Cardinal Rodriguez veers from prepared remarks to combat “big beast” of libertarian economics

Cardinal Rodriguez veers from prepared remarks to combat “big beast” of libertarian economics June 3, 2014

Rocco Palmo introduces the prepared text of the speech Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga delivered today at a Washington, D.C., conference with the observation that Rodríguez “tends to replace a good deal of his scripted content with colorful off-the-cuff reflections.”

Since I had the good fortune to be at the talk by the Honduras cardinal—who, as Palmo also notes, is Pope Francis’s foremost adviser—I will do my best to fill in some of the gaps between the prepared text and the finished version.

The occasion was a conference on “The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism” sponsored by the Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies. I was there because, as the author of My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, a book giving a Catholic spirituality of healing for adult victims of childhood trauma and abuse, I wanted to learn more about how Catholic social doctrine is being enacted under Francis. Although my main apostolate is helping my fellow victim/survivors through writing and public talks, I am additionally trying to help people understand how the Church’s ministry to the abused supports its witness to the marriage and the dignity of human life.

Here are the main points not included in Rodríguez’ prepared text, based on my hastily scrawled notes:

  • The cardinal was introduced by AFL-CIO official Richard Trumka, who noted his success in convincing the International Monetary Fund to reduce the debt carried by poor Latin American countries. Before entering into his prepared text, Rodríguez picked up on Trumka’s point, recalling that John Paul II in Tertio Millennio Adveniente advocated alleviating or canceling third-world debt. He said that John Paul II affirmed that the “economy is for the human being, not the human being for the economy.” Accenting the point, he added that, whereas the present economic system is “a new idolatry,” only the true God can be served.
  • The cardinal then entered into his prepared speech, quoting recent articles by Michael Sean Winters on reactions by the “chattering classes” to Pope Francis’s articulations of the Church’s economic doctrine. Before beginning the main part of his speech, which consisted of a commentary on the passages of Pope Francis’s Evangelii Gaudium having to do with economics and Catholic social doctrine, Rodríguez said to the audience, “May I praise the courage you have to challenge the big idol, the big beast”—i.e. libertarian economics. “Creatures cannot be gods,” he said. “It is necessary to give the Christian soul, the human soul, to the economics of today.” (The accent of his statement was that it is necessary for today’s economics to have a Christian, human soul, not the other way around.)
  • Quoting Evangelii Gaudium,”this economy kills,” he added “Many of these libertarianists do not read the social doctrine of the Church.”
  • On the environment, Rodríguez indicated that undue focus is being put on the issue of global warming, while larger issues of justice are ignored. (He was not much more specific on this issue; as noted, he was speaking off the cuff.) He observed that, in his capacity as president of Caritas Internationalis, he had attended global-warming conferences, using up time that he would never get back. It seemed clear to me that the cardinal’s point was not to debunk global warming, but, rather, to critique the priorities of those who make it the primary environmental issue. He ended the excursus by saying the real problem is not global warming, but the need for “justice to the environment.”
  • Quoting Evangelii Gaudium regarding “noble work,” Rodríguez added forcefully, “We have to recover the dignity of work and of workers.” On this point, he said it is necessary to bring back John Paul II’s Laborem Exercens—the encyclical is not a museum piece, as some people would have it.
  • Finally, in what was for me the most remarkable aspect of his speech—remarkable, because dramatic and unexpected—the cardinal said we should make education in Catholic social doctrine part of our education from the very beginning of the school system. (On this point, the report by the National Catholic Reporter‘s Joshua J. McElwee includes a quote that I didn’t manage to take down: “We have to start from the very beginning, because otherwise the social doctrine is taken like another ideology and it is not another ideology.”)
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