To jump so seamlessly from the Magisterium’s insistence on the fundamental and non-negotiable moral obligation to the poor to the specifics of contingent, prudential, and political legislation is wholly unjustified in Catholic social teaching. One suspects that the moral theologians who signed this letter know that. It would be good for them to say so.
Surely they know what the American Bishops stated in their own 1986 Pastoral Letter, “Economic Justice for All” : “There are also many specific points on which men and women of good will may disagree. We look for a fruitful exchange among differing viewpoints.”
Surely they recall the statement of Blessed John XXIII in Mater et Magistra that, “When it comes to reducing these teachings to action, it sometimes happens that even sincere Catholic men have differing views. When this occurs, they should take care to have and to show mutual esteem and regard, and to explore the extent to which they can work in cooperation among themselves.” (no. 238)
And then there is that passage in Pope Benedict’s most recent social encyclical Caritas in Veritate: “The Church does not have technical solutions to offer.” (no. 9)
It appears then that these Catholic academicians who have written to Speaker Boehner do not understand the distinctions the Church herself makes between fundamental, non-negotiable dogmas and doctrines, and the prudential and debatable give and take when it comes to applying the principles of Catholic social teaching. Here Speaker Boehner need only consult the text of the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, which the authors of the letter say they have delivered to him, wherein he will read: “The Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions.” (no. 571)
The specifics of the 2012 Budget proposed by the Speaker and his colleagues are, the letter’s authors contend, the result of either ignorance or “dissent.” I think they are neither; they simply reflect a different, and in many people’s estimation, more accurate and economically-informed way, of proposing how we achieve worthy goals. Indeed, it could be said that what these Catholic academicians are proposing is not a “preferential option for the poor,” but rather a preferential option for the State. They make the unfortunately common error of assuming that concern for the economically weak and marginalized must somehow translate into (yet another) government program.
That assumption is wrong, and flies in the face of another principle of Catholic social teaching — the principle of subsidarity. With good reason, this is something the Catholic Left — or whatever remains of it these days — rarely mentions or grapples with, because they know that it would raise many questions about the prudence of any number of welfare programs they support.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Boehner’s Catholic Critics Rush to Protect Welfare State - By Fr. Robert A. Sirico
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