Pope Francis reiterates Catholic condemnation of economic liberalism – and causes heartburn in America

Pope Francis reiterates Catholic condemnation of economic liberalism – and causes heartburn in America December 16, 2013

A couple of months back, Francis Rooney – former US ambassador to the Vatican – gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. It was a pretty humdrum affair, until the end, when somebody asked him if Pope Francis and his predecessors would be Republicans or Democrats in the American context. This was clearly a ludicrous question, and – especially for a diplomat like Rooney – easy to brush off.

But he didn’t brush it off. Instead, he gave this amazing response:  “Because of their [the popes’] true belief in the dignity of humans, and their true belief in the inalienable rights of man, and their belief in private property, that they would have to be Republicans”.

This answer suggests many things, including insularity and tone deafness. More fundamentally, it suggests a complete misunderstanding of the tenor of Catholic social teaching, especially as enunciated by the Church over the past hundred years or more. It reflects a complete lack of attention to the key emphasis of Pope Francis’ papacy – concern for the poor, at both the personal and the institutional levels.

For those of Rooney’s persuasion who are paying attention, they don’t like what they hear. We should certainly pay no heed to libertines with lax morals like Rush Limbaugh, but plenty of Catholics who pride themselves on their orthodoxy are taking issue with what this pope is saying. They hold him to be well meaning, but just a little out of his depth. Somewhat patronizingly, they claim he is the product of Argentina, an economic basket case, and has not been yet been enlightened by gnosis of the American economic system!

What these critics forget is that Francis is saying nothing new. In response to this very American criticism of Evangelii Gaudium, the pope has said this himself. When the document touches on Catholic social teaching, it does so in a highly traditional manner.

Consistent Catholic teaching against libertarianism

Francis’ traditional in the following manner: Since the dawn of modern Catholic social teaching, popes have been punching communism with one hand and libertarianism with the other. Catholic social teaching is simply incompatible with the basic tenets of libertarianism – the supremacy of economic freedom and individual autonomy, the virtue embedded in free exchange and market-based contracts, a government whose only role is that of referee on the sidelines.

Right from the beginning, Leo XIII challenged these views with vigor, because he saw clearly that market outcomes too often represented and imbalance in economic power that worked against social harmony. Especially in the context of labor markets, he claimed that letting wages be determined by the market could put workers at the mercy of the “callousness of employers and the greed of unrestrained competition” so that they could become “victims of force and injustice”. This flows from a concept of justice “more imperious and ancient” than simple free consent in the marketplace.

Pius XI took this even further, referring to the two errors of communism and libertarianism as the “twin rocks of shipwreck”. He went on to lay down one of the most direct condemnations of liberal economic thinking ever made by a pope:  “The right ordering of economic life cannot be left to a free competition of forces. For from this source, as from a poisoned spring, have originated and spread all the errors of individualist economic teaching…free competition, while justified and certainly useful provided it is kept within certain limits, clearly cannot direct economic life – a truth which the outcome of the application in practice of the tenets of this evil individualistic spirit has more than sufficiently demonstrated. Therefore, it is most necessary that economic life be again subjected to and governed by a true and effective directing principle.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Pope John XIII is equally direct: “Unrestricted competition in the liberal sense, and the Marxist creed of class warfare; are clearly contrary to Christian teaching and the nature of man”. For John, distributive justice was paramount, and he argued that a just distribution of resources actually mattered more than accumulation of wealth itself. 

Paul VI also had some choice words against liberalism/ libertarianism. He condemned the idea of “profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, having no limits nor concomitant social obligations”.

Like his predecessors, Paul also noted that the Christian cannot adhere to either the Marxist ideology or the liberal ideology that “exalts individual freedom by withdrawing it from every limitation, by stimulating it through exclusive seeking of interest and power, and by considering social solidarities as more or less automatic consequences of individual initiatives, not as an aim and a major criterion of the value of the social organization”.

In a similar vein, Paul read the sign of the times: “we are witnessing a renewal of the liberal ideology. This current asserts itself both in the name of economic efficiency, and for the defense of the individual against the increasingly overwhelming hold of organizations, and as a reaction against the totalitarian tendencies of political powers. .. at the very root of philosophical liberalism is an erroneous affirmation of the autonomy of the individual in his activity, his motivation and the exercise of his liberty.” Again, this is crystal clear.

In recent years, Benedict XVI railed against the “scandal of glaring inequalities” and lambasted the economic and financial system that led to the crisis. Just last year, he noted that: “It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism”. But while Francis makes the front pages for statements like these, Benedict was roundly ignored.

The bottom line is clear: when Francis condemns an economy of exclusion, an idolatry of money, and rampant inequality, he is reflecting orthodox Catholic social teaching, and applying it to modern circumstances. In other words, he is doing what all popes before him did. His approach to Catholic social teaching is ultra-orthodox and ultra-traditional.

In particular, Francis is following in the footsteps of his predecessors with a stern and passionate condemnation of libertarianism, in words that have now become famous: “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system… While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control.”

The “Francis problem” for the Amerirican right

So if it’s just more of the same, why all the attention? Why all the tortured hair pulling from the American right? I believe the answer is simple. While the substance of what Francis is saying is the similar to his predecessors, both his tone and his emphasis are different, sometimes substantially so.

For one thing, he is speaking in the kind of passionate prophetic language that has been out of fashion in recent years. This is true among Church leaders, but also among secular leaders – how many public figures talk like Martin Luther King these days?  

And then there is the issue of emphasis. Economic justice and the preferential option for the poor are central tenets of Francis’ papacy. Nobody can possibly ignore or downplay this. While Benedict would surely agree with everything Francis has to say, his priorities were clearly elsewhere – on the relationship between faith and reason, and dialogue with the secular culture, for example.

The media do not help either. They have their fixed narratives of Francis and Benedict. When Benedict spoke about economic injustice, they paid no attention, because it did not fit their preconceived stereotypes of who he was. But when Francis speaks on such issues, it fits into their narrative of him as more progressive than his predecessors, even if –in substance – he is not saying anything different.

Somewhat ironically, he is actually harking back to a more traditional papal approach to matters of economics and economic justice. Just as Benedict loved traditional liturgy, Francis loves traditional Catholic social teaching!

All of this explains the indigestion of so many on the American right. Until now, many of these Catholics had formed their own narrative of the modern papacy, a narrative perfectly encapsulated by Francis Rooney’s unfortunate answer to an unfortunate question at the AEI event.

The narrative goes something like this: John Paul II formed a strategic alliance with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher against communism. Together, they assured the defeat of totalitarianism and the ascent of liberty, both economic and religious. This liberty is given is fullest form in free markets and a limited role for the state. It guarantees a respect for human dignity, assures economic prosperity, and provides the space for individual initiative. Of course, freedom is defined solely in its negative, Lockean, sense.

A number of Catholic intellectuals tried to put a theological gloss on this narrative – people like Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Richard John Neuhaus. When Neuhaus died, he was replaced in the neoconservative triumvirate by another cleric, Robert Sirico, and his Acton Institute with its bottomless coffers.

A key hypothesis of this group was that John Paul II had repudiated much of prior Catholic social teaching, especially in his encyclical Centesimus Annus, which fully blessed the free market system. Of course, any honest reading of this encyclical would show that it is perfectly in accord with past teaching. Plus, if John Paul had really repudiated the past, then must also have repudiated much of his own prior writings!

These people enjoyed a great deal of success and persuaded a lot of people. They owed much of their success to a changing Catholic culture. American Catholics became more and more integrated with the dominant Protestant mindset, underpinned by a Lockean individualist spirit and a Calvinist approach to economics that elevated the virtue of individual responsibility. The generation of John A. Ryan had become the generation of Paul Ryan.

Still, their success was really quite a remarkable feat, in light of the crystal clear teachings against this very form of liberalism they now espoused. In many respects, it was a con job, and an audacious one at that. They simply wrote off a huge chunk of Catholic social teaching, following in the footsteps of one of their gurus, William F. Buckley, who rejected explicitly the social teaching of John XXIII. They published an edited version of Centesimus Annus that left out the problematic parts. They attempted to completely obliterate the idea of distributive justice – a core concept going all the way back to Aristotle – from the collective Catholic memory.

Somewhat ironically, this group donned the mantle of orthodoxy, and stood stridently against those they regarded as dissidents. They became eager participants in the evangelicals’ culture war. What mattered were the hot-button issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, and religious liberty – coincidentally, the issues that mattered most to their allies on the evangelical and Republican right!

They always claimed that the pope – whether John Paul or Benedict – was aligned with them on the major issues, and that good Catholics could safely ignore the outdated socialist outpourings of some bishops conferences and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. They counted a good number of bishops in their camp. And they made sure that their efforts were well funded by a wealthy donor base with its own selfish interests in mind.

Of course, they were also helped by a feeble left that actually mirrored their libertarianism – caring more about individual rights in the sexual sphere than traditional norms of distributive and social justice. This was a left that had truly lost its way, and proved incapable – until relatively recently, anyway – of challenging the dominant narrative of the liberal right. 

Against this backdrop, Francis Rooney’s statement is not so extravagant:  the pope, you see, is clearly a Republican.

But then Francis came along. With Francis, this whole house of cards came tumbling down. The con was exposed. These Catholics could no longer ignore and dismiss the inconvenient truths of Catholic social teaching, as Francis has pushed these truths right to the center of his pontificate.

This is giving them real heartburn, for which there is only one form of lasting relief – the refreshing waters of real Catholic social teaching. The time has come for the American Catholic libertarians to be what they have always claimed to be – orthodox and traditional. In other words, less American and more Catholic.

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  • Sean O


    All true. All obvious to those who wish to see truth. If it is not true, what was Jesus up to anyway? Was he constantly misquoted?

    The whole scenario reminds me of a John Kenneth Gailbraith quote: “It is difficult to get a man to see what his salary depends upon his not seeing.”
    We could also add or substitute “circumstances” to/for salary.

  • Kurt

    The narrative goes something like this: John Paul II formed a strategic alliance with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher against communism.

    an irritating false narrative. As if the rest of us were doing nothing against communism. Reagan had considerably cooled in his support for Solidarnosc when the AFL-CIO was still secretly funneling money to keep it alive.

  • Unable to tolerate ambiguity or live with paradox?

    Need relief from cognitive dissonance?

    Here’s a couple of remedies: 1) Surrender and embrace a radically deconstructive postmodernism with its moral relativism and debonair nihilism. 2) Fight and take refuge in the apodictic certainties of a foundational epistemology grounded in metaphysical necessities.

    The choice is simple: Be silly or be syllogistic!

    That’s my precis of Evangelical Catholicism.
    The philosophically astute will also recognize it as the generic formula for radical fundamentalisms everywhere; just substitute one’s foundation of choice: sola scriptura, solum magisterium, rationalist metaphysics, the Koran, etc

    Hence, to all who buy into these dualisms, Culture Wars of apocalyptic significance engulf us. Hence, the mantles of orthodoxy coupled with stridence, fueled by gnosis.

    All such groups prove too much with metaphysics, telling untellable stories, saying way more than we could ever possibly know.

    Most people, though, seem to nuture a healthy measure of self doubt. They may not articulate it formally or academically, but, in real life, while metaphysical realists, they are critical, not naive, realists and practice a more fallibilist epistemology. They live more comfortably with life’s ambiguities and better tolerate its paradoxes because of a truly vibrant faith, which is the substance of what they hope for, their conviction regarding realities unseen.

    Paul Baumann of Commonweal well captured a prime example of this: http://www.thenation.com/article/174363/romes-cassandra-george-weigel?page=0,0

    • That is an astute précis, and I really appreciate the Commonweal article at the end. Thanks!

  • “They published an edited version of Centesimus Annus that left out the problematic parts.”

    Wow. I’m not really surprised, just disappointed. And angry.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      For interested readers, these versions are discussed in detail at


      I have not found the complete versions of these texts online.

      • Jordan

        The Acta Apostolicae Sedis record for Centesimus Annus can be found at AAS 83 [1991]:793-867, in latine, but if anyone would like I can translate troublesome points.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Just in case the approved English translation is not adequate? 🙂

    • Jerry Filteau

      As a reporter for Catholic News Service in the 1990s I interviewed Richard John Neuhaus on his book, “Doing Well and Doing Good,” shortly after it appeared. When I asked him why the shortened version of “Centesimus Annus” that formed an appendix to the book had edited out all references to unions except for their role in economic bargaining with managers or owners on behalf of workers, he gave me a puzzled look and said he had done no such thing. Of course anyone who reads the original “Centesimus Annus” alongside Neuhaus’ redacted version can see where all the encyclical’s other references to the role of unions in supporting and bettering the lives of workers were edited out. It was part of the systematic effort by First Things, the Acton Institute, Mike Novak of AEI and innumerable other right-wing American Catholic think-tanks to muzzle and co-opt JPII’s writings to fit their ideology.

      BTW, I have no problem with the Vatican’s official English translation of “Centesimus Annus,” which can be found here http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_01051991_centesimus-annus_en.html

  • This is an excellent, spot-on analysis. Thank you.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  • Agellius

    This is kind of hard to respond to. Who exactly has heartburn? Can you name names and quote quotes?

    My problem with Francis’ statements is not that I think he’s wrong, but that I have no idea who he’s talking about. For example, “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”

    Who ever said that trickle-down economics would cause “greater justice and inclusiveness”? Greater prosperity was claimed, yes. But inclusiveness? I don’t know of anyone who makes that claim.

    Similarly, who exactly “reject[s] the right of states … to exercise any form of control”? There are disputes about how much control the state should exercise, but does anyone seriously argue that the state should exercise *no* control?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Well, on the trivial side, Rush Limbaugh…..

      More seriously, Michael Novak, who purports to agree with the Pope but only by misinterpreting his words. (See my forthcoming post.)

      Lantt Prichett, writing in Bloomberg, says the Pope is promoting sin since dwelling on inequality promotes envy.

      Also see Ramesh Ponnuru writing in Bloomberg.

      • Kurt

        I guess also mentioning Sarah Palin would serve no purpose. Fr. Robert Sirico?

    • 1) Prudential judgment combines moral and practical reason. When one advocates, politically, for certain practical approaches and against others, sometimes, certain moral norms are implicit and can be presupposed.

      2) The charge of inartful wording will often stick when absolutes have been employed, e.g. any or no vs some or little, always or never vs often or seldom.

      Advancing Francis the benefit of the doubt, that he presupposed the implicit catholicity of others’ political goals and might have better spoken in terms of degrees, surely one would want to offer less facile, more substantive, objections? That Francis was advancing a strawman fallacy, engaging caricatures in his critique -not only doesn’t fly, but – doesn’t even leave the hangar.

      The substance of prudential judgment critiques, even when charitably imputing (conceding) another’s moral and religious aspirations, will properly focus on practical effectiveness in achieving stated goals, employing empirical and pragmatic criteria, e.g. whether or not a policy actually worked.

      From the Pope’s critique, one might take away: “Some advocate for too little regulatory control.” That can be reasonably and vigorously argued from many sides. That a strawman was erected is a charge that’s neither very substantive nor terribly interesting to most, I suspect.

      • Agellius


        “That Francis was advancing a strawman fallacy, engaging caricatures in his critique -not only doesn’t fly, but – doesn’t even leave the hangar.”

        I’m not able to follow everything you say, but I do think Francis was knocking down strawmen.

        My point was that Francis misconstrues those who advocate “trickle-down economics”, and overstates the position of those who, in certain contexts, argue that less government intervention would be better; and thereby, in a sense, demonizes those points of view unfairly, giving the impression that the whole concept behind trickle-down economics is simply wrong, and that arguing for less government control in some economic circumstances — for the sake of economic growth — constitutes a rejection of the very right and duty of the state to exert any control at all. I think these are unfair oversimplifications on Francis’ part which were worth pointing out.

        As far as giving him the benefit of the doubt, I did say that I didn’t think he was wrong. Given that people exist who argue those things, he’s right that they shouldn’t. I just don’t think it’s a problem that exists to any great extent in the real world.

        • Well, I would concede that, in general, magisterial writings address spiritual, moral and religious norms with a lot more competence and authority than when they critique political, economic and other practical norms, sometimes leaving the impression that matters of prudential judgment are a lot more clear and a lot less problematic than they actually are. They sometimes oversimplify political approaches to economics and just war and they do the same regarding contraception and abortion. Right?

          While there are many reasoned conservative voices, including libertarians, and they outnumber the extremists, we have recently witnessed a disturbing ascendancy in polarization. It has been especially evidenced in a libertarian absolutism that misinterprets human freedom as the license to do what one wants rather than the liberty to do what one must as well as by a totally unnuanced, fundamentalistic federalism (yes, with an antiregulatory extremism, not a prudent de/regulatory thrust). This group has formed a rather paradoxical coalition with social conservative, moral absolutists, who fail to properly distinguish between moral vs practical realities or between the proper goals of moral vs civil laws. Neither of these groups understands political realism, the efficacy of getting half a loaf today, because they don’t differentiate between a compromise of principles and a compromise based on strategy. These absolutist libertarians and theocons have a third coalition partner in the neoconservative cabal, heavily influenced by prominent catholic intellectuals, who have not only fanned the culture wars but advocated for military interventions rather militaristically, counter to the just war calculus of the bishops.

          None of this influence comports with the classical liberalism or paleoconservatism of the grand ole party of Lincoln, Ike, Nixon, Reagan or GHW Bush, or of Bill Buckley and George Will. The Republican Party is in the process of trying to purge itself of such absolutist and extremist elements and its fate in future POTUS elections rests on its success in marginalizing them.

          Such was the focus of Francis’ critique as I took it. And he was not overstating the problem, which poor Karl Rove would be the first to admit, much to his chagrin. Francis was neither caricaturizing nor demonizing the traditional GOP any more than he was lionizing or idolizing socialism or marxism. The problems Francis addressed do exist to a great extent, although they present, as you suggest, in matters of degree. The regulatory pendulum has often swung too far in either direction, as has the impetus to legislate morality, as have the tendencies to isolationism and interventionism.

          I make these observations as the retired chairman, president & ceo of a bank and as a Reagan appointee to the selective service board, though never political party-affiliated.

          • Agellius


            I don’t deny that there are libertarian extremists. But they have never succeeded in implementing their agenda — indeed you concede that the Republicans will never win the presidency unless they are “purged”! There is no major country in the world that operates under the premise that it has no right to regulate its economic activity. Every country regulates. There is debate about the extent of regulation, but no country that I’ve heard of cedes the right to regulate. So the Pope’s comment struck me as tilting at windmills.

            Regarding trickle-down economics, again I never heard Reagan or anyone else claim that it results in greater “inclusiveness and justice”, but only greater prosperity, i.e. “rising tide lifts all boats” type of thing. (If I’m wrong I’ll stand corrected but I would need to see a quote.) Justice is in a different category from economics, just as it’s in a different category from psychology, medicine, auto repair, etc. An economic theory which predicts that prosperity for the rich will trickle down to the poor, is simply making a prediction about what will happen with wealth in a modern, capitalist economy.

            Presumably, as you say, the Pope’s point is that governments should implement policies and regulate the economy in ways that result in more justice and inclusiveness. If that was all he had said, I suspect that very few people — libertarian extremists excepted — would have had any problem with it.

          • Agellius wrote: I don’t deny that there are libertarian extremists. But they have never succeeded in implementing their agenda <<<

            You too narrowly conceive the in/efficacies of political influence, which involves more than the passage of legislation, confirmation of appointees, etc but includes the shaping as well as obstruction of such initiatives. The US system was largely shaped by the impetus to check the tyranny of the majority so, much, on occasion even most, of what's happening is precisely that – victory via stalemate, obstruction, poison pill amendments and gridlock, along with the demagogic influence on an often fickle electorate. Sound familiar? Know who the culprits, or heroes, depending on one's perspective, are?

            Further, we already addressed that the Pope's characterizations, if not admitting of degrees but trafficking in absolutes, would indeed be caricatures. But the overall thrust of his critique in its entire context otherwise sticks because, as I said (uncontroversially), the deregulatory-regulatory pendulum does swing to extremes.

            Therefore, I do not find your argument compelling, that these extremists are wholly ineffective or that the fact that, because various regulations exist, we necessarily have the right kinds in the right amount at the right time. I appreciate that the putative role played by either a lack of sufficient regulatory oversight or regulations or deregulation in the recent world-wide $60 trillion wealth destruction is controversial and can be argued vigorously and reasonably from both sides due to the complexities and overdetermined factors, but the Pope's critique lacks neither substance nor a probable culprit (among culprits).

            Those aren't windmills. Those are cargo plane propellors the Pope's trying to stall so those jokers don't try to lift off — full of baloney.

        • Kurt

          We need to listen to economic conservatives like Agellius to make sure we understand what they actually believe. Just as with the 19th century papal disapproval of socialism requires us to listen to socialists, in which we will find that there is not currently any real basis for the objection.

  • WT

    “This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. ”

    Anyone who says such a thing has no idea what he is talking about. The financial markets in modern times are one of the most heavily regulated industries ever.

    • The realities of the marketplace and its regulation are far more complex than that isolated quote and counterpoint.

      That said, the magisterial social teaching emphasis, in my view, should remain on the moral and relational norms that should inform prudential judgments and much less so on the practical, where others, indeed, have more competency and expertise. The magisterium exercises an impressive core competency with its social justice methodologies, morally and relationally. (Incidently, if they would employ those same methods in their formulation of moral doctrines and church disciplines, especially regarding gender, sex and life issues, they could become more competent and relevant in those arenas.)

  • Julia Smucker

    Reading Centesimus Annus as having “fully blessed the free market system” would require some serious Jefferson-Bible-style editing. This is the encyclical where John Paul II strongly critiqued the “idolatry of the market” – a critique that, as I recall, quite perceptively tied the economic liberalism of the right together with the sexual/reproductive liberalism of the left that reduces children to mere market commodities. That he was astute enough – and Catholic enough – to also repudiate laissez-faire capitalism, as he revisited Leo XIII’s insights following the failure of communism, is particularly remarkable given his own background experience with communism in Poland.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Which, if the blog I linked to above is correct, is exactly what happened: an edition of CA which is significantly bowdlerized.

  • Roger

    “somebody asked him if Pope Francis and his predecessors would be Republicans or Democrats in the American context”
    That’s an easy one – Republican of course.

    Can anyone honestly tell me that the Pope would have more in common with a morally-challenged liberal like Obama vs. a thoughtful conservative like Mike Huckabee??? Huckabee is pro-life, anti euthanasia, anti-gay marriage as is the Pope. Obama holds the opposite position on all of those issues.

    Secondly, liberals (some of who litter this blog) seem to believe the myth that conservatives don’t believe in charity. Stats have shown conservative people give more on an average basis than liberals. That’s where the Pope would also be inclined to be a Republican.

    Obviously, the Pope will never say which political party he would favor but there’s no doubt his stance on the important issues lie with the GOP, and not the Dems. Its no contest.

    • Far too many moral stances are facilely inferred from the political positions of presidents and pols and far too many political stances are facilely inferred from the moral positions of Popes and councils. A good remedy would include a lot more parsing and nuancing and a lot less conflation and category error. That two persons might heartily agree regarding any given moral reality while disagreeing, even vehemently, regarding practical approaches to same, has never occurred to too many, it seems.

    • Ronald King

      The reality is that he is neither and to assume anything else is projection.

    • Kurt

      Can anyone honestly tell me that the Pope would have more in common with a [uncharitable attack against another Christian] liberal like Obama vs. a thoughtful conservative like Mike Huckabee???


      • Roger

        Please tell what the Pope would have in common with that joke? Could be their love of soccer, basketball, rock music? I can’t think of anything else. Please enlighten us.

        • Kurt

          Please tell what the Pope would have in common with that joke?

          In common, they both are the types of decent people who don’t refer to other human beings as “jokes.”

        • Roger

          You’re missing the point entirely. Besides, Obama is anything but decent.

        • Kurt


          Merry Christmas.

    • You are dead wrong, Roger, and what you are going to discover is that, in Francis I Bergoglio, we have a pontiff who looks with more favour on a mild form of “liberation theology” than any recent pope. In fact, the cardinal he put in charge of his committee to reform the curia, Maradiaga, is the most vocal proponent of a modified version of Latin American “liberation theology” in the entire Sacred College. If you or anyone else can reconcile THAT approach to social and economic justice with “trickle down” economics or modern American FAUX-“conservatism,” with its predominant emphasis on sex, contraception and abortion, you need your head to be examined. But time will tell, and I predict that you and the American Catholic bishops and their Republican political allies are going to learn the hard way. Welcome to the world of “cafeteria Catholicism”!

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Of course, in framing this comment you are overlooking the fact that Pope Francis also said that the Church needs to think about more than abortion, contraception and gay marriage. He is clear on where he stands on these issues, but to use them to define him politically and equate him with Mike Huckabee without also considering his stand on the other, equally important issues confronting us is either naive or disingenuous.

      • Roger

        I’m neither naïve or disingenuous. I’m only thinking logically – because that seems to be something some people here can’t do. One would assume the Pope would favor politicians who hope to change the current abortion law in the US.

        Why in the hell would he want a mistake like Obama or a joke like Biden or Pelosi when there would be no hope of overturning Roe vs Wade? Their actions and beliefs in no way jive with the Pope.

        As an aside, people seem to forget that Jesus was not simply a guy who ran around hugging everyone. He was a sh*t-disturber who constantly voiced his opinions and for lack of a better word preached to everyone. I want a Cardinal and a Pope who lives by that example – and some wimp who’s afraid to speak the truth.

        • Ronald King

          Your take on Jesus is your creation based on the influence of your subjective logic. Changing hearts is the desire of Christ and the Pope. It is easy to condemn.

        • Roger

          No Ron, my take on Jesus is from the Gospels. Jesus’ actions are pretty clear for anyone to read.

        • Ronald King

          Roger, Your take is your interpretation of what you want Him to be. I will take His action on the Cross as definitive of Who He is.

  • “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.” – Brazilian Archbishop Hélder Câmara

    Yeah, well, join the club, Francis :/

  • bamacnz

    I haven’t read all the comments but this link might be opportune me thinks…

    Mrs Mac

  • Pingback: Response to Samuel Gregg’s criticism of Evangelii Gaudium | Vox Nova()

  • RE: Regarding trickle-down economics, again I never heard Reagan or anyone else claim that it results in greater “inclusiveness and justice” <<<

    Certain ends are presupposed and implicit, while the means or strategies are explicit. Catholic politicians are often presumed to implicitly hold the same social justice aspirations and moral positions even though they differ in their chosen strategies. Don't both Paul Ryan and Patty Murray both aspire to justice and inclusion?

    • Agellius


      You write, “Catholic politicians are often presumed to implicitly hold the same social justice aspirations and moral positions even though they differ in their chosen strategies.”

      Well, Reagan wasn’t Catholic. : )

      But my point was that an economic theory is just a theory about economics. I can’t swear that no one who advocated supply-side economics ever claimed it would result in increased justice, but I’m saying that that would be an inapposite statement. Justice and economics are in different categories. Complaining that an economic theory hasn’t resulted in more justice, is like complaining that changes to the rules of war haven’t resulted in more battlefield courage. Courage comes from a different place.

      • See my post, below, which put Roger to sleep, Agellius.

        I see where you are not alone in advancing a strawman rebuttal. Perhaps we can further engage in the latest “Response to Samuel Gregg’s criticism of Evangelii Gaudium” where Gregg makes the same case.

        I take your point about how policies and strategies can be morally neutral. That’s not a counter to my position, apposite as you say (for Roger). They are not employed without a value-laden, goal-directedness, however. If they are not effective, instrumentally, in effecting desired outcomes, justice gets frustrated. We quit advocating them or lamely argue that the strategy was good, only its implementation flawed (e.g. Don Rumsfeld, Bill Kristol re: Shock & Awe strategy in Iraq War). Some economic approaches, for whatever reason, won’t instrumentally achieve our goals of justice and inclusion as well as others. We then couple our moral norms to our practical norms to choose another?

  • Agellius

    Kurt writes, “We need to listen to economic conservatives like Agellius to make sure we understand what they actually believe.”

    You assume that I subscribe to these views because I try to explain or defend them, but maybe I’m just playing devil’s advocate.

    • Ronald King

      “… but maybe I’m just playing devil’s advocate.” Agellius, don’t play devil’s advocate, it’s Christmas. Merry Christmas!

      • Agellius

        Actually it’s Advent. And an Ember Day no less! ; )

        • Ronald King

          I always get that wrong:-)

  • re: Justice is in a different category from economics, just as it’s in a different category from psychology, medicine, auto repair, etc. An economic theory which predicts that prosperity for the rich will trickle down to the poor, is simply making a prediction about what will happen with wealth in a modern, capitalist economy. <<<<<<

    In human value-realizations, everything we do is inherently normative.

    It is true that different categories of human activities are methodologically autonomous but they also happen to be axiologically integral. This is to recognize that each method, alone, is necessary, but that no method, alone, is sufficient in realizing what we value.

    Put more concretely, even as we describe a reality or perhaps even manipulate it in some way through our theoretic and practical sciences, we are also asking, evaluatively, "what's that to us?" and then, normatively, asking "what's the best way to acquire or avoid that?". Because we are fallible, there are also interpretive methods, where we re-ligate, asking "how might we tie all this together?".

    Human normative philosophy thus mediates between our descriptive sciences and interpretive ideologies and religions to bring about our evaluative cultures.

    Economics, psychology, medicine and auto repair are distinct, autonomous methods but they are inherently normative, which is to say value-laden and goal-driven. While the word justice can refer to the theoretic and practical categories of descriptive methods, such as involving jurisprudence, law enforcement and judiciary methods, the goals of social justice involve the normative calculus, critiquing the best way to acquire or avoid this or that.

    If then, as you suggest, some trickle-down theorists did not attend to the norms and goals of catholic social justice, like subsidiarity, that would be like suggesting that this or that politician ignored catholic moral doctrine when legislating on capital punishment or just war principles when authorizing war powers. Normative political judgment then goes beyond the application of goals or the mere mirroring of the natural law in civil codifications to include a jurisprudential assessment of whether or not, for example, a law is enforceable or achieves the goals or effects the anticipated changes reflected in legislative intent, such intent including, for example, reducing the abortion rate or enjoying a just and inclusive economic order.

    So, if what you said about certain politicians. was true, then you would have indicted them, proving Francis' thesis. That this is not true about most, whatever their persuasion,
    I agree with you. That any minority, most of whom advocate for the practical solutions that do not work per Francis' critique, or even some, who might otherwise outright ignore suitable norms (which needn't be considered inherently catholic), happens to be so marginalized as to be irrelevant, wielding little influence, as you suggested, is simply not the case because you have to narrowly conceived both the amount and the types of influence they indeed wield, as I described elsewhere.

    Ergo – no strawmen, no caricatures, no windmill-tilting, at least not without straining at logical gnats while swallowing empirical camels.

    • Roger

      My God, every post of yours puts me to sleep. I don’t know if I agree with you or not – I just know I can’t finish reading any of your posts.

      • I usually try to address issues at more than one level, restating the same abstract things in the same post with simpler concrete examples. But my dense prose comes from an aim for more rigorous definitions and nuanced argument in an effort to avoid ambiguity and superficiality. Once I figure out who the audience is, here, I’ll strive to adjust accordingly or will leave, rather than offend charity. In my defense, we’re engaging a papal encyclical. But, to your point, a LOT of people say what you said. Believe it or not, Roger, I’ve improved! 🙂 Sorry, though. One strategy I’ve employed is to just publish on Scribd and stay away from discussion forums. Blessed Advent, Roger.

        • Ronald King

          Johnboy, I enjoy reading your comments even though it takes me some time to interpret the language you use since my background is not in theology or philosophy. What is interesting to me is the apparent ease with which you can explore several different areas of investigation related to a particular subject. It must be that that your prefrontal cortex has benefitted from a lot of meditation and that you have also been blessed with a robust corpus callosum. I must get back to meditating. Hope you have a great Christmas.

      • Roger, I have my detractors:

        I don’t post anonymously. It’s hygienic in that it fosters civility.

        I also founded romancatholicsforobama.com but was the only one out of dozens of catholics throughout the united states, who worked on the project, willing to participate publicly for very good reasons, such as remaining emoloyed in various diocesan and parochial capacities.


        You have impolitically attacked Obama in this thread as well as some prominent democrats (which I am not). Last go round, I backed John Huntsman, then voted for Gary Johnson, but I’d be happy to clarify any specific issues you may have and will try not to confound you.

        pax tibi

  • Perplexed

    Beautiful! Thank you. Should be required reading for all Christians.

  • Ronald wrote: “your prefrontal cortex has benefitted from a lot of meditation and that you have also been blessed with a robust corpus callosum”

    Merry Christmas, and thanks, Ronald. Your kind words evoked a response, which would be too much of a digression, here, so, I posted it here:


    pax tibi!

    • Ronald King

      John, Just gotta say thank you for that Christmas gift. Ron

  • Kimberley

    I am shocked , shocked to find that a large GOP bundler thinks Pope Francis would be a republican.

    I am also shocked, shocked to find this blog and its echo chamber using Pope Francis wonderful exhortation to denigrate its political opponents. Pope Francis exhorts us to joyfully evangelize the world and instead we use it to further the political divide.

    At least when the rich man did not like what Our Lord had to say, he went away sad. He didn’t go away and start political strife.

    • Kimberly, few of us totally avoid ad hominems but most of us mostly avoid them, so your characterization, because it isn’t grounded in fact, seems an unfair, unjust criticism, a denigration. Perhaps you have failed to distinguish between an attack on persons and a critique of their ideas, which is indispensable – not only to political discourse, but also dicussions of faith and morals, too. Those if us here, who, when we would not be otherwise properly motivated by the demands of charity to avoid ad hominems, would still, nevertheless, be thus motivated by the desire to avoid logical fallacies, because it would weaken our philosophical arguments.

      Political strife is the fruit of incivility, which is not an intrinsic feature of political disagreement. It gets introduced into political arenas by “carriers,” who often bring it everywhere else they go, too. In that regard, it’s not unlike superciliarity or sanctimony.

    • Kurt


      At least you can take some comfort in that this blog and its echo chamber has never called for using the Sacraments as a way of denigrating its political opponents. Inlike others, it has clean hands on that.

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  • Reblogged this on Intersections and commented:
    Recommended for understanding justice, Pope Francis, and Catholic social teaching.