Pope Francis’ Apolstolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium has received a lot of harsh criticism from pundits both outside and inside the church. In truth that criticism maybe a blessing. The Pope has opened up a dialogue that we have often avoided, to our detriment, for many years. Now at least the church is getting its differences out into the open and we are discussing these important economic issues in light of the gospel. By Christ there is hope this light will lead the way forward.
In my last post I started to make my contribution to the Evangelii Gaudium dialogue. But do to length constraints I was only able to begin to cover some of the moral suppositions proposed by Pope Francis. What I didn’t address very well was implementation. And lets be honest until we talk about how we will apply these principles, we really haven’t said much at all. The point where principle meets practice is the point where a few easily countered objections become a thousand more pointed academic ones. This is the point were many Catholics find themselves “…loving the Pope…” while justifying economic solutions no different than Ayn Rand.
In short the point where principle meets practice is the point where the real dialogue begins. I will not have time in one post to fully respond to 1000 controversies about how a moral economy can be implemented. But in the spirit of dialogue, and with prayer for holy spiritual guidance, let me share some starting points for discussion.
“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. EG-54”
There it is probably the most controversial paragraph in Pope Francis entire Exhortation. It has become the hardened position of many Catholic pundits that they are in fact no different from Pope Francis in their spirit of love for the poor but they have long sense rationally concluded there are better ways to implement his goal. Or put simply “I agree with the Pope morally but hes wrong about the economics.”
Ok then, lets take this quote apart. First of all let please note that Francis’ stated goal is not just “growth” it is “justice and inclusiveness”. It isn’t enough to prove a purified free-market will make someone rich. The question is if individuals work to promote their own benefit alone, and if the governments work for the benefit of those already wealthy, can we know this will benefit the least of these?
The next part of the statement has to do with the facts. Any real discussion of economics has to encounter some hard facts. It is a fact that 46.2 million Americans depend on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) . It is a fact that 17 million children (and 32 millions adults) in this country still suffer from food insecurity. It is a fact that all the food distributed by charity in America today amounts to 6% of the food distributed by federal food programs. With those facts in mind how does one reason that if eliminated all government intervention a booming market and charities would suddenly fill the in the 46.2 million man gap, just needed to break even? Wouldn’t that assumption be a little… crude and naïve?
Here some more facts. Although poverty rates have fallen (mostly in China) in 2010 1.2 Billion people live on of less than $1.25 a day [$456.25 a year]. In 2011 a tax subsidized AIDs cocktail cost about $200 per person per year. But before the subsidies took effect the free-market price of the cocktail could be upwards of $12000 a year. If there was no foreign aid could the free-market really fill this gap of 24 times the income of the extremely poor. Wouldn’t counting on such a boom be crude and naïve?
It is true poverty has dropped dramatically over the last 3 decades. Many pundits point to this fact in isolation as proof that the free-market will cure all ills. But this change has happened almost entirely in China. First off if you think China has an economic model to be copied may I suggest you sense of justice already a little crude. But more importantly this just a false dichotomy. By the same logic since going from 140 degrees to 120 degrees feel “cool” the ideal temperature would be zero degrees Kelvin. Just because Communism is unjust, that doesn’t prove the opposite is perfectly just. That logic is crude and naive.
“I take for granted the different analyses which other documents of the universal magisterium have offered, as well as those proposed by the regional and national conferences of bishops. EG-51”
One common criticism of Evangelii Gaudium is the general vagueness of it. Pope Francis laid out in a very broad way some of the social ills that plague our society today. That left a lot of people scratching their heads saying “Ok, so what do you want us to do about it?” In fairness, Pope Francis stated up front that Evangelii Gaudium would not cover the subject of just economic theory in full detail. He even gave two entirely sufficient reasons for it. First Evangelii Gaudium was simply too short to cover the depth the beauty of Catholic Social Teaching. For that Pope Francis referenced the existing documents specifically the COMPENDIUM OF THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH.
But second and equally important Pope Francis acknowledged it is not the place of Vatican to provide a universal answer to all the regional economic issues faced everywhere in the church. This would have violated subsidiarity a core principle of Catholic Social Teaching. This isn’t to say the church provides no specific policy answers. The church in fact has and does make specific policy recommendations but it does so through regional organizations.
For Catholics in central Texas this means the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops. And I would be re-missed if I didn’t give a shout out to some of my favorite nuns for helping to propose specific policy on these issues. If you are really interested in understanding and applying Catholic Social Teaching to our government (and you really should be) then you first step is to educate yourself. I hope the links provided have given you a good place to start. If you are interested enough in the topic the best advice I can give you is to inquire at your parish about the justFaith or Good News People program. If these are not available at your parish, they are available at the diocese email me and I’ll tell you who to contact.
“We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, …EG-192”
But changing a economic system is such a huge task, you might ask, “where should we begin?” I don’t believe there is one right answer for that, but Pope Francis repeatedly gave a three part litany he seemed pretty fired up about “education, access to health care, and above all employment”. So if I may lets take a closer look at these areas.
Education: Without access to a quality education system the poor would never truly have a chance to realize their full potential. This would be a prerequisite for the just society we aspire to. To this end our bishops at the TCCB recommends–
- Low income school choice Tax Credits
- Increased access to public and private pre-k programs
- Protection for graduates of Texas high school students to instate college tuition
Healthcare: It has long been the belief of the Catholic church that the right to life and dignity of the human person implies that all people also have the right to access quality health care. This right especially needs to be protected for the poor and vulnerable. For this reason the TXCCB and the USCCB advocate-
- Comprehensive health care reform that includes universal access
- Expansion of Medicaid to 133% of the poverty line in all states
- Support improvements to our critical health safety net and CHIP
Employment: Above all Pope Francis is concerned about the poor access to fair employment. The ability to have a dignified living is a cornerstone of Catholic Social Teaching. This includes the right to a decent wage and economic incentive. There is no magic pill that will solve our nations unemployment problem and there are many differing views. This is an area were we will need continued dialogue and study.I believe the nuns observations are a good place to start.
“If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak them with affection and with the best of intentions,…I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centred mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth. EG 208.”
Clearly Pope Francis knew the stir he was going to make even before he published Evangelii Gaudium. These are issues that illicit strong personal reactions from many people. If anyone has been offended by this post please understand my opinions are offered in love and humility. But these are not issues we as Catholics can turn our backs on. The affect these issues can have on the least among us brings with a morale imperative we can not ignore.
In my last post I challenged you to enter into a Dialogue about economic justice. My challenge to you now is to stay in that dialogue. Because where theory meets practice the issues become more complex, the documents become longer the arguments become more difficult. But that is precisely when we will need your voice the most. Creating a more just society for our poor will be a major undertaking. And we will need all the gifts and voices of the kingdom to do our fathers will. Surely I tell you before Christs mission is complete the poor will need your voice as well!