THE MANHATTAN DECLARATION AND THE REAL “DUCK-BILLED PLATYPUS”
An Exchange of Views between Father Brian Harrison, O.S., E. Michael Jones, and Prof. Rupert J. Ederer
Many of your articles (which as you know I have been reading monthly for over twenty years) have been excellent. However I must say that your attack on Robert P. George and the Manhattan Declaration (MD) in the July-August issue strikes me as about the worst piece I can remember coming from your pen. (Full disclosure: I myself, like about half a million others so far, enthusiastically signed the MD as soon as I read it; and your article in no way persuades me to repent having done so.)
The whole article is radically vitiated by being a case of ‘friendly fire’. I mean, you’re out there shooting down a Christian initiative that is squarely on our side in the present culture war! All the three main points of the MD are entirely in line with those Logos values you yourself have so ardently championed in recent years. Let’s do a quick check here: (1) Does Culture Wars oppose abortion, embryo-destruction and euthanasia? Of course. (2) Does CW deplore the contemporary breakdown of marriage and insist that it can only be between a man and a woman? Absolutely. (3) Does CW oppose those powerful social-political-economic forces that are increasingly violating Christians’ religious freedom by marginalizing, punishing and persecuting those who take a stand in favor of the sanctity of life and man-woman marriage? You bet.
What, then, are your reasons for denouncing Prof. George and the MD? You begin by claiming the MD is a “political coalition based on . . . the civil rights movement” as its “great paradigm”. And what’s so terrible about that? Well (you tell us), since that movement was “heterogeneous” – i.e., involving people of “various beliefs” – it and subsequent coalitions modeled on it involve a “subtle denigration of the [Catholic] Church as supreme ecclesia”, and are even “subtly Masonic” insofar as they suggest that their “ideals . . . transcend narrow sectarian boundaries”.
Amazing! In effect, you’re saying Catholics should never join forces with non-Catholics in striving for commonly held social or political goals. Such an extreme anti-dialogue posture appears to go even further in its resistance to Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism than the Society of St. Pius X – which your magazine, in its Fidelity days, used to criticize pretty sharply. (And never mind the SSPX: I remember seeing at the annual, super-ecumenical, pro-life march in Washington a banner reading “Sedevacantists for Life”.)
Next you go off on an irrelevant page-long detour claiming the MD is “deceptive” because it “ignor[es] the contributions Jews made [for “less than altruistic motives”] to the civil rights movement”. But that sort of omission would be a serious defect only in a historical study dedicated to the civil rights movement as such, purporting to cover its origins, its various protagonists, its effects on federal vs. state power as well as race relations, etc. And of course the MD makes no pretension to be anything of the sort. In fact, your whole emphasis on the civil rights movement is irrelevant insofar as it depends on a false premise. For what the MD claims to be “based on” as its “great paradigm” and “model” is not the aforesaid movement at all, but the whole bimillennial Christian tradition rooted in the Gospel. The US civil rights movement of half a century ago is mentioned only briefly and in passing (in the preamble and the conclusion), as one example among many others of how Christians – notably Martin Luther King, in this case – have historically fought for justice and human dignity.
Then you treat us to another long excursus regarding the “troubling question” of why socially conservative Jews are not found among the MD’s leadership and signatories. Their absence, we are told, is a “mystery” which “deepens” until – aha! – we connect all the dots linking the Princeton professor to “the Jews”: George, we are told, has inherited the “mantle” of Fr. Neuhaus, who edited First Things, which is the “flagship of Neoconservatism”. (Really? When did it snatch the flag away from Commentary?) And Neoconservatism of course is a dangerous, anti-Logos, Jewish-led ideology.
Detective Jones has thus solved the “mystery”! He leaves us to conclude that the absence of Jewish signatories to the MD, together with the New York Times’ “disingenuous” failure to mention the MD’s Jewish and Neocon antecedents, is really just a ploy to throw us off the scent! It keeps hidden from the public eye those shady “money men” who “pay the piper“ and so “call the tune” that is sung by Catholic hirelings like Robby George, Bill Buckley, Michael Novak and Deal Hudson. And the purpose of this ploy is to “den[y] us the ability to learn from the past”: it pushes unsuspecting Catholics into “repeat[ing] the mistakes of the old arrangement, Neoconservatism”, because those same mistakes will now be disguised as “a new arrangement, the Manhattan Declaration”.
This would have to be the most paranoid conspiracy theory I’ve seen in years. It’s pure ‘guilt by association’. I mean, “pure”, in the sense that you don’t produce a skerrick of evidence that the said association (such as it is) has left even a faint whiff of Neoconservatism in the actual text of the MD. As I noted above, all the evils denounced in the latter are evils which all orthodox Catholics, and Culture Wars itself, are resolutely opposed to. The Declaration is 100%, squeaky-clean free of any distinctive point of Neocon ideology. Yet because the leader of the MD project has been a friend of a friend of certain influential Jewish Neocons, you ask us to believe that the Christian MD coalition is part of a grand, carefully-concealed strategy to maintain “Jewish control over the Catholic mind”, and to shun the MD for that reason! This is about as reasonable as saying Catholics should have recognized the 1944 D-Day coalition to defeat Hitler as an anti-Catholic plot and so shunned it; because, after all, every one of its leaders – Ike, Churchill, Bradley, Patton, Montgomery, etc. – was a denier of the Roman Catholic faith!
If, as a diligent investigative journalist, you had contacted Professor George himself, and asked him “why were Jews excluded as signatories” to the MD, you would no doubt have received the same reasonable and non-“mysterious” answer that he gave me. He told me Orthodox Jewish signatures are absent for the same reason Mormon signatures are absent, even though both groups are generally very supportive of the moral and political values espoused by the MD. For, he said, those who planned the MD project agreed right from the beginning that there was a pressing need for a specifically and avowedly Christian witness, professing that common creedal and New Testament faith in “the one true God, the triune God” which for centuries has been the principal religious foundation of American society and is now under unprecedented attack. Of course, Jews and Mormons (the latter are polytheists) would spontaneously ‘pass’ on any document professing faith in the Christian Trinity, so it was never a question of “excluding” them. However, contrary to your speculation that the absence of Jews may be “a tacit admission that coalitions [with them] are intrinsically unworkable”, George added that, outside the context of the MD itself, he does indeed continue to collaborate, on a basis of amicable and mutual respect, with Mormons and Jews who share the specific socio-political goals of the MD.
You do, it is true, assert that “the legacy of Neonconservative subversion is apparent in the agenda of the Manhattan Declaration”, and indeed, that the MD and other efforts at dialogue require “a willingness to suppress some Catholic truth of importance”. But as I said above, there is no skerrick of evidence – no citation of chapter and verse from the MD – to back up these assertions. What we are offered instead is alleged evidence of Neocon subversion in forums other than the MD, namely, the Republican Party (with its “cynical . . . exploitation of Catholic sentiment on abortion”), and Prof. George’s interventions in the Wall Street Journal in 2003 (regarding the invasion of Iraq), and last year at Catholic U. in Washington to an audience including many bishops (regarding economic policy).
Well, let us suppose that you were right in accusing George of trying to “silence the Church“ on issues regarding which she “can give us an infallibly reliable guide”, and in claiming he “invoke[s] the application of the moral law in one instance and revoke[s] it in another” (revoking it, that is, when it comes to economic policy and the “prosecution of an unjust war”). Indeed, let’s even suppose you were correct in claiming that Professor George has cynically “subordinated the natural law to a political agenda”, so that “on just about every issue the real criterion of whether the natural law should be taken seriously comes down to whether the policy in question is in conformity with the agenda of the Republican Party”. Now, I would classify these accusations as calumnies – public violations of the Eighth Commandment for which you will have to answer to God. But even supposing they were fully justified, why would they be reasons for shunning the Manhattan Declaration? The MD contains not one word that could possibly inhibit or even discourage any Catholic signatory (mitered or otherwise) from speaking out elsewhere against perceived defects in the Republican Party, against economic theories that conflict with the Church’s social encyclicals, or against the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, or any other given war. The MD, by saying absolutely nothing about these issues, leaves every signatory perfectly free to say about them, in any other forum, whatever he/she thinks is appropriate. So it is quite unfair to say that exercises in dialogue like the MD require the “suppression” of one or more important Catholic truths. In fact, George and the other MD planners were wise not to include in the Declaration highly controversial statements about specific wars and financial policies; for the only result of including them would have been to reduce the number of signatories to a fraction of that half million who have so far given a valuable and much-needed witness to the requirements of Logos and natural law in the vital areas of life, marriage and Christian freedom.
The previous paragraph supposes, purely for the sake of argument, that your grave personal accusations against Prof. George were justified. But are they in reality? I think it is actually you who misrepresents the Church’s position, not George. By claiming the moral law ruled out the 2003 invasion of Iraq just as “patently” and “straightforwardly” as it rules out abortion and euthanasia, you are making the very mistake that was corrected by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith less than a year before he became Pope. At that time, at the height of the Bush/Kerry campaign and the bitter controversy over the Iraq War, many American Catholics were claiming that if Kerry and other “pro-choice” Catholic politicians were to be denied Holy Communion for supporting abortion, then Catholic politicians who treated Saddam Hussein as an aggressor who needed to be repelled, and officials like Justice Scalia who ruled in favor of capital punishment, should likewise be denied Communion. For John Paul II, it was argued, had also pronounced clearly against both those positions. But this prompted a letter of then-Cardinal Ratzinger in July 2004 to the U.S. bishops, pointing out that one can be a Catholic in good standing, entitled to receive the sacraments, while openly disagreeing with the Holy Father’s position against the application of capital punishment and the justice of a given war (which in July 2004 obviously included the Iraq War). Ratzinger said:
Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
You also misrepresent Catholic teaching regarding the religious freedom of Christians confronted by abusive political authorities. Astonishingly, you say it is “historically false” to claim, with Prof. George and the MD, “that Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required”. “The source of this claim,” you go on, “lies neither in Scripture nor Tradition”, for the Church “never condoned ‘civil disobedience’”. I find it unbelievable that you can seriously make such assertions. For Scripture and Tradition clearly support the MD’s claim. The Church’s endorsement of civil disobedience dates back to the Apostles’ word and example in Acts 5: 27-29, and is clearly confirmed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no.2242.
Finally, since you also accuse George of attempting in his Washington speech last year to “silence” our bishops in regard to economic issues that are part of Catholic doctrine (that is, issues on which she “can give us an infallibly reliable guide”), I invite you to justify this accusation by quoting for CW readers some relevant magisterial documents teaching that the bishops can and should make pronouncements on those matters which Professor George said they should leave to the laity, namely, detailed policies about progressive tax rates, a higher minimum wage, and the expansion of health care.
It’s always a pleasure to hear from Father Harrison, even when it’s to hear that I have finally gone too far, hit an all-time low by publishing the worst article I’ve ever written, shot the good guys, committed the sin of calumny, etc. etc. One of the benefits of a real letters to the editor column is the ability to come to a better understanding of the issues. Father Harrison provides us with that opportunity when he informs us that Professor George had deliberately excluded Jews as signatories of the Manhattan Declaration:
He told me Orthodox Jewish signatures are absent for the same reason Mormon signatures are absent, even though both groups are generally very supportive of the moral and political values espoused by the MD. For, he said, those who planned the MD project agreed right from the beginning that there was a pressing need for a specifically and avowedly Christian witness, professing that common creedal and New Testament faith in “the one true God, the triune God” which for centuries has been the principal religious foundation of American society and is now under unprecedented attack. Of course, Jews and Mormons (the latter are polytheists) would spontaneously ‘pass’ on any document professing faith in the Christian Trinity, so it was never a question of “excluding” them. However, contrary to your speculation that the absence of Jews may be “a tacit admission that coalitions [with them] are intrinsically unworkable”, George added that, outside the context of the MD itself, he does indeed continue to collaborate, on a basis of amicable and mutual respect, with Mormons and Jews who share the specific socio-political goals of the MD.
This is revealing indeed. In fact, it is much more revealing than my conjectures. Unfortunately, this revelation raises more questions than it answers. How exactly does “professing that common creedal and New Testament faith in ‘the one true God, the triune God’” fit in with the avowedly natural law basis of the Manhattan Declaration? The answer is that it does not. There is no way that unaided human reason can arrive at a conclusion like the Trinity. So if the Manhattan Declaration is based on the New Testament faith, it is ipso facto not something that is based on natural law. Professor George’s explanation of why he excluded Jews from the Manhattan Declaration reminds me of the restricted country clubs of the ‘50s. (Barry Goldwater used to say that because he was half Jewish, he could only play nine holes of golf at restricted clubs.) What we have here are obfuscation and prejudice and a refusal to face up to the real issues. If Professor George has excluded Jews from the MD, he should tell us why openly, and he should also tell us how this fits in with his natural law approach to moral issues.
At this point Professor George needs to make a decision. If his is a faith-based initiative, then it would be more effective if it had a unified Catholic Church behind it, the point I tried to make in my article. If it is not faith-based, but is based on reason alone, then there is no reason to exclude Jews. The fact that Professor George did exclude Jews as signers of the MD shows that he doesn’t really believe what he says about the natural law. Professor George can’t have it both ways. Either he believes what he says about the natural law, in which case he should allow Jews to sign the Manhattan Declaration. Or he has to admit that he deliberately excluded Jews because Jews are not open to Logos or because they are not men of good will or for some other as yet undisclosed reason. Which is it then? Well, both positions are terminally embarrassing and so Professor George tries to finesse the situation by broaching neither.
The net result of this disingenuous equivocation is that one comes away from the Manhattan Declaration feeling that Professor George doesn’t really believe in the natural law he professes. And, in a sense, why should he? If he, a professor at Princeton, could make use of natural reason aided by the supernatural grace accessible to those who belong to the Catholic Church and still couldn’t come to the conclusion that the war in Iraq was morally wrong, what good is human reason, especially unaided human reason? No, it is even clearer now than it was before Father Harrison wrote his letter that the only time Professor George espouses natural law is when it arrives at conclusions congenial to neoconservative think tanks and/or the foundations they control and/or the Republican Party. This is a source of scandal to Catholic philosophy Professors like John Haldane, but Professor George dismisses people like that with callow and contemptuous mockery.
As someone who really believes in the efficacy of human reason to discern right from wrong, let me state categorically that anyone who thinks that the American invasion of Iraq was morally justified is either a fool or a prostitute. The neocon holy trinity of Novak-Weigel-Neuhaus was totally discredited by their support of a clearly unjust war. Professor George, who has now assumed the late Father Neuhaus’s position in the neocon version of the holy trinity, also supported that war. Therefore, unless logic fails me, he is either a fool or a prostitute, but, in any case, not someone whom Catholics (or men of good will) should deem a leader. Moreover, the MD statement with regard to religious liberty is not in line with the de fide teaching of the Council of Trent on the coercive jurisdiction of the Church over the baptized, something mentioned by Thomas Pink and something Father Harrison passes over in silence in his letter.
Father Harrison goes on at great length excoriating me for not confining my attention to the words of the Manhattan Declaration itself, but why should we deliberately ignore the ideological baggage people like Professor George brings with him? Why should we ignore the unhappy history of Republican promises to gullible Catholics on the issue of abortion? Why should we ignore what we know about the Neoconservative movement and its attempt to subvert Catholic teaching on economics? Why should we ignore the role which Catholic politicians like Rick Santorum and Chris Smith and Catholic “thinkers” like all of the people I mentioned in my article have played in deliberately subverting magisterial church teaching on just war principles? Why should I ignore the New York Times article which states that Professor George told the US bishops to suppress the Church’s teaching on economics? Because Father Harrison says so? Sorry, that won’t do.
Father Harrison quite graciously provides a quote from the current pope which supports my position (not Harrison’s) when the pope writes “it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor.” As far as I can tell, when it comes to the Iraq war, this clause applies to Saddam Hussein, not George Bush. Only a fool or someone in the pay of neocon foundations could think that the phrase cited above could justify America’s invasion of Iraq.
As a challenge to my statements on “civil disobedience,” Father Harrison cites paragraph 2242 of the Catholic Catechism, which talks about “refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience,” but we’re talking about two separate things here. If a Catholic hospital were ordered to perform abortions, it would have to refuse. But “civil disobedience” is, as I mentioned, a term which comes from Henry David Thoreau and not Catholic theology, and it refers to organized political movements like the Abolitionist Movement, of which Thoreau and his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson were active participants. It also includes acts like refusal to pay taxes, which landed Thoreau in jail, where he wrote his pamphlet.
What then does Professor George mean by “civil disobedience”? Well, the civil rights movement. He tells us without substantiation that, “Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required.” Then he contextualizes his statement by claiming that, “There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Professor George’s invocation of the civil rights movement as the prime justification for the MD indicates that he sides more with Thoreau than Catholic teaching.
And what’s wrong with that? Well, ask the people who applied the civil rights movement to the abortion issue before Robbie George did, namely, Operation Rescue, and ask them about how that quixotic crusade turned out. Not only did it do nothing to end abortion; it exposed countless idealistic people to legal jeopardy, which in some cases, still hangs over their heads. Bryan Brown, whom I cited in the Obama-Notre Dame article is one of them. What about the girls from Steubenville who got sexually molested in a Pittsburgh jail after their involvement in Operation Rescue and then swindled out of a legal settlement by some crooked, double-agent lawyer? The Catholic Church, unlike Professor George, does not demand unquestioning participation in suicide missions. Nor does it require, as in the case of Father Pavone’s equally quixotic “freedom rides,” obedience to generals who are committed to fighting the last war.
Then there is the issue of economics. In my article I cited the deal that the Jewish neocons offered Dale Vree: Foundation money in exchange for support of 1) aggressive American foreign policy (or should I say, American aggression) and 2) support of free market economics. Is it coincidence that Professor George is proposing the same deal? No, because people like him do not propose the terms of engagement in the culture wars. Powerful political players like the neoconservative think tanks and/or foundations and the Republican Party do that, and either individuals go along with their agenda, in which case they are promoted as Catholic “leaders,” (the late Richard John Neuhaus springs to mind here) or they do not, in which case they are relegated to the realm of “dynamic silence.”
Father Harrison claims that I “accuse George of attempting in his Washington speech last year to ‘silence’ our bishops in regard to economic issues that are part of Catholic doctrine (that is, issues on which she “can give us an infallibly reliable guide”).” Father Harrison is absolutely right. I do level such an accusation in my article and I back it up by citing the New York Times article which substantiates my accusation. So I don’t need to reiterate that here.
But Father Harrison then issues a further challenge: “I invite you to justify this accusation by quoting for CW readers some relevant magisterial documents teaching that the bishops can and should make pronouncements on those matters which Professor George said they should leave to the laity, namely, detailed policies about progressive tax rates, a higher minimum wage, and the expansion of health care.”
Well, let’s begin at the beginning. Does Father Harrison believe that the papal pronouncements on economics beginning with Rerum Novarum and culminating in Caritas in Veritate are part of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church? Yes or no? If no, then Harrison is a dissenter like all of the other neocons. If the answer is yes, then Father Harrison has to agree with my contention that Professor George’s declaration is based on the suppression of truths of the Catholic faith to which we all owe the assent of mind and heart (cf. Lumen Gentium, para. 25).
Now let’s get down to the details. Father Harrison challenges me to “quote relevant documents” about matters like progressive taxes, higher minimum wage, and the expansion of health care, etc. which Professor George and his neocon backers would prefer to leave in the hands of the capitalist power structure. Well, Laborem Exercens (along with Quadragesimo Anno) comes immediately to mind. Both Father Harrison and Professor George ought to read carefully chapter 19, especially paragraphs 89 and 90 in Laborem Exercens. If they have doubts whether the minimum wage is anything other than the minimum just wage they should read paragraph 71 in Quadragesimo Anno. There Pius XI tells us “social justice demands that reforms be introduced without delay which will guarantee every adult workingman just such a wage” (my emphasis). “Every” means every worker, including the youngest adult workers. Therefore, yes, we are talking about the minimum wage.
As to health care, and whether the church has the right to pronounce on it, Professor George and Father Harrison evidently disagree with Pope John Paul II when he writes in paragraph 93 in Laborem Exercens “that as far as possible it should be cheap or even free of charge.” Granted that certain measures and how they are applied may involve prudential judgment, but since both justice and prudence are cardinal virtues, who are we to deny to the highest teaching authority on earth the exercise of their prudential judgment on such important moral issues?
How progressive taxation is applied involves such judgment, but the use of progressive taxation as such is a matter of distributive justice. No matter what Professor George tells the American bishops, economic justice is not an option to be suppressed in the interests of political expedience or the funding requirements of neocon foundations. The pope and the bishops to whom social encyclicals are addressed are expected to speak on such matters.
The fact that the Professor George has asked them not to speak on such matters is reason enough to withhold our approval from the Manhattan Declaration.
Prof. Rupert Ederer: The Real “Duck-billed Platypus”
In the Letters column of the October 2010 issue of Culture Wars, Father Brian Harrison supports “The Manhattan Declaration,” calling for bishops, presumably he means to include the Bishop of Rome, to butt out of “detailed policies about progressive tax rates, higher minimum wages, and the expansion of health care. ” In mentioning these three issues in particular, and proposing that we should leave them to the laity, Princeton Professor Robert George, the author of that manifesto, just happens to present three of the hottest of the hot-button issues where neoconservatives, who speak mainly for capitalist plutocrats, are most sensitive about clerical meddling. And “clerical meddling,” considering the dissent following social encyclicals since the 1960s, ranges up to the level of the papal magisterium. Progressive tax rates imply taxation according to ability which at the practical level generally means income taxes. Higher minimum wages amount to just wages for all adult workers. Universal health care means providing the same kind of care for all citizens--“cheap or even free of charge,”--(as John Paul II put it in his labor encyclical), the way Congressmen and Senators and senior citizens now get their health care in the U. S.
Now as for the laity, their involvement in such matters is a given. Except for a few years during the Great Depression (I think of Father Charles Coughlin, Msgr. John Ryan, and Father, later Bishop, Francis J. Haas), such matters have always been largely the domain of laymen. And starting soon after World War II, the process of undoing social measures adopted during that era proceeded until we ended up in the present Great Recession. Fortunately, some remnants of programs adopted during the Depression--like unemployment insurance and like the federal deposit insurance program--survived, which averted total disaster recently for our banking system and its depositors.
Aside from that brief episode, economics and the economy have been lay “apostolates” from the start. The Physiocrats in the 18th century proposed that correct economic actions stemmed from “laws of nature” installed by “god,” to be sure, but a strange “god” who thereafter showed no further interest in the governance of the world and economic life. The classical economists during the 19th century concurred, and elaborated by “discovering” the “laws” of economics and how they worked. These were, of course, supposed to be like physical natural laws, so that the importance of moral natural laws was soon deemed superfluous. After the impending shipwreck became apparent, and the Marxian revolution shook the resultant degenerate capitalist world to its foundations, the old crew returned back on deck, determined to restore things to where they had been. Governments were banished to night-watchman status, with self-interest (greed), hopefully redeemed in old age by generous philanthropy, providing the driving force. These revivalists were designated variously as neo-classical economists, neo-liberals, and neoconservatives. They include prominently also the so-called Austrian School, featuring especially Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. These were Jewish agnostics, and Hayek in particular had little use for specifically the concept social justice. He considered it a “a devious plot that will lead to fascism.”
The “Austrians” made their mark in the United States after World War II where they opposed the so-called Keynesian revolution by aggressively promoting a return to free market individualism. Catholics were often seduced by the notion that Austrians are presumed to be Catholics. Mises and Hayek (formerly a socialist) had little use for anything related to Catholic social teachings, and their championing of individualism and free markets clash head-on with Catholic social teachings. For Catholic Austrians one must turn to people like the Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. He had planned to introduce what he called the “Quadragesimo Anno state,” but was assassinated by the Nazis in 1934. Also Msgr. Johannes Messner, the great social ethician who is being proposed for beatification, did monumental work in support of Catholic social teachings. These were authentic Austrians, imbued with spirit of papal teachings, as was my former professor Kurt Schuschnigg who succeeded Dollfuss, and who ended up spending seven years in a Nazi concentration camp.
The Anglo economists, who played a major role in shaping liberal or free market economics during the 19th century were mostly of the laity insofar as serious affiliation with any religion or church was concerned. Marx, in Das Kapital, which he wrote in London, then at the center of the capitalist world, indicated mockingly in the Preface: “The English Established Church, e.g., will more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on 1/39th of its income.” He was less inclined to not take the Roman Catholic Church seriously, even though Karl did not live to experience the appearance of Rerum Novarum. Thus he viewed with some alarm the activity of the German Bishop of Mainz, Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler. In 1869, in a letter to Friedrich Engels, his companion, he wrote: “The dogs (clergy) are toying with the labor problem as, for example, the priests (Pfaffen) of the Düsseldorf Congress and Bishop Ketteler in Mainz.”
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that now priests like Father Harrison, along with neoconservatives like Professor George and his Manhattan manifesto join with Karl Marx in expressing alarm when clergy involve themselves in specific social issues. And there is good reason for such alarm. The purpose of the great social encyclicals dating to 1891 is precisely to present teachings for the laity which inevitably finds itself in charge of the economy and the institutions which comprise the social order. The Church would be untrue to its magisterial mission if it did not offer guidance when people seem determined to destroy themselves and especially the poorer and weaker members of society by gross violations specifically of justice and charity–the all-important cardinal and theological virtues. As Pope John Paul II pointed out, its social doctrine “belongs to the field not of ideology, but of theology and particularly of moral theology.” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41). Now the early encyclicals were addressed to the bishops and clergy so that they could pass instructions on to their faithful who in those days were far less educated than more recent generations. It was Blessed John XXIII who in Mater et Magistra (1961) first addressed also, “all Clergy and Faithful of the Catholic World.” And it was that encyclical, the first to be addressed also directly to the laity that begot the famous explicit rejection of Church teaching with the response – “Mater Si; Magistra No” – from the Catholic layman, William Buckley, who was editor of the National Review. His reaction and ideology played a major role in launching the neoconservative rebellion against Catholic social teachings generally by succeeding generations of laity and also some clergy!
In his encyclical Pacem in Terris (1963), Blessed John XXIII expanded his invitation to the laity by addressing it “To All Men of Good Will.” And the great John Paul II made the matter gender-inclusive by addressing his encyclicals “To All Men and Women of Good Will.” My point is, since their beginnings, the social encyclicals were intended for all, specifically the laity who would in any case be faced with translating the teachings into action in the various specific contexts. But it was the Church in the first instance as “the expert in humanity” (JP II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 41) which through its Magisterium had to make known those moral principles. As John Paul II pointed out, its social doctrine “ belongs to the field, not of ideology but of theology and particularly of moral theology”(41, emphasis his). Blessed John XXIII had already affirmed its validity: “What the Catholic Church teaches and declares regarding the social life and relationships of men is beyond question for all time valid” (Mater et Magistra 218). That sounds pretty magisterial to me.
Now Catholics accept that the magisterium of the Catholic Church starts at the top– its papacy–which enjoys special protection from error in both dogmatic and moral teachings (such as neo-liberal think tanks do not); and moral teachings are mainly what its social doctrine involves. This cannot be preempted by the lower level of clergy, let alone the laity. Furthermore, when popes issue encyclicals addressed to the social order, they have available and consult with skilled experts in the respective fields that are involved, e.g., economics, sociology, demography, etc. Normal prudence would require that. The same cannot always be said about certain laymen who routinely criticize papal social teachings, like the neoconservative ones mentioned by Michael Jones in his reply to Father Harrison. For example, the lay theologian, George Weigel, after what must have been a very hasty reading of the Pope Benedict social encyclical Caritas in Veritate, declared that great magisterial work to be a “Duck-billed Platypus.” Nothing I have ever read over a long lifetime of study of papal social teachings ranks at that abysmal level of commentary. Among other things there is evidence of a complete lack of any familiarity with economic reality–which the Pope Benedict encyclical addresses in extensive detail. (See CW, March and May 2010).
Now it is clear that every statement in a social encyclical does not rank at the top level of infallible moral teachings. That is one reason why the encyclicals call for careful reading, i.e., study, not speed-reading, to discern what is specific moral teaching. For example, in Mater et Magistra, there are recurrent instances, like the statement: “As regards taxation, assessment according to ability to pay is fundamental to a just and equitable tax system” (132). With regard to foreign aid by richer nations to poor nations –a favorite bugbear for neoconservatives–we find this teaching: “Now justice and humanity require that these richer countries come to the aid of those in need (161). In discussing the alleged overpopulation problem the same Blessed Pope wrote: “In this connection we strongly affirm that human life is transmitted and propagated through the instrumentality of the family which rests on marriage, one and indissoluble, and so far as Christians are concerned, elevated to the dignity of a sacrament” (193).
Our country is now in more serious economic trouble than at any time since the Great Depression. It is time at least for Catholics, laity and clergy alike, to study in earnest the remarkable body of the now more than century of social teachings by the Catholic Church. Thanks to the great John Paul II, who himself issued a remarkable trilogy of social encyclicals, we now have also the excellent Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It summarizes the teachings also by all previous popes.
May the scandalous carping by Catholics, both lay and clerical, against their Church’s teaching in this important area, along with their preposterous clamor for the revival of what is the real “Duck-billed Platypus”–the free market ideology–which has now once again brought our economy and economies throughout the world to the brink of disaster, soon come to an end.
Father Brian Harrison, O.S., writes from St. Louis, Missouri.
E. Michael Jones, editor of Culture Wars, is writing a book on Capitalism.
Prof. Rupert J. Ederer writes from Clarence, New York.
Culture Wars •