Saving the Social Teaching from Caricature
(ABOVE: Francis with Bolivian dictator Evo Morales)
Fatima Perspectives #1271
With his endless railing against the rich simply because they are rich, and his endless exaltation of the poor as if poverty equated to sainthood, Pope Francis has presented, not the Church’s authentic social teaching, but rather a Latin American, socialist-tinged caricature of it.
Thus do we hear constant denunciations of the excesses of capitalism, which certainly exist and are condemnable, but never a word of criticism of the even worse excesses of socialism in such places as Venezuela, a once-prosperous nation reduced to economic rubble by the socialist policies of the dictator Nicolás Maduro, forcing the people literally to eat out of garbage cans in order to survive. Speaking of Maduro, Philip Lawler has written: “As Venezuela burns, many Latin Americans ask: ‘Where is Pope Francis?’ The headline on a Catholic World Report essay by Samuel Gregg more or less speaks for itself. And Sandro Magister of L’Espresso raised essentially the same question …”
In fact, it seems Francis has never met a socialist, or for that matter, communist dictator he does not like, as we see in his relations with the Latin American dictators he has visited, including Fidel Castro and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who gave him the infamous hammer-and-sickle crucifix (pictured above), which he took home to the Vatican.
Then, of course, there is the communist dictatorship in Beijing, to which Francis has surrendered the rights of the true Church in China and on which he heaped praise in an interview with Asia Times back in 2016, including the following rather revolting encomium:
“I wish to convey my best wishes and greetings to President Xi Jinping [!] and to all the Chinese people. And I wish to express my hope that they never lose their historical awareness of being a great people, with a great history of wisdom, and that they have much to offer to the world. The world looks to this great wisdom of yours. In this New Year, with this awareness, may you continue to go forward in order to help and cooperate with everyone in caring for our common home and our common peoples.”
Go forward? Care for our common home? The Chinese people are being pushed backward into the pit of hell under a brutal atheist regime that persecutes the Church and forces abortions on women, while China is one of the world’s worst offenders in terms of environmental pollution.
After nearly six years of Pope Francis, the Church’s social teaching on economic justice needs to be rescued from the caricature he has made of it. The true social teaching is masterfully summarized in two landmark encyclicals: Rerum Novarum (1891) by Pope Leo XIII and Quadragesimo Anno (1931) by Pius XI, promulgated on the fortieth anniversary of Leo’s encyclical. Suffice it to note here the basic elements of that teaching:
- The Church embraces neither capitalism nor socialism, of which Pius XI declared: “No one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”
- The Church condemns both capitalism and socialism as the modern “isms” they are, because each, in its own way, leads to a social order that rejects the law of the Gospel as the limit on human action in the economic sphere, and each in its own way captures state power and turns it toward the end of a totalizing claim to dominance. Socialism does this by expropriating private property and capitalism by using government privileges to achieve monopoly power (e.g., Google and other state-supported tech giants) and an economic regime in which there is no moral restraint whatsoever on commerce (abortion, contraception, pornography, etc). That is, capitalism and socialism are opposite sides of the coin of Liberalism, whose false principles always conduce to the destruction of both public and private morality.
- The Church defends the right to private property, limited by the divinely imposed obligation of almsgiving, which proceeds from the universal destination of all goods, which are in the end only God’s blessings, not man’s absolute possession.
- The Church condemns socialist expropriation of private property.
- The Church condemns confiscatory taxation and the usurpation of local authority by central authority, defending instead what Pius XI called “the principle of subsidiary function,” which holds that the rights of localities to govern must not be compromised by overreaching central authorities.
- The Church defends entrepreneurship, but cautions that the business owner has a duty, whenever he can, to pay his workers a wage sufficient for family support — not as a matter of state compulsion, but rather a Christian duty in natural justice. This obligation is no more “arbitrary,” as libertarians claim, than the obligation to give alms. Its scope depends on the facts and circumstances of each owner, whose conscience (not state compulsion) ought to direct him in fixing wages for the employees whose labor makes him wealthy.
- The Church defends the rights of the workingman, which are these: (a) a living or family wage, (b) time for religious observances, (c) rest on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, (d) reasonable working conditions and hours that do not grind workers down, with time for recuperation, (e) the avoidance of child laboror labor for women inconsistent with the requirements of modesty and the upbringing of children, (f) a work environment that is not morally corrupting, and (g) the formation of Christian worker’s associations or unions without interference by law.
These common sense principles — common sense, that is, informed by the Gospel — are a far cry from demagogic pitting of the rich against the poor or utopian demands for the “eradication” of poverty, as if that largely relative state, which varies from place to place and time to time, could ever be eliminated entirely.
As Our Lord Himself declared against those who murmured against the woman who had anointed His head with precious oil rather than selling it and give the proceeds to the poor: “For the poor you have always with you: and whensoever you will, you may do them good: but Me you have not always” (Mk 14:7). It is that divine wisdom about the reality of human existence after the Fall which underlies the true Catholic social teaching, a teaching that carefully avoids all the extremes which characterize our collapsing post-Christian civilization.