Fr. Robert Barron on Laudato Si and the Pope’s Recent Comments on Capitalism

Fr. Robert Barron on Laudato Si and the Pope’s Recent Comments on Capitalism July 20, 2015

Customary thoughtful common sense from Fr. Barron, punctuated across the blogosphere by outraged people asking absurd questions like “Why do we have to understand the context of the pope’s remarks?”

I remember when Catholics understood that texts needed to be read in the context of the Tradition?  When did so many of us morph into fundamentalists?

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  • Thanks for posting the link.

  • Andy

    In my ethics course – the one I teach – the science majors struggle with the limits of what science means – they are as Thomas Dolby said – “blinded by science” . The business students struggle mightily with the need to see that profit should not replace humanity – it is so inculcated in them that profit is most important that they see people as commodities. They see no problem with the “gig economy” even though it is destructive to those who have to bounce and does not allow for growth or change – it is profit that matters.
    Morality is found in all interactions between people – not just the pelvic interactions, but all interactions. As I read comments here and other places it seems that economics – a social science fraught with all the short-comings of social sciences and all the short-coming os science has replaced simple morality and understanding the inherent worth of individuals.

    • ManyMoreSpices

      In my ethics course – the one I teach

      Morality is found in all interactions between people

      Wait, are you teaching ethics or morality? No wonder your students are confused.

      • Andy

        Ethics and morality are far more inter-related than most would believe and therein lies the problem. I did not say confused, I said they struggled because the ethics of many business courses does not include a moral component, the business courses focus on what can be done to maximize profit and not for the most part on the rightness. of the behavior, wher as ethics deals with rules of conduct as recognized by a group…

      • Andrew Brew

        What do you think is the difference? Other than one being the Greek translation of the Latin, and the other the Latin translation of the Greek?

        • ManyMoreSpices

          There is often much overlap. Despite their origins, the terms have developed to describe different things in certain contexts. That’s what language does.

          One distinction is the level of abstraction. Many professions, including mine, have ethics rules. We don’t speak of “business morality” or “legal morality” or “journalistic morality.” We talk about “ethics.” When we speak of “business ethics” or “legal ethics” or “journalistic ethics,” we’re talking about a set of discrete rules that have been developed for that community to govern conduct in commonly encountered situations. Those rules – we hope – have been distilled from solid moral principles. Whether they have or not, when someone in that profession encounters a situation described in the ethical rules and acts in accordance with those rules, that person is acting ethically. Whether he is acting morally may have a different answer.

          A quick example: I’m an attorney. A person comes to me and says “I need to talk to a lawyer. I just killed my wife.” He then looks at me and scrunches his face and says “I would prefer an older lawyer, some with more experience. Thanks anyway.” This person comes to me not knowing the rules of confidentiality that I am under; he simply knows that when you commit a crime, legal counsel is a good thing to have. What is the moral thing to do in that situation? You could argue persuasively, I think, that someone who subjectively lacks an expectation of confidentiality is not entitled to one, that I have no obligation to keep quiet, and that justice is best served by calling the police. You could spend a lot of time stroking your chin and pondering what’s moral. But it’s clear what is ethical according to the ethics rules I agreed to follow: I cannot divulge anything about that conversation to anyone.

          Although the ethics of a system may sometimes conflict with morality, they allow participation in the system by those with different moral codes, and without constant pondering of morality. My consequentialist legal opponent and I probably disagree on the morality of a great many things, but when we sign up for the Litigation Game, we agree to play by a certain set of rules. I can expect her to follow the rules. I don’t have to wonder how she’s going to handle a situation. And if one or both of us can’t handle those rules, we don’t have to play the game.

          So when I hear that someone is teaching a course on “ethics” in the context of business, I expect that those businessmen will be taught some practical rules that the business community has agreed upon, not instructed to ponder Kant, Mill, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    I am dismayed at how many Catholics are dismayed by Laudato Si. Pope Francis isn’t saying anything that isn’t a part of the Tradition. He’s just reminding us what we already ought to know.

    • Artevelde

      2425 The
      Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies
      associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has
      likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,”
      individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace
      over human labor.207 Regulating the economy solely by
      centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it
      solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for “there
      are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.”208
      Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in
      keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good,
      is to be commended.

      That’s the Cathechism.

      If Pope Francis is guilty of anything at all, it’s that he overemphasizes his critique on the practice of capitalism and rarely talks about the rejection of socialism. That’s a matter of emphasis though and nothing I worry about. There are plenty of conservatives who will rightfully point out that critique of capitalism is critique of its practice, whereas the Church’s critique of socialism points at the ideology as such. In simpler words, socialism is wrong, capitalism can be turned into wrong. There is a difference here and it can’t hurt to mention that from time to time. Fr. Barron does that when he says the Church’s teaching clearly points to the free market.

      I cannot agree with Fr. Barron’s article as a whole though, for the same reasons I wrote in an earlier post. I’ve tried to read the linked article in a more charitable way, but the same objections remain:

      1. ‘socialistic arrangements’. Can anyone tell me what this is and what policies exactly fall under it? I’m willing to stand trial for a crime, but not for something ‘resembling a crime’.

      2. Labor Unions. The Church’s endorsement of labor union activity is conditional and prudential (think: the correct way to use the strike weapon), but the right of unions to exist is not in question.

    • AquinasMan

      We’re dismayed because it’s not appropriate for the head of the Roman Catholic Church to teach us the faith in the middle of a 200-page advertisement for snake oil.

  • ctd

    An otherwise good post by Fr. Barron is made problematic with this sentence: “Robert Sirico, Michael Novak, Arthur Brooks, and many others are therefore right in suggesting that Catholic Social Teaching does not represent a tertium quid beyond capitalism and socialism; rather, it clearly aligns itself against socialistic arrangements and clearly for the market economy.” It makes me wonder if he actually read Laudato si.

    • Elmwood

      i agree, it sounds like fr. barron was edited by the acton institute. the problem is that pope francis has been critical of economic structures that hurt the poor, and not just an interior problem of greed. i don’t understand how anyone can interpret catholic social teaching and our Holy Father as somehow only asking for a change of heart and not also a change of economic structures. calling for the world to move immediately to lesser economic renewable energy is enough to make any liberal capitalism cheerleader vomit.

      what the americanist like sirico and novak argue for is status quo, or economic policies that favor the big over the small–the powerful over the weak, and rely on “freedom of religion” to help individuals make moral choices–rather than regulations–to fix the inherent problems with trickle-down capitalism. this is more of the culture war argument.

      fr. barron completely avoided the issues of environmental destruction, which goes hand-in-hand with liberal capitalism. also just because the church speaks out against class struggles doesn’t suggest that the church supports gross class inequalities.

    • Alma Peregrina

      Exactly what I thought.

    • IRVCath

      I think it is because Americans are unused to the concept of a corporatist or social market economy. Which is natural given the nonconfessional Protestantism that has been dominant sonce 1945.

  • Artevelde

    Well well well … so …

    1. What are socialistic arrangements? And do they differ significantly from arrangementistic socialisms?

    2. The right of workers to unionize is a legal restraint and its precise application can be debated among people of good will? A bit like freedom of religion, I guess.

    My political color is not red. It is orange.

    • Where does the yellow tint come from?

      • Artevelde

        We’re too yellow to admit we’re reds? No seriously, I don’t really know why orange often, but not always, became the color of christian-democratic parties, but I’m quite sure it wasn’t to show we’re mixing socialism with something else.

  • AquinasMan

    From Father Barron’s article: “Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women.”

    I don’t see how this is not superlatively demonstrated in socialist and communist societies. Who were more corrupted by money and power than the Marxist and fascist elites? Who suffers greater enslavement than those under the iron fist of socialists and communists? How many people did Che Guevera have to murder to get his mug on a papal-celebrated, Bolivian dictator’s jacket? Is this the dread capitalism we keep hearing about?

    • Artevelde

      So it was the golden calf that led Israel out of slavery after all?

      • AquinasMan

        Well it sure as hell wasn’t a hammer-and-sickle crucifix.

        • Artevelde

          You failed round one of this quiz, but I’ll give you a hint for the next question: the answer to ”Who do you say I am?” is not ”dude, you sure as hell aren’t the vanguard of the proletariat”.

    • Marthe Lépine

      A lot of what you say had been done in the past. Now Pope Francis is commenting about the present. Why waste time flogging a dying horse? There has been a time when capitalism was appearing to be a superior idea than communism – but now it has morphed into a different way of functioning. Don’t you know that power corrupts?

      • AquinasMan

        I submit that the One-Child policy of China is a kind of slavery (not to mention our imprisoned clergy). Have you read about North Korea in the last 10-20 years? I guess we can throw in the Great Society, too. Not so “great”, after all. Fact: This horse isn’t dying, it’s still trying to knock off all the other horses in the race.

        “Don’t you know that power corrupts?”

        If capitalism has become corrupted, are we really discussing capitalism or its corrupted form? If power corrupts, what makes you think that a new power structure won’t become corrupted as well? I point to the past because socialists and communists make the problem of promising what they can’t possible deliver. In which case, we end up with “sustainability” or “cleansing”, take your pick.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    I don’t understand the constant hand-wringing: “But why isn’t Pope Francis saying mean things about those socialists and commies as well? I want equal opportunity criticism!”

    It’s a matter of emphasis. Unrestrained industrial capitalism is wreaking HUGE havoc in the world right now. Communism isn’t dead, but it’s certainly on its death bed. Why beat the dead horse? Pope John Paul II, Fulton Sheen, and many others certainly had lots of criticism for communism and socialism when it was a real problem in the world. Lighten up, capitalists. It’s your turn. 🙂

    If your house is burning down and the firemen show up with hoses, don’t complain that they don’t stop to give you a warning about the possible dangers of drowning in water.

    • Please give an example of unrestrained industrial capitalism. You might be pleasantly surprised at the conversation that follows.

  • Guest

    It’s Bishop-elect Barron now, apparently.

    • Artevelde

      I read that as well. Auxiliary Bishop of LA. Lucky them. Must suppress envy.