Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Others have called attention to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace's "Note on Financial Reform." (The Note is available here.) The responses to and readings of the Note have been, I think, what one would have predicted: Some are crowing that "the Vatican" has endorsed the demands and aims of the "Occupy Wall Street" participants, others are insisting that the Note is misguided Euro-talk and, in any event, carries little authority. And so it goes.
There can be no doubt, I think, that it is entirely appropriate for the Church (or, in this case, for particular offices in Vatican City) to call attention to economic and social problems, to remind persons of good will of the content and foundations of Christian humanism, to challenge governments and persons alike to act in ways that are consistent with morality and the truth about the human person, and to share well-considered judgments or suggestions regarding sound policy. It also seems clear -- with respect to this business about "supranational authorities" -- that the post-Westphalian set-up is not an article of faith (even if a commitment to the rule of law and the requirement that secular authority democratic have legitimacy should be).
That said, and at the risk of being accused by some friends in the left-of-center sectors of the Catholic blogosphere of "ranting" or being a "neo-con", I'll confess that I think (a) many are (perhaps strategically and tactically) mis- and over-reading the Note in order to overstate the consonance between its vision and the current policies of the Democratic Party in the United States and its special-interest constituencies; (b) many are making the mistake that was widely made with respect to the Pope's Caritas, i.e., imagining that the Church proposes a list of "economic policy proposals" that can be conveniently lifted, to the extent they strike the lifter as attractive, without any attached moral anthropology (which might, in turn, come with some unwelcome implications for, say, religious liberty, the family, education, etc.); and (c) it is a mistake to think that the Note, with its focus on world-wide financial markets, somehow baptizes our and other governments' current overspending, or the self-interested (dare we say "greedy"?) and damaging positions being staked out by, e.g., public-employee unions.
A final thought: When a document like the Note is released, it is often "played," like a good card, in policy and other debates by people who do not, in fact, believe that the Church has the teaching authority it claims. (Maureen Dowd, for example, does this kind of thing a lot.) Such "playing" of writings by Church leaders and teachers is, to me, irritating. I do believe, after all, that even (what strike me as) the somewhat wooly-headed proposals and diagnoses that are sometimes offered on various subjects by Catholic bishops, councils, conferences, etc., demand and deserve my respectful engagement, even when not my embrace or submission. But, I do not think these proposals and diagnoses should be invoked or deployed as authoritative by people who deny that the Church has anything worth listening to -- let alone submitted to -- when it comes to, say, the obligation of a political community to extend the law's equal protection against private violence to the disabled and the unborn.
UPDATE: As usual, John Allen has an interesting take:
Focusing on how much papal muscle the note can flex, however, risks ignoring what is at least an equally revealing question: Whatever you make of it, does the note seem to reflect important currents in Catholic social and political thought anywhere in the world?
The answer is yes, and it happens to be where two-thirds of the Catholics on the planet today live: the southern hemisphere, also known as the developing world. . . .