Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Universal Destination of Goods

171. Among the numerous implications of the common good, immediate significance is taken on by the principle of the universal destination of goods.
-Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
Combined with:

177. Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable.

leads some to the conclusion that the mandatory redistribution of wealth by the state through the use of taxes or other methods of property confiscation is in conformance to Catholic Social Justice Doctrine.

In Rerum Novarum Pope Leo XIII outlines why this is not true. Such actions rob the lawful owner, hurt the recipient in the long run and distorts the role of the state.

The wealthy have an obligation to the poor, but this is a personal duty which must be exercised through just treatment of ones employees, fair treatment of tradesmen and acts of personal charity.

One hundred years after Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum John Paul II wrote Centesimus Annus, which is Latin for "hundredth year", supporting the continued relavence of Leo's encyclical. He had already in 1987 published Sollicitudo rei socialis which addressed authentic human development, the true solution to poverty.

Socialism envisions wealth as a zero sum game. As such its distribution always comes down to redistribution of existing wealth from the rich to the poor. Authentic economic theory understands that wealth is related to productivity. That is, wealth is produced from a confluence of materal and labor. Wealth is not like a finite bag of beans, which must be divided, but rather like a field of bean plants, which will, with proper cultivation, produce a never ending supply of beans which is available to anyone who is able to harvest the field. The efforts of the wealthy on the part of the poor consists of helping to provide beans in the short run and enabling the poor to engage in the harvest in the long run. This is a personal responsibility and under the principle of Subsidarity (to be discussed next) is not the responsibility of government but of citizens.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Is this how Catherine of Siena felt when she looked at the Church?
Is this how Saint Francis of Assisi felt when he looked at the Church?
Is This how St. Dominic felt when he looked at the Church?
Could ever Our Lady look on so disheartening or discouraging an entity as the Catholic Church in America and not be moved to tears?
It is enough to make a man want to look for a cave somewhere and try to follow St. Benedict in his flight from the city, but even he found that God called for him to be out in the world proclaiming the gospel rather than hiding from the world.
At this time when the orthodoxy of American Catholicism seems so low, and Christianity itself is under attack it is perhaps time for us to follow the examples of Sts. Catherine and Francis.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Principle of the Common Good

What is the Common Good? According to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church it is:
the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily.
According to the CSDC it is the duty of government to:
The State, in fact, must guarantee the coherency, unity and organization of the civil society of which it is an expression ...(it must) make available to persons the necessary material, cultural, moral and spiritual goods.
But it must be remembered that this is not merely a goal based on materialism.
A purely historical and materialistic vision would end up transforming the common good into a simple socio-economic well-being, without any transcendental goal, that is, without its most intimate reason for existing.
That reason is Jesus. Any effort by the State which fails to take into account that transcendent dimension fails in its attempt to promote the Common Good.

While the CSDC requires that the State support
a sound juridical system, the protection of the environment, and the provision of essential services to all, some of which are at the same time human rights: food, housing, work, education and access to culture, transportation, basic health care, the freedom of communication and expression, and the protection of religious freedom.
It is a prudential judgment whether a specific government policy will actually promote the demands listed here. Does greater access to health care require that the government directly manage and support health services? How much should a State invest in the prevention of an environmental problem which may not exist at all? Is it better to foster an economic climate by which individuals can afford their own housing or subsidize housing, thereby perpetuating dependence on government assistance?
I think it is easy to see how framing assumption can allow different individuals to draw different conclusions on specific policies.

What is the Church's stand on social justice

One of the statements that seems to be said by his apologists every time the present president of the United States is criticized for his stand on life issues (abortion, fetal stem cell research, etc.) is that "at least he is with the Church on social justice issues."
Is this a fact? Does the policies which are verbally supported and actually attempted by this president reflect the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church?
How would one know? The Church's position on social justice issues is very clearly explained in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Principles of Church's Social Doctrine are covered in detail in Chapter 4. They are
  1. The Principle of the Common Good
  2. The Universal Destination of Goods
  3. The Principle of Subsidiarity
  4. Participation
  5. The Principle of Solidarity
  6. The Fundamental Values of Social Life
In so far as this president and his administration supports these principles it supports Catholic social teaching. As far as it supports agendas at odds with these values it does not.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Why it isn't politics

There is a very strong partisan battle going on now in the United States. It is a fight between progressives on one side, most notably embodied in the Democratic Party and conservatives on the other, mostly represented by the Republican Party, although Libertarians also seem to fall on that side of the issues also.
The Catholic Church is not totally on either side of this conflict, though many conservative Catholics will tell you that on right-to-life and family issues the Church supports their views.
One area that is highly politically charged is the so called "enhanced" interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects held at GITMO. Supporters of the policy point to the danger existent in the terrorists, and quibble over the legality of the methods used. They appeal to an outcome based standard, supported by the fact that the United States was able to avoid various possible terrorists attacks using information gleaned through the use of these techniques.
As a Catholic Christian the evaluation of the permissibility of these techniques are not based on their legality, but on their morality. Though not a lawyer I have spoken to enough of them on this subject to be convinced that under existing U.S. law the techniques used were indeed legal. This places any talk of prosecution of anyone involved in the process in the area of base political posturing.
But once again, I repeat, legal does not, necessarily translate into moral. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite clear:

2297 ...Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.

A detailed examination of the techniques permitted, based on the released documents make it fairly clear that while no permanent physical harm was intended, physical violence was indeed included in the allowed techniques. Moreover, though most of the techniques did not include actual physical violence they constituted a planned program of moral violence with the intent to "extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents."
Professor Christopher O. Tollefsen at MercatoNet explains quite clearly why this is so.
This subject is too important to be addressed with a knee-jerk partisan response. Life long conservatives as well as anti-Bush progressives should be together on this. Our country made a bad mistake. It is not the first mistake in our history. Slavery. Native American dislocation. Japanese- American Internment. Nor is it likely to be our last. But let us not wait half a century to recognize and correct our mistake.
Note this does not mean it is necessary to release men who have sworn to attack us into our streets. It does mean that such tactics should never again be employed by our nation. It might even mean publicly and officially admitting before the world that we were wrong. Not criminally wrong, but morally wrong. For any Catholic involved it is probably time to consult a priest.