Catholic Social Teaching has a clear appeal to many, but is in conflict with what is generally perceived as American values, values such as “self-reliance” (as good a definition of Original Sin as I’ve seen).
I haven’t followed the whole brouhaha surrounding the Bernie Sanders appearance at the Vatican. I’m so exhausted by all the stupid bickering and speculation in the Catholic blogosphere that I wanted to wait for something concrete to come. I have bronchitis and four fantasy baseball lineups to maintain.
It is clear from the opening sentences that the man clearly knows Catholic Social Teaching better than most Catholic bloggers, yours truly probably included.
If you go a little deeper into the document you find close readings of papal documents that bespeak a definite familiarity with their contents. For example, he riffs on the following passages from Centesimus Annus:
Furthermore, society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings. This requires a continuous effort to improve workers’ training and capability so that their work will be more skilled and productive, as well as careful controls and adequate legislative measures to block shameful forms of exploitation, especially to the disadvantage of the most vulnerable workers, of immigrants and of those on the margins of society. The role of trade unions in negotiating minimum salaries and working conditions is decisive in this area. (Para15)
The essential wisdom of Centesimus Annus is this: A market economy is beneficial for productivity and economic freedom. But if we let the quest for profits dominate society; if workers become disposable cogs of the financial system; if vast inequalities of power and wealth lead to marginalization of the poor and the powerless; then the common good is squandered and the market economy fails us. Pope John Paul II puts it this way: profit that is the result of “illicit exploitation, speculation, or the breaking of solidarity among working people . . . has not justification, and represents an abuse in the sight of God and man.” (Para43).
Here’s his appreciative, and accurate close reading of these words from John Paul II:
We are now twenty-five years after the fall of Communist rule in Eastern Europe. Yet we have to acknowledge that Pope John Paul’s warnings about the excesses of untrammeled finance were deeply prescient. Twenty-five years after Centesimus Annus, speculation, illicit financial flows, environmental destruction, and the weakening of the rights of workers is far more severe than it was a quarter century ago. Financial excesses, indeed widespread financial criminality on Wall Street, played a direct role in causing the world’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
We need a political analysis as well as a moral and anthropological analysis to understand what has happened since 1991. We can say that with unregulated globalization, a world market economy built on speculative finance burst through the legal, political, and moral constraints that had once served to protect the common good. In my country, home of the world’s largest financial markets, globalization was used as a pretext to deregulate the banks, ending decades of legal protections for working people and small businesses. Politicians joined hands with the leading bankers to allow the banks to become “too big to fail.” The result: eight years ago the American economy and much of the world was plunged into the worst economic decline since the 1930s. Working people lost their jobs, their homes and their savings, while the government bailed out the banks.
What’s worse, these same people imported it in earnest to John Paul II’s Poland, leading to years of economic suffering barely ameliorated by an economy that now grows but has fewer protections for workers than even the United States.
Anyway, whether you plan to vote for Sanders or not (I’m undecided about voting), you should read his Vatican statement The Urgency of a Moral Economy: Reflections on the 25th Anniversary of Centesimus Annus. Or, you can watch it below in a video recorded by Tony Annett, the Catholic climate expert whom I interviewed about the deep implications of Laudato Si’.
It’s surreal how good it is. I checked the URL in disbelief at what I was reading. Sure enough it was https://berniesanders.com/urgency-moral-economy-reflections-anniversary-centesimus-annus/.
Bernie even (eeeeven though he is pro-abortion) praised John Paul II for his “clarion call for human freedom in its truest sense: freedom that defends the dignity of every person and that is always oriented towards the common good” [emphasis mine]. Who the heck says things like this in American politics except for John Kasich maybe?
I don’t think I’ve seen any American politician compose such a love letter to Catholicism in my lifetime. Nothing much surprises me, but this came out of (no pun intended) left field.
I should also add that the New York values he talks about in the much circulated video below should sound familiar to those of you who’ve read CST or appreciate Distributism.
If CST in its JP2 and Polish context interests you, then you should read Prominent Polish Prelates and the Poisonous Fruit of Unbridled Capitalism. Bonus? Sanders comes from a Polish background.
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