Thursday, October 27, 2011


No, Obama is not a socialist; nor is this blogger
Lest anyone assume that my jokey title suggests a particular affinity for Occupy Wall Street, I'll simply state that while I sympathize with some of their concerns, they don't much impress me--excepting, of course, the creator of the placard above. (I'll explore OWS in more depth in another post.)
   Rather, the title is meant to convey my exasperation with my friends at, who have been the subject of my non-Pulitzer Prize winning series, "(The Republican)". I was set to deliver Part III of my critique of this very partisan site, when fate--in the form of the Pontifical Council on Justice and Peace (the PCJP)--stepped in.
   I had planned to extol the marvelous craftsmanship of an essay under the heading of "Economic Justice" on's 'Issues' page, which expertly manages to avoid completely the spirit of Catholic social teaching since Vatican II--while not making any baldly unorthodox claims, of course. The author's conclusion: socialism bad, markets good. Next, I intended to point out that any mention of the poor, living wages, inequality, and exploitative business practices is predictably absent. And I would've closed by providing a lush array of quotes from the Gospels and papal encyclicals that show what a farce this essay is. Powerful stuff.
   But that was before the the release this week of a note, or "White Paper", by the PCJP, Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority. In a document ideologically to the left of Harry Belafonte, this pontifical council calls for the creation of a supranational Authority to govern global finance, demands "a fair distribution of world wealth", and advises a tax on financial transactions. Conservative Catholics aren't happy.
   The animus some of these proudly 'orthodox' folk have shown towards a document coming from the Roman Curia is extraordinary. Thomas Peters, the featured blogger at, posted three rather long responses to the 'White Paper' within 48 hours. None of them are favorable, to say the least. Two were even written before he read the document, he admits. Peters' uneasiness with Towards Reforming is apparent in his telling selection of quotations for each post. In the first, he quotes Samuel Gregg, an economist, who tries to downplay the significance of the note's content:

...more careful reading of “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority” soon indicates that it reflects rather conventional contemporary economic thinking...
   Within twenty-four hours, Peters must have realized that this tack was grossly insufficient, the 'offensive' language of the document being too bold for a conservative to simply dismiss. So he closes out his next post by quoting Nicholas Hahn, who provides a scathing attack. Hahn rants about an omnipotent 'king' supposedly proposed by the council (though I haven't been able to find it), and then delivers an ode to the free market (emphasis of this remarkably loaded phrase is mine):

People of good will know better. There is a brighter horizon. One of self-government and free markets. One that has lifted more people out of poverty than any other. One that has empowered the disenfranchised and most vulnerable. Indeed, one that has some measure of Truth, albeit imperfect.
The Council concludes its document with a reference to the Tower of Babel “where selfishness and divisions endure.” Yet, the real towers of Babel these days are precisely the kind of bureaucratic authorities the Council seeks to proliferate.
   But the coup de grâce comes in Peters' third installment,  wherein he compiles a generous sampling of conservative responses to Towards Reforming. Peters prefaces these appraisals by calling them all 'excellent' in the post's title. What follows are a jumble of critiques that hammer the document from every possible angle--even if those angles conflict. In one excerpt the council's note makes Catholic social teaching seem "irrelevant"; another accuses the council of putting the Vatican's imprimatur on the rantings of a "socialist ideologue"; another claims the note doesn't actually complement liberal economics; one points out that this note carries little authoritative weight; yet another laments the tax and spend approach taken by the council; and the last discredits Towards Reforming by bashing its formally intended audience, the United Nations.
   So how can all these responses--it's meaningless, it's radically liberal, it's not that liberal--be "excellent"? The logic that binds them is that they allow conservatives to continue denying that the Church is heavily critical of their veneration of the free market.
   But here's the truth: I'm not that keen on Towards Reforming. And Peters and others are correct when they point out that this document does not bear the authoritative weight of, say, a papal encyclical. Furthermore, I have no problem with conservative Catholics criticizing the PCJP's work--particularly the more specifically prescriptive elements. But the shockingly harsh manner in which these folks dismiss wholesale the spirit and principles of Towards Reforming--which are so absolutely consistent with Caritas in Veritate, John Paul II's condemnation of "idolatry of the market", Populorum Progressio, and Jesus Christ's passionate love for the poor--tells us everything we need to know.
   For me, this isn't about quibbling over a 'minor' document. Rather, it's about some Catholics who see themselves as more orthodox than the Pope, holy enough to judge anyone who disagrees with them, yet stubbornly oblivious to the Church's profound message of justice, of solidarity, of charity, of care for the environment, and of deep and abiding love for the poor--even after they're born.

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