if it is to serve rather than undermine humanity’s common good: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly — not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (CV no.45)

“Without internal forms of solidarity and mutual trust,” the Pope writes, “the market cannot completely fulfill its proper economic function” (CV no. 35). This surely has been amply confirmed by the recent financial crisis. America’s subprime-mortgage market collapse was at least partly attributable to the fact that literally thousands of people lied on their mortgage application forms. Should we be surprised that mass violation of the moral prohibition against lying has devastating economic consequences? “The economic sphere”, the pope reminds us, “is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner” (CV no.36).

Contrary to the pre-encyclical hype of certain American commentators and the ever-unreliable British press, predictions of papal anathemas against “global capitalism” have – as usual – been found wanting. In economic terms, the pope describes as “erroneous” the tired notion that the developed countries’ wealth is predicated on poor nations’ poverty (CV no.35) that one hears customarily from the likes of Hugo Chavez and whatever’s left of the dwindling band of aging liberation theologians. That’s a pontifical body-blow to a central working assumption of many professional social justice “activists”.

Nor will they be happy with the pope’s concerns about the ways in which foreign aid can produce situations of dependency (CV no.58), not to mention Benedict’s strictures against protectionism (CV no.42) as well as his stress that no amount of structural change can possibly compensate for people freely choosing the good: “Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility” (CV no.17).

Nor does Benedict regard the market as morally problematic in itself. “In and of itself,” the Pope states, “the market is not . . . the place where the strong subdue the weak. Society does not have to protect itself from the market, as if the development of the latter were ipso facto to entail the death of authentically human relations” (CV no.36). What matters, Benedict claims, is the moral culture in which markets exists.

At the heart of the economy are human persons. People whose minds are dominated by crassly hedonistic cultures will make crassly hedonistic economic choices. “Therefore”, Benedict comments, “it is not the instrument that must be called to account, but individuals” (CV no.36).

The implications of truth for economic life do not, however, stop here. For Benedict, it is a lens through which to assess ideas such as “business ethics”, “ethical investing” and “corporate social responsibility.” The notion that investment and business choices have a moral dimension is hardly new. What matters for Benedict is the understanding of morality underlying these schemes. Merely labeling an investment scheme as “ethical”, Benedict notes, hardly tells us whether it is moral (CV no.45).

A second major truth underscored by Benedict is the indispensability of a strong civil society for both undergirding and limiting the market and the state. By this, he does not mean a plethora of government-funded NGOs, many of whom Benedict identifies as intent upon imposing some of the very worst aspects of Western lifestyle-libertarianism upon developing nations (CV no.28). Certainly, Benedict believes, there is a need to re-evaluate (CV no.24) how the state regulates different parts of the economy. Ultimately, however, Benedict stresses that the virtue of solidarity, he argues, is about people concretely loving their neighbour; it “cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State” (CV no.38). This is reminiscent of Alexis de Tocqueville’s attention to the manner in which the habit of free association both limits the size of government while also discouraging people from retreating into their own little bubbles.

The economist John Maynard Keynes is famous for many things, including the saying that “in the long run, we’re all dead.” The horizon of Benedict XVI’s perspective on economic life is rather different. The pope asks people to live their economic lives in the short, medium, and long-term as if living in the truth is eternally important, not to mention eternally relevant to their soul’s salvation.

That’s change we can all believe in.

Phil Lawler over at Catholic Culture has written a brief and insightful piece that addresses a question frequently asked, “Is Catholic Social Teaching Inherently Liberal?” It is worth a read. Excerpt:

The Church clearly teaches that the moral duty of all believers to help those in need, to exercise the “preferential option for the poor.” But is it self-evident that the effort to fight poverty should be waged through impersonal government programs, supported by mandatory taxation, rather than by the freewill offerings of charitable donors? Is it self-evident that the federal government should supervise these anti-poverty programs, although the principle of subsidiarity would seem to militate in favor of local solutions to local problems and individual approaches to needy individuals? Is there a prima facie case for allowing the Church’s own charitable efforts to be subsumed into the tax-subsidized programs, so that “Catholic Charities” is for all practical purposes a government agency?

These questions are rarely raised when parish “justice and peace” committees meet. The conservative Catholics who make make these arguments are generally not members of those committees; they are already too busy with their work on the pro-life committees! So liberal Catholics eventually come to take it for granted that what seems so obvious to them must be equally obvious to their fellow Catholics. They are genuinely surprised to learn that some faithful Catholics are not enthralled by the promise of an Obama presidency, even apart from issues involving the dignity of life.

Paola Fantini has expanded her blog post on Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s new work on Catholic social doctrine into a book review for the forthcoming Religion & Liberty quarterly published by the Acton Institute. She has also translated the prologue to the book by Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill. These articles are, to my knowledge, the first to translate anything from Cardinal Bertone’s “The Ethics of the Common Good in Catholic Social Doctrine” (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2008) into English. The Italian title is “L’etica del Bene Comune nella Dottrina Sociale della Chiesa.”

In her review, Fantini writes:

Not surprisingly, both Kirill and Bertone agree that a morally-orientated economy is a fundamental aspect for the development of a harmonious society, and both affirm that such a society should tend naturally to the common good when human activity is inspired by the principle of “fraternity.”

For Kirill, fraternity is primarily based on national identity and national growth; he often recalls the duty of serving the nation. At the conclusion of his prologue, he writes, “For us, the principal meaning of our work must be to serve God, our neighbour and the Patria [nation], through the creation of material and spiritual goods fundamental for a worthy life.”

Bertone, by contrast, stresses more universal, “transnational” aspects and never uses the nation-state as a center of focus. Recalling Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus caritas est, Bertone even criticizes the nation-state for crowding out charity with social spending. “The State, presupposing a [strong sense of] solidarity among citizens to realize their rights, makes social spending obligatory. In this way, the State compromises the principle of gratuitousness, denying space to principles other than solidarity.”

In the prologue to the book, Metropolitan Kirill is harshly critical of economic globalization which does not meet the demands of “efficiency and justice.”

History demonstrates that only the aspiration to an ultimate good, the ability to sacrifice material goods in favor of heavenly ones, the ability to pursue duties of a higher order, render society vital and give meaning to the life of every single person. The states and peoples that have negated the value of spiritual life have disappeared from the scene of history. For this reason it is very important, when one speaks of the economy and the growth of well-being, never to forget their ultimate end: to serve the material and spiritual common good, not to hinder but favor man’s salvation.

Read Fantini’s new review here. Read Metropolitan Kirill’s prologue here.

Two Acton scholars, Andrew Yuengert and Fr. Paul Hartmann, were interviewed on “The World Over” (EWTN Studios) last Friday, April 28, about the Catholic response to immigration rights. Yuengert, author of the Acton monograph “Inhabiting the Land,” emphasizes the dignity of the human person as a foundation for looking at the issues surrounding immigration. Yuengert says that the “right to migrate” is not an absolute right, but to prevent people from assisting immigrants in need is immoral. Immigrants come because they want to work. They generally find positions as low-wage laborers, and tend to send large amounts of money home to poorer nations. The economic burdens that immigrant workers place on the United States are relatively small, although those burdens tend to fall heavily on specific regions, most noticeably on southern California. Yuengert says that the burdens themselves do not justify new restrictions on immigration although, viewed from an economic perspective, the nation could probably adjust to a massive loss of immigrant labor.

Fr. Hartmann reiterates the necessity of being allowed to provide charity to those in need. It becomes a major problem, however, if laws exist which make it a crime to extend a helping hand to immigrants and their families. The Church should oppose such laws, he says. What’s more, Christians have a moral obligation to “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and clothe the naked,” without prejudice.