In our last post which can be read here , I discussed why the “Peace and Justice Catholics are simply wrong about the nature of the teachings on “Peace”,that in most cases disagreement with the Pope and Bishops usually involves disagreement on how the principles of the just war are applied, and about what facts actually prevail. This is not “dissent” since the magisterium does not consider itself expert in military facts. In fact the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made this point in 2004 under the future Pope Benedict’s leadership, it stated:
Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
That would seem clear enough. Moving on to the issue of justice we have much the same sort of story, only more so. Catholics concerned with “social justice” make the case that they are concerned with the plight of the poor, while those who favor “conservative” politics are not concerned with the poor. It should be obvious that this assertion itself is rash judgment at best, and calumny at worst, since the advocates of “conservative” policies tend to make the case that their policies would actually leave the poor better off. The case for conservative economic policies ending poverty was summed up in a single sentence by the left of center British publication “The Economist”. In an editorial entitled “Toward the end of poverty” it stated that the single greatest factor resulting in 1 billion people getting pulled out of poverty around the globe were policies that encouraged free markets and economic growth. As they put it “Most of the credit, (for ending poverty) however, must go to capitalism and free trade, for they enable economies to grow—and it was growth, principally, that has eased destitution. “
The full editorial can be read here . Moreover there is the possibility that heavy handed involvement of the state in economic policy can do damage to the poor and society in general, as described by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, Centesimus Annus, where he states that:
“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending”
That is not to say that in some cases direct assistance to the poor or some other regulatory intervention in the economy has no role. It does say that any given intervention needs to be evaluated on its merits, as it may slow or decrease economic growth ( which is the surest mechanism to elevate people out of poverty) and it risks causing the loss of human energy and capital formation needed to have sustained improvements in poverty rates. In fact it is interesting to note following the implementation of the federal “war on poverty” by the Johnson administration in the 1960s, poverty rates which were decreasing, leveled off at around 12-14%. One might infer that the “war on poverty” policies at best did no good, and at worst did harm, since they obliterated a decline in poverty which was already underway. If a sick patient with some infection was getting better, stronger and had improved appetite and their fever passed, and a doctor suddenly gave them a new medicine and they stopped getting better, and their energy level was still very poor, you would be very wise to suspect the medicine was harmful. Why do we not ask the same thing about many of the liberal anti-poverty programs?
In fact many people have, and there is some evidence to suggest that many of these programs inadvertently undermine things important for poverty avoidance, such as an intact family structure and incentives to work and education.
The main point here is not to prove this line of argument however. The main point is that conservatives do not favor conservative economic policies because they care less about the poor then the virtuous “social justice Catholics”, but because they think the actual policies advocated by the “social justice” Catholics and the left in general do not help the poor and quite likely hurt them. This kind of debate cannot be settled by resort to magisterial authority, since the debate is not over whether the gospel mandates we help the poor, it is rather a debate over what types of economic policies accomplish that task. We should also keep in mind that most of the time when the Gospels and Jesus talk about helping the poor; they are not referring to what the government should do. I do not recall Jesus delivering many discourses about the duties of the Emperor or Roman Senate towards the destitute in Israel. (Not that they had none, it was just not mentioned in the Gospels.) Jesus mostly refers to the duty of personal alms giving. Of course this is a duty no one denies. Some honor it better than others. It is interesting that according to the journal “Chronicle of Philanthropy” people living in “red”, that is conservative states, tend to donate a larger fraction of their income to charity then do people living in “blue”, that is, liberal states. See the study here .
This would suggest that conservatives actually do more alms giving on average then liberals. I would not tend to take one study as definitive, but I know of no data to show the reverse.
The primary point however is that it is unfair and inaccurate to suggest that conservative Catholics “dissent” or ignore the teaching of the Church regarding the poor. They do not. They simply think liberal economic policies do not work. This is a question whose answer depends on economic data, not theology. Once again it is distinctly different from the behavior of Catholics who defend and endorse abortion, or other kinds of things which violate the natural law, that are in fact moral crimes. To not see such a clear difference at this point is a kind of willful blindness.
“O Glorious St. Francis, model of the interior life, and full of zeal for the salvation of souls! Obtain for me the grace to employ all my faculties, not for my own sanctification alone, but for that of my neighbor also; that continually spreading abroad the sweet odor of Jesus Christ by my words and works, I may attain with thee the blessedness promised to the merciful: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy;” and that I may one day have a share in the glory which thou dost enjoy in paradise with the angels and saints, where those who edify and instruct to justice shall shine as stars for all eternity