Is Catholic Social Doctrine A Set Of Guidelines?

The generally interesting review Ethika Politika has an interview with Patrick Deneen. One of the money quotes that has been circulating around the internet (see e.g. my excellent Patheos co-bloggers David Mills and Sam Rocha) is this, regarding Catholic “neo-conservatives”:

They have tended, then, to read the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics to be inviolable, but Catholic social teachings regarding economics to be a set of broad and even vague guidelines

Can I submit that one reason that some people have this reading is because it is correct?

To take a necessarily partial example, here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (§ 2431) about the state’s role in regulating the economy, quoting from John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus:

Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly. . . . Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society.

Stated as such, this statement would almost certainly be agreed to by, say, Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama, Joseph Biden, Hillary Clinton, but also by (let’s say) Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and perhaps even Rand Paul. It would probably also be agreed to by Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron and Britain’s Labour Leader of the Opposition Ed Milliband; by François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel. It would be agreed to by Paul Krugman and (yes) Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. It is–again, by itself–a thoroughly platitudinous statement to the effect that a marketplace is essential to the proper functioning of the economy, but that strong market economies cannot exist without a competent state exercising some form of regulatory authority. By itself, it tells you nothing whatsoever about whether the economic policies championed by the Democratic Party, or the Republican Party, or anybody else, are better for social justice, although it does seem to provide an interesting set of, ah, let’s say, broad guidelines, perhaps even vague ones.

Contrast, if you will, what the Catechism has to say about abortion (§ 2270-2273):

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life. . . . Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law . . . Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,” . . . The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation

“must”, “absolutely”, “inviolable”, “every”, “unchangeable” teaching, “gravely”, “grave”, excommunication latae sententiae

Is there a difference in the kind of language used? Is it really a figment of the imagination of some people that they might think the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics are “inviolable” (to use the word Deneen skeptically ascribes to conservatives and the word the Catechism itself uses) while the Church’s social doctrine is a “broad” set of “guidelines”?


Let’s go to the Catechism again (§ 2423): “The Church’s social teaching proposes principles for reflection; it provides criteria for judgment; it gives guidelines for action”

“Principles for reflection”; “criteria for judgement”; “guidelines for action”

I’m pretty sure nobody would describe the Church’s stance on abortion as “principles for reflection”.

The Church, speaking in an authoritative voice, describes its own social doctrine on economics as a set of “guidelines”.

It is actually a commonplace of every Papal statement on economic affairs that I’ve encountered (including Francis’s) to be at pains to stress that such statements offer, in the Catechism’s phrase, “principles for reflection” and are not to be treated as blueprints for policy.

Now, it’s possible to take it too far. In Deneen’s interview, George Weigel’s magic pens inevitably come in for condemnation, and I will not defend that. I’ve written that pro-market Catholics need to take an attitude of humility and receptiveness towards Papal statements on economics, even when it hurts (so to speak), although we should also be willing to criticize.

One last thing. After 30 years during which, indubitably, the movement towards economic deregulation has won a number of victories, however partial, and in the wake of a large financial crisis, it’s certainly possible to criticize the free enterprise movement, and I am sure the free enterprise movement would be enriched by such a critique. (I myself am engaged in precisely such a project.) Which is why I would like to actually see an actual critique of actual ideas. Free enterprise Catholics, Deneen informs us, insist “that the Market should have a wardrobe like that of Lady Godiva.” Whatever that may mean, I’m pretty sure it describes no one I know or read. But then again, Deneen correctly notes that Rush Limbaugh has criticized the Pope. Take that, neocons!

No, I don’t think the market is absolute, whatever that may mean, nor do I know anyone who does, I’m pretty sure, but I do easily get tired of strawmanning. And I wish that “anti-neocon” Catholics spent a little more time engaging with actual ideas, and a little less time boxing shadows and straw men.

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  • NormChouinard

    Good article. The principles of economic activity are subordinate to a Catholic understanding (in Richard Aleman’s words) “to the higher sciences, what money is, what wealth is, what “free” market is, production and consumption, regulation, free trade, the natural and Divine law in social and economic order, and yes, even what liberty means”. Catholics can find threads of the right mix of solidarity and subsidiarity to support in Democrats and Republicans and liberals and conservatives. But we have got to stop identifying Catholicism within any of those affiliations like right now. It is fine if First Things and Commonweal can disagree about whether Paul Ryan has a coherent Catholic approach. What would be much better for all if a discussion based on the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity which to Ryan’s credit he raises (even if he draws from it some highly debatable conclusions) would happen on Capital Hill and within the White House.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      I’ll certainly pray to that last sentence!

  • montanajack1948

    I won’t dispute your catechesis, but Patrick Deneen is worth taking a bit more seriously than you suggest: for instance, when he says “It seems to me that basic economic arrangements that privilege individual autonomy, materialism, mobility at the expense of community, and an ‘amoral’ market significantly and inescapably contribute to our comprehensively ‘disposable society’ (using Pope Francis’s description of, among other things, our abortion regime).” His larger complaint in the interview is that religious conservatives–Catholics, especially–put far more energy and passion into opposing modernity’s sexual ethic than into seeking economic justice, however one cares to define it. Perhaps that’s simply because people prefer straightforward issues (abortion and birth control are wrong, end of discussion) to more complicated ones (how does one achieve, or even define, economic justice?). In any case, I recommend the full interview.

    • Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

      Perhaps religious conservatives put a lot of passion into opposing abortion because tens of millions of innocent children are slaughtered in the womb every year? Just a thought.

      • montanajack1948

        And then I can counter with “And tens of millions of innocent children are malnourished or die young from preventable disease or don’t get an education and never have a. shot at a decent life…” and you and I will have succeeded in talking past each other.

        I don’t think Patrick Deneen objected to the anti-abortion passion. I think he clearly said only that he wished an equal amount of passion was spent on economic justice. Maybe people can be passionate about only one issue? I don’t know, but in any case, I think you’re misreading Mr. Deneen.

  • kag1982

    I actually have a fairly center-right view of economics, but the hypocrisy is that neo-conservative Catholics who go on and on about obeying the pope suddenly become silent when it becomes about obeying the Pope on social justice. They are as cafeteria as liberal Catholics like Nancy Pelosi, but are also “hypocrites.” Most cafeteria Catholics acknowledge they disagree with the Church on certain issues at least.

    And yep, classic Catholic economic teaching takes a dim view of capitalism and demands justice for the poor. You cannot say you are a faithful Catholic and stop concerning yourself with children once they are born. For instance, the immigration “mobs” like the one in Murietta are clearly against Catholic social teaching and against both Pope Francis and the USCCB’s position.

    • BTP

      Uhh. No. Your second paragraph is pretty much a word salad, but the first one is simply mistaken.

      • kag1982

        It is as cafeteria to be a “Tea Party Catholic” as it is to be pro-abortion. If you are anti-abortion and then abandon the babies born to poor and unwanted mothers to grow up malnourished and subject to violence and early death, then you cannot really consider yourself pro life. I learned about something called the “seamless garment” when I grew up which encompassed both life issues and social justice issues. In fact, there are more encyclicals about social justice than there are about birth control, so the Church’s position on capitalism isn’t up for debate.

        Frankly, I don’t care if people choose not to follow the Church’s teachings on social justice completely. However, I’m also not going to call myself a perfect Catholic. I personally don’t like Nancy Pelosi, but I am not going to deny her membership in the universal Church. I hate hypocrites of all types and that is what I consider conservative Catholics. Please just stop judging others and people will stop pointing out your own hypocrisies.

        • incredulous

          Oh dear: “I hate hypocrites of all types, and that is what I consider conservative Catholics. Please just stop judging others . . . .” (emphasis added).

          • kag1982

            Yep. Please just stop it with your ridiculous superiority complex.

          • James

            Somebody call the irony police.

        • BTP

          m-kay. On the off chance that there is any point whatever to this, I would simply note that your assumption that a ‘Tea Party Catholic’ is one who wishes to abandon the poor is controversial enough that it probably deserves some support. I’d also point out that this assumption (applied to Tea Party-, pro-market-, conservative-, capitalist-, whatever-Catholics) is pretty common in some parts of the Catholic conversation. This does not make it less odious.

          • kag1982

            Yes. What do you think happens? The market suddenly feeds and clothes people. There are winners and losers in the market and being a loser means starving to death in a slum on a dollar a day. There are great books about the realities of being poor in the world today; I’d recommend reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers. The issue the Church has with unfettered capitalism is that it isn’t people centric; people are just cogs in the system. To paraphrase Pope Francis, money shouldn’t have more rights than people.

          • BTP

            I see. You think the slums of Buenos Aires are the result of capitalism, rather than the curious brand of fascism and cronyism which are the Argentinian economy.

            Hmm. Does that make the miserable economies of, say Argentina, Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa, etc., more or less capitalist than the United States. Or is US prosperity simply exploitative, in you view?

            I am genuinely curious.

          • kag1982

            I think that American style capitalism is as likely to see a person as a “cog” in the system as non-capitalist systems. The whole idea is to put people first rather than allow for the losers in the capitalist system to end up starving. This involves having a safety net and robust government and civil intervention in the economy.

          • Asmondius

            ‘robust government and civil intervention in the economy.’


            Soviet Union

          • kag1982

            You think that America’s European allies like Germany are communists?

          • Asmondius

            Germany has a perfect state, eh?

          • kag1982

            No, but it also isn’t a Communist one.

    • Paul Adams

      The problem with the first paragraph here is that it simply repeats the line which the article carefully dismantles. It offers no response but simply repeats the false equivalence error of Deneen and others.

      • kag1982

        I disagree with that and agree with Deneen. Catholic economic teaching is fairly leftwing (social democrat) and is as important as the “sex rules.” I think that Francis wishes to remind Catholics that those who defend capitalism and profits at the costs of people are as cafeteria as those that are pro-choice. You simply cannot be an anti-immigrant free market Tea Partier and be a “Catholic in good standing.” I’m frankly fine with people disagreeing with parts of Catholic social doctrine, but if you choose to do so on Catholic economic teachings, you cannot lord over those who question the Catholic “sex rules” and frankly act like exclusionary jerks.

        • Paul Adams

          Again, you simply repeat your point, which is of only biographical interest (“I disagree”). The author demonstrates clearly that the two spheres of teaching are not equivalent – in the teaching of the popes or the CCC. Where is he wrong? Among those who “defend capitalism and profits,” rightly understood, you should in any case include the popes. But it depends what you mean by capitalism. See Centesimus Annus, # 42. On the non-equivalence issue and the lack of papal expertise or authority to substitute for the competent laity’s duty to determine which policies do or don’t actually help the poor or grow an economy, see #3. It is sheer clericalism to suggest that a pope’s analysis of economic policy is binding on Catholics in the way that the Church’s authoritative teaching on life, death, sex, and marriage is.

          • kag1982

            Yeah. I consider it sheer clericalism for elderly celibate men to dictate the forms of birth control that I can use. (If you can even consider calendar counting birth control.). Perhaps the popes should get out of the business of dictating couples sex lives. If you can disregard authoritative teachings like Rerum Novarum and Evangelii Gaudium, then I can disregard Humane Vitae.

          • Paul Adams

            I disregard neither, but even if I did, that would not give you license to use the pill or support the redefinition of marriage.

          • kag1982

            The Catholic teaching on social justice is presented in various papal encyclicals, which is the same as the archaic teachings on birth control. If Weigel gets to black out the parts of Caritas en Veritae that he doesn’t like, then I get to black out the parts of Humane Vitae which are anti-woman.

          • Paul Adams


          • incredulous

            Thank you, Paul, for having that discussion with Ms. 1982. I was working on a longer reply to her response to my first post but from her answers to you, I see it is not necessary.

          • Asmondius

            ‘are anti-woman.’

            Blessed Mother, please pray for us.

          • kag1982

            And Mary is used as a model for us girls to remember to be good submissive women and never want to do silly things like have opinions or educations or careers. I remember the lectures in school to women about how the Blessed Mother wanted us girls to be good housewives and mommies. There are lots of Catholic men who love the Blessed Virgin, but are misogynists. JPII comes to mind right away.

          • Asmondius

            The Blessed Virgin stood at the foot of the cross while most of the others had fled. Not exactly wimpy.

            Why is being a good housewife or mother a negative?

            Now your argument has degenerated into simple name-calling.

          • kag1982

            Being a housewife pigeonholes women into a lesser role where she is only doing menial tasks and isn’t allowed to use her talents in society or the workforce. The Catholic position assumes that the only thing that women can do is being nurturing mothers rather than celebrating their individual gifts and talents. It isolates women in a domestic sphere and silences her voice and opinions. Housewives don’t have any economic freedom and must rely on their husbands for support. This means that the husband has power over his wife and can leave her in a precarious situation. (Lots of domestic abuse victims don’t leave their abusers because they don’t have any money.)

          • Asmondius

            ‘The Catholic position assumes …’
            OK, once again, show me where this is stated in the Catholic catechism.

          • kag1982

            That is essentially what is stated in many papal documents like Casti Connubi or JPII’s Mulieris Dignitatem. In fact, JPII’s discussion of women is quite anti-feminist and focuses on their main role as “stay-at-home” mommies. I thought that his main thing was that women should work only if the family needs the money. To JPII (and every other bishop), I’m an evil sinful harlot because I have a career and am not really interested in being a mommy or perfecting my pot roast.

          • Asmondius

            ‘…support the redefinition of marriage.’

            I believe you have just tapped the mother lode of anti-Catholic resentment.

          • Asmondius

            ‘…dictate the forms of birth control that I can use.’

            Why you shouldn’t be using any artificial form at all.

          • kag1982

            How about the hierarchy stop dictating how a woman controls her fertility?

          • Asmondius

            The admonition is actually from God.

          • kag1982

            I forgot the part of the Gospels that mentions the Pill.

          • Asmondius

            ‘Be fruitful and multiply’.

            God is very clever – that one statement covers contraception, abortion, and homosexuality all in one small sentence.

          • kag1982

            Actually no it doesn’t. And if we are supposed to be “fruitful” and multiple, why is NFP allowed? And why isn’t it sinful for priests to remain celibate?

        • Asmondius

          Hence capitalism by some justifies sexual perversion by others – how clever.

          • kag1982

            If you get to be a cafeteria Catholic, then you cannot condemn others for doing the same.

          • Asmondius

            Well, I am sorry to have to deflate what you seem to think is a clever debating point – please forgive me.

            First, in order to be a ‘cafeteria Catholic’ I would have to see the menu. Please point to where in the Catholic catechism capitalism is explicitly prohibited. In turn, I’ll be quite happy to point out the items concerning human sexuality.

            Secondly, there is quite a difference between someone who has broken a rule and one who simply ignores them. The former is a sinner, the latter is an unrepentant sinner.

          • kag1982

            Start with Rerum Novarum. And the Acton Institute and George Weigel are just as consistent with ignoring the parts of social justice teaching that they dislike as Nancy Pelosi is with abortion.

          • Asmondius

            ‘ Please point to where in the Catholic catechism capitalism is explicitly prohibited.’

          • kag1982

            The only form of capitalism is the extreme Ayn Rand version?

          • Theodore Seeber

            CCC 1731-1942 inclusive is a good place to start, as well as CCC 2402-2500.

            For sexual sins, I’d recommend CCC 2300-2401 inclusive added to that.

            Between those three sections, you pretty much have a full condemnation of first world culture in general and the heresy of Americanism in specific.

          • Asmondius

            I’m sorry, there is no explicit condemnation of capitalism. In fact, quite the opposite. As the catechism largely regards the actions of individuals, I suspect your real problem may be with the failure of many to live as Christians as opposed to the failure of capitalism as an economic system. The catechism exists specifically because we are imperfect creatures, and thus no system we devise will ever be perfect.

            I am not entirely certain of what you mean by the term ‘Americanism’.

          • Theodore Seeber

            The heresy of Americanism was defined by Pope Leo XIII as a form of individualism that denies the common good. The fact that you don’t see a condemnation of Capitalism in those verses, the very verses that urge us to the Corporate Works of Mercy that are the very antithesis of centralized crony capitalism, and you claim it’s merely the “failure of many to live as Christians” is the very problem of Americanism- when we put the individual above the community in importance, we tend towards Original Sin and the Seven Mortal Sins.

          • Theodore Seeber

            That fits, because sexual perversion by some justifies capitalism by others (I wonder how many “Good conservative Catholics own shares of 401k plans that own shares of Planned Parenthood?)

          • Asmondius

            ‘sexual perversion by some justifies capitalism by others ‘

            This is essentially a meaningless statement. ‘Capitalism’ is not an individual act, while sexual perversion is.

            And you need not worry about ‘Good conservative Catholics’ investing in Planned Parenthood – it is not a publicly held corporation.

            You seem to hold a very common misconception. Catholicism does not exist to make people perfect, it exists specifically because people are imperfect.

            Finally, since two wrongs never make a right, your entire approach here is unworkable.

          • Theodore Seeber

            All of the services Planned Parenthood uses are publicly held corporations- like the infamous Bain Capital investment in Stericycle.

            Catholicism exists because people are imperfect, is true. Thus, by following the dictates of Catholicism- in EVERY aspect of our lives, including our economics- we can have a better world.

        • Dagnabbit_42

          Sorry, Catholic economic teaching is not fairly “leftwing.”

          Please remember that “leftwing” includes both an expressed intent AND a methodology.

          Now Catholic economic teaching DOES AGREE strongly with the expressed intent. So that gets you half-way to “leftwing.”

          But you can’t get the other half of the way, because Catholic economic teaching simultaneously expresses serious reservations about the leftist methodology and its philosophical anthropology. These reservations increase exponentially as the methodology-and-anthropology becomes arithmetically more extreme, and when they become entirely socialist/Marxist, Catholic teaching simply outlaws it altogether.

          One can, consequently, be a moderate leftist and be a Catholic In Good Standing. But the further left you drift, the more tenuous that label becomes.

          You cannot, as you say, be “anti-immigrant” and be a Catholic In Good Standing. You have my full agreement about that.

          You can, however, be “pro-legal-immigration, anti-illegal-immigration, while intending to treat even captured lawbreakers with dignity and respect” and be a Catholic In Good Standing. And that describes the vast, vast majority of the American right wing on this topic. The assertion that anti-immigrant bigotry accounts for more than, oh, say, 10% of this group is a blood libel only slightly less unjust than the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

          As for “free market”: Sorry, but you’re simply wrong about that, but probably because of an error of terminology. “Free market” has many definitions, but the center-of-gravity of popular usage in U.S. politics is not around some anarcho-capitalism which legalizes prostitution and pot and kiddie porn, but has more to do with opposing high taxes, protectionism, eminent domain abuses, and corporate welfare. And of course a person who is “free market” in that sense — the most popular sense in the U.S. — can be a Catholic In Good Standing all day long.

          And of course we must remember the statistics for charitable giving in the U.S.: People who vote right-of-center hugely out-give people who vote left-of-center. The right gives away about 7% of their pre-tax income annually; the left gives away about 2%. This is true at every income bracket, both as a percentage of pre-tax income and in absolute dollars. People who vote right-of-center also volunteer in the community more and give blood more often. In short, they show evidence of caring more for the needy.

          Their leftist political opponents like to characterize the right as “greedy,” naturally. But that’s mere political propaganda, as the actual charitable giving patterns of the right illustrate. A leftist, who “believes in” the effectiveness of the Welfare State the way a Catholic believes in The Creed, will of course claim that right-wing policy opinions constitute evidence of “heartlessness.” But the right-wing, who think that leftist policies are more than half the reason that more than half the poor are still poor, think that their opposition to leftist policies is evidence of how much they care about the poor. Most folks on the right wouldn’t vote for a Democrat even if all the Democrats were pro-life…because they would feel that, by voting for leftist economics, they’d be stabbing their poorer neighbors in the back.

          As for “Tea Partier”: With Inigo Montoya, I can only say that I do not think that word means what you think it means. This is another group popularly subjected to blood libels, but if you want to hear what the “Tea Party” actually espouses from the horse’s mouth, you need to listen to the popular “Tea Party Manifestos” given by movement leaders like Herman Cain, popular Tea Party rally speakers like Alfonzo Rachel, and popular online spokespersons like Bill Whittle. Whittle’s “What We Believe” series on YouTube is pretty much what the Tea Party is all about, so look it up. (I myself don’t believe everything Whittle states — so I guess I’m not part of the “we” — but I offer this series so that you can hear what Tea Party folks actually think, in their own words, rather than hearing it third-hand, through prejudicial filters, from Daily Kos.)

          But all this economic stuff, while well-known, is irrelevant in the end.

          The big difference between left and right, in both U.S. politics and Catholic internal squabbling, is pretty simple.

          It’s a cultural difference having to do with sex:

          RIGHT: These folks have trouble following their own moral codes in matters of sexuality. They respond to the difference between their moral codes and their actual sex lives by hiding the moral failures of their sex lives, and then — because they feel guilty about this — by asserting the strictness and integrity of their unrevised moral codes unnecessarily loudly and publicly.

          LEFT: These folks have trouble following their own moral codes in matters of sexuality. They respond to the difference between their moral codes and their actual sex lives by relaxing their moral codes until they match their actual sexual practices, and then — because they feel guilty about this — by asserting how much more kind and humane their revised moral code is, unnecessarily loudly and publicly.

          That’s the difference.

          And it turns out that, for some reason, these two subcultures fundamentally can’t stand one another. Go figure.

          If they were two individuals in a bad Rom-Com instead of two subcultures in a divided country, all the tension between them would be instantaneously solved by a wild drunken hookup that they regretted the following morning.

          Sadly, however, the Rom-Com playbook doesn’t work so well in real-life politics.

          (And, really, who wants to imagine Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner having a drunken hookup? Yieeeeeech.)

          • kag1982

            Actually, if you read Rerum Novarum or any of the great social justice encyclicals of the Church, the Church is left-wing in its economic outlook. I’d say that they’d prefer Europe’s highly regulated form of capitalism as the best system. Francis doesn’t even like that because he thinks youth unemployment is too high in southern Europe. And he is very against <>. And as John Allen said, immigration is now a “pro-life” issue. The U.S. bishops have been pretty adamant about that. It is fine to be a cafeteria Catholic and disagree with the Church’s stance on these issues, but if you do, I don’t want to hear a peep of whining against Catholics who don’t like the Church’s “sex rules.”

  • BTP

    Thank you. It’s been awful around here.

  • niknac

    We know from polls that the catechism isn’t necessarily what Catholics believe. We know from history that it isn’t necessarily right.

    I like to think my beliefs are right but they probably are in opposition to yours on some issues. Each of us believe the catechism selectively.

    We should have the courage to speak out what we actually believe and practice in our lives as right.

    I don’t mind at all that most Catholic priests are actively homosexual. I just think that they should say so.

    I have had Gay sex and while I do not prefer it, I understand why some people do.

    I have had abortions and while I think that it is a woman’s choice, I understand why others think it is not.

    There is no agreement on these issues within the church. They are best left to individual conscience.

    • Asmondius

      ‘They are best left to individual conscience.’

      That’s exactly what I expressed to the police officer after I ran the red light – he still issued me a ticket.

    • Theodore Seeber

      I work very hard to NOT believe the catechism selectively. I work very hard that when my conscience differs from the teaching of the Church, that I inform my conscience to at least understand what the Church teaches.

      And due to that, in every instance, I’ve come around *once I understand*.

      My current one I’m struggling with is Jesuit Charitable Interpretation vs the Heresy of Indifferentism. I don’t understand the line between the two. And that one is a rather fundamental one- because the purpose of the Church itself is at stake- if the Heresy of Indifferentism is correct, then evangelization of any form seems to go right out the window.

    • Dagnabbit_42

      Whoa, whoa, whoa….

      First, I agree with Theodore Seeber’s response to you. Serious Catholics make a bona fide attempt to believe the Catechism the way the authors of the Catechism meant it, and the way the authors of the patristic quotes cited in the Catechism meant what they were saying, and ultimately, the way the apostles meant what THEY were saying.

      I have the benefit of living in the Atlanta area, where most Catholics who still call themselves “Catholic” actually attend Mass 3+ times per month and, as a cultural matter, would have the honesty to call themselves something else if they didn’t. As a consequence, most of the Catholics I know are “serious Catholics” as described above.

      I am, of course, aware of the ones who are not-serious: Rarely attending Mass except when driven by some kind of nostalgic whim, completely unconcerned about attempting any virtues (e.g. chastity) that aren’t socially convenient, and not overly convinced that Jesus isn’t mouldering in some unknown grave somewhere.

      But I think we should be careful to acknowledge that most of these persons are “Catholic” only in certain (real, but very-qualified and technical) senses; e.g., that Canon Law applies to them as Catholics because of their baptism or their confirmation.

      But in the popular usage of religious labeling (wherein one calls a person a Baptist or a Presbyterian or a Muslim or a Sikh or a Muslim as a description of the person’s actual current beliefs and behavior) it doesn’t make much sense to refer to these persons as “Catholic.” A person who deviated from being Baptist or Sikh by as much as these persons deviate from the Catholic religion would have stopped calling themselves Baptist or Sikh long ago.

      But that isn’t why I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.”

      You said: “I don’t mind at all that most Catholic priests are actively homosexual. I just think that they should say so.”

      Unless by “actively homosexual” you mean merely, “have experienced same-sex attraction at some point in their lives” then your estimation is far, far wrong. I would think that “actively” would require either an unrepentant and regularly-indulged habit — which very unlikely to exceed 1% of priests even in sexually dysfunctional America — or a regular and oft-repented pattern of sin when opportunity arose — which is likely a larger number, perhaps even double digits, but ain’t gonna be anywhere near 50%.

      If you had said that 50%+ had lived dissolute heterosexual lives prior to entering the priesthood — marrying and then divorcing outside the church, playing the field through a string of girlfriends, that sort of thing — then you’d have been on-the-money. My own pastor had a live-in girlfriend for some decades, prior to his turning his life over to God. But most of those kinds of biographical details are on the hetero side of the ledger.

      Friend, I think you’ve just either met a lot of light-in-the-loafers-seeming priests — which is kinda scandalous inasmuch as it’s hard to be an effective “Father” if you can’t convey the impression of being a Dad, but some folks can’t help it and one ought not fault a person for what he can’t help — or you’ve bought into some anti-Catholic propaganda, on the level of a Jack Chick tract.

      Sure, there are plenty of priests with same-sex attractions. Nobody’s saying there aren’t. And there are the pink-and-purple legions in certain seminaries, whom the more recent (mostly quite-conservative) crop of “baby priests” often report having to fend off with a stick. That crowd are mostly tenured, I fear, but they’re also mostly denizens of the 60′s and 70′s and likely to die off pretty soon.

      And of course there are failed priests in every realm of temptation, including sexual. Some fail through porn and masturbation; some fail through sex with men; some fail by having sex with women. (Women to whom they aren’t married, I mean. I’m not trying to include Fr. Longenecker or the married Eastern Rite priests in this group!)

      But it’s the combined presence of “most” and “actively” in your claim which falsifies it: Look at how most priests live. Look at their schedules. I’m telling ya: There’s not sufficient opportunity for that to be true, even if 50%+ were both inclined and willing.

  • Manny

    Thank you for this. Everyone, especially Catholics, should read it.

  • Theodore Seeber

    I’m not so sure about Milton Friedman and Fredrick Hayek for that first quote. Both of them claimed that the market itself could guarantee stability *without* government intervention.

    • Dagnabbit_42

      Careful, Theodore,

      I don’t think either Friedman or Hayek made that claim in a wholesale, unqualified way.

      First, both Friedman and Hayek asserted that a prerequisite for a functioning economic system was a stable and just rule-of-law and a culture inclined to follow the law, with “government takings” being not only small (i.e. reasonable tax rates and eminent domain used in a rare and restrained way) but unbiased and predictable (one can’t make business plans if, at any moment, your company might be confiscated by a politician who’s friends with your competitors).

      So, that’s all going to require government activity which will have economic consequences even if it doesn’t fall under the heading of “economic intervention”; i.e., protecting firms from failing as a result of their own bad decisions or “choosing the winners.”

      Second, both Friedman and Hayek often supported changes in laws and regulations which encouraged a given market segment to move away from inefficiency towards efficiency. (In the preceding sentence I am using the term “efficiency” in the “efficient markets” sense: Rapid and accurate transmission of pricing and quality information so that when a buyer and a seller agree to trade, the buyer accurately knows what he’s getting for his money and whether he could have gotten it better/faster/cheaper elsewhere). Friedman supported school vouchers and district-choice expansion partly on that basis. And, while both men believed in the effectiveness of systems of commercial product reviews (they’d have been fans of Consumer Reports and Clark Howard), they also believed government should backstop by prosecuting fraudulent advertising.

      And, thirdly, both believed that government policy made a difference in the stability of the value of the currency, and that it was vital not to devalue the currency.

      So, while I agree with you that Friedman and Hayek might both claim “markets can be healthy without government intervention” I think we have to remember that what they meant by “intervention” in such a claim has a precise meaning. What they’d call “intervention” would certainly NOT be “any form of government activity having economic impact”; rather, it would fall more under the heading of “shifting monetary or regulator policy to choose the winners.”

      • Theodore Seeber

        The problem with that being that their definition of efficiency, is indifferentism.

        • Dagnabbit_42

          I don’t understand your reply.

          The only usage of the term “indifferentism” that I’m aware of is, “The belief that it doesn’t matter what religion/denomination you are, so long as [insert some minimal criterion here; e.g. 'you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior' or 'you reeeeeeally believe it' or 'you try to be a good person'].”

          I don’t see how “market efficiency” as I was using it in my earlier post could be described as indifferentism in that sense (which is the only sense I know).

          But I should point out that, in any case, that was not “their definition of efficiency” that I gave. It was actually my own definition of “efficiency.”

          Well…waitaminute, let me be careful and clear about this: I’m not saying that that’s the ONLY valid definition of the word “efficiency.” I’m just saying…

          1. That the hypothetical concept of a “perfectly efficient market” is common in economic circles;
          2. That “efficiency” in that sense is a necessary prerequisite for an economy to function to bring the most benefit to the most persons; and,
          3. That, because that kind of “efficiency” is a necessary prerequisite for bringing the most benefits to the most persons, both Friedman and Hayek favored systems of laws and regulations which were not merely just in the “equal protection under law” sense, but encouraged that kind of “efficiency” rather than undermining it.

          So, although I was using the term to refer to a particular kind of government activity that Friedman and Hayek wished to see, it was my own choice to select that particular usage of the word “efficiency” as a label. Make sense?

          Perhaps now I’m being too picky! Sorry. I just don’t quite understand your reply, so I’m trying to ward off every possible misunderstanding I can think of.

          • Theodore Seeber

            I think the problem is more in me: I see such a market as being amoral, incapable of creating a moral society. The worship of efficiency is bad stewardship; it dehumanizes labor and the customer.

          • Dagnabbit_42


            I don’t think that either Hayek or Friedman believes that markets are moral actors, or that they are capable of creating a moral society.

            In fact, I think both Hayek and Friedman would look with great puzzlement at how you stated that: It would be like complaining that you were having trouble picking up a barn and using it as a tool to hammer nails, in order, in the end, to fabricate a hammer.

            It’s not that markets are supposed to create moral societies, in order that we might do good efficiently.

            It’s that moral societies are supposed to create markets, in order that we might do good efficiently.

            I mean, even to economists like Hayek or Friedman, an efficient market economy is not an end-goal of life. It is more like the Internet or a printing press or a university system or a national conference of Catholic bishops: These are all “add-on” systems. A society can exist without them, but in many cases they provide useful additional functionality. They serve as a tool.

            A moral society must predate such tools. If the society is moral, then the existence (and efficient functioning) of such tools will further enable the moral society to do good.

            But if the society is not perfectly moral, then the existence (and efficient functioning) of such tools will enable to the moral society to do evil things as well as good, in proportion to the moral degradation of the society.

            Our society is not perfectly moral of course. Far from it!

            So, we can anticipate that, like the Internet and printing presses and universities (and perhaps even like the USCCB) the market economy will be used by persons for both evil and good purposes.

            And if it were being used only or mostly for evil purposes, then it might be rational to desire that it not function efficiently.

            But if — as I believe — it is being used 90+ percent of the time for good or morally-neutral purposes, then we want it to be efficient so that those good or neutral purposes can be accomplished. And while we don’t give up resisting the evil uses, we try to attack the minority of evil uses in a way that doesn’t torpedo the whole.

            So, you don’t give up on post-high-school education just because colleges sometimes teach evil. But you try to send your kids to a school that doesn’t, and steer them away from all the Critical Theory Gender Studies claptrap.

            You decry all the Internet porn — but you don’t killswitch the whole Internet over it. You try to conduct Internet Catholic Apologetics, or something, and popularize porn-filtering, or whatever.

            And it seems to me that one wants markets to function as efficiently as possible…but we outlaw false advertising and fraud and slavery and various other market-using evils as best we can.

          • Theodore Seeber

            I see it as being mostly immoral. People were happier in tribes- for all of our technology, all we have done is spread misery and evil. We haven’t achieved anything truly worthwhile. We have utterly failed to outlaw false advertising and fraud; underpayment of labor is rampant and slavery is returning because of it. We would be better off limiting markets to *very* small populations, and limiting trade between those populations.

            I want markets to operate as inefficiently as possible- because I see the efficient market as being the enemy of human relationships and humanity.

  • Dagnabbit_42

    Preparatory caveat: I am going, in the following, to refer to “liberals” and “conservatives”. Yes, I know the Church shouldn’t be divided in this quasi-political fashion. Yes, I know there are difficulties with such labels (Involving what kind of liberty? Conserving what?). And, yes, I know that there are overlaps and exceptions. If there were better terms, I’d use them.

    Okay. Now that that’s settled….

    I’d like everyone to notice the following distinctions between the economic teachings (which “conservatives” gripe about) and the sexual teachings (which “liberals” gripe about):

    1. The Economic Teachings state specific desired outcomes with little guidance on how to achieve them and little guarantee that they can be fully achieved in this world; whereas the Sexual Teachings state specific desired outcomes ALONG WITH specific behaviors which are forbidden and other specific behaviors which are encouraged with the plausible goal of achieving those outcomes in this world.

    The Church desires that people should have good scientific, literary, artistic, and religious education; good health care; and opportunity to live as more than mere wage slaves. (Very good. All things being equal, who doesn’t?) But at the same time the Church does not teach: “Therefore, you must NEVER do policy X, Y, or Z; and we encourage policies A, B, and C; and if you follow these guidelines, the result is likely to be a society in which everyone has good education, health care, and wages.”

    But contrast this with the Sexual Teachings. Here, the Church desires that we be pure-of-heart, chaste, that we use our bodily powers and our capacity for pleasure only in ways properly ordered to the design-intent of God; that we be not addicted to or controlled by created things but that our bodies be disciplined and that the central desire of our hearts be for mystical union with Jesus Christ. There’s the goal, and it is nearly as utopian in the minds of some as the society where everyone is educated, healthy, and well-paid.

    But in order that we achieve this, the Church gets quite specific: You may not contracept. You may not masturbate. You may not excite yourself with pornography. You may not have sexual relations with non-humans, with same-sex human persons, or indeed with anyone other than an opposite-sex human person to whom you are already sacramentally married. (In the economic policy world, this would be like saying: You may have an income tax but no sales tax, and you must ensure a $500 a month living-expenses subsidy per child.)

    And, to these prohibitions the Church adds various exhortations to joyous family life, to prayer, to fasting, to frequent reception of the sacraments, and instructs us that we are all called to holiness — not merely as a path of abstention, but that we achieve in this life the plausible goal of sanctity, contemplative prayer and mystical union with Christ.

    2. The Sexual Teachings are understood the same way by both “liberals” and “conservatives”; the “conservatives” think them difficult but bearable and ultimately designed by God for our long-term joy; the “liberals” think them impossible to live out and excruciating to attempt, and ultimately likely to lead the individual who takes them too seriously into various forms of psychological and spiritual harm.

    But, the Economic Teachings are interpreted differently by “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics. If we interpret them the way “conservative” Catholics interpret them, they do not seem to offer much guidance in economic policy except to describe the kind of societal outcomes such policies should promote…but they impose an individual burden of almsgiving which is likely to pinch the budget and alter the spending priorities of the individual Christian.

    However, if they are interpreted the way “liberal” Catholics interpret them, we find that they agree perfectly with what political liberals already thought was correct economic policy, such that they say, “the Church agrees with us.”

    3. The Sexual Teachings, as understood by anyone, be they “liberal” or “conservative,” bid us take action which directly affects ourselves and which is
    entirely voluntary. If a person chooses to carry them out, the burden falls almost entirely on the person who did the choosing.

    The Economic Teachings, as understood by “conservatives,” also impose a behavioral burden on individuals. But there is some vagueness: Does “tithing” mean exactly 10% of pretax income? For persons of all income levels, in all countries? For both childless couples and couples with seven kids? If one is higher-income, what other alms must one give above-and-beyond that “tithe” which one gives through the Church collection plate? All we have is, “from he to whom much is given, much is expected.” For Bill Gates (if he were Christian) does even 75% qualify as “much?”

    Still, in all such cases, the burden is borne by the person who chooses to be obedient.

    But the Economic Teachings, as understood by “liberals,” work out very differently. Here, the burden is imposed even on those who disagree with the policy. It is, in the economic realm, the equivalent of Catholics saying, in the sexual realm: “Because homosex and contraception and fornication are immoral, they should be illegal.”

    So, the “feeling” of “we must obey the Church’s teachings” changes when one says,

    (a.) We must obey a particular political party’s favored interpretation of those teachings; and,
    (b.) We must make that interpretation compulsory, not only on non-Catholics, but on Catholics who believe it is the wrong interpretation of the teachings.