This post won't be for everyone, but from time to time here on Ricochet the papists among us have engaged in some wonderfully spirited and probing conversations. For my fellow Catholics among the Ricochetoise--and for anyone else who may have been following our efforts to work out the practical political implications of Church teaching--I offer this item.
It comes from a friend, Stephen Schmalhofer, a recent graduate of Yale (which will please Rob) who played defensive tackle (which will please nearly everyone else). Stephen writes:
On the website of First Things today, George Weigel reminds us that the "Church's concern for the poor does not imply a 'preferential option' for Big Government."
Catholic social doctrine, as Weigel argues, has always supported a free society populated with intermediating organizations: individuals, partnerships, corporations, trade unions, charities, the Church and churches, private foundations, think tanks, cultural institutions, and academies in coordination with local, state and national governments. For those who argue that adherence to the Church’s social teachings means adherence to the policy preferences of the Democratic Party, a few questions:
These questions strike me as relevant:
Item: How do we justify central bank attempts to keep nominal interest rates below market levels, facilitating a transfer of wealth from savers to borrowers?
Item: Is there a parallel between corporate accounting frauds such as Enron and the government’s unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare? Or overly optimistic investment-return projections for state pension funds?
Item: How do we reconcile the treatment of General Motors’ bondholders in light of the Church’s consistent moral teaching on the binding nature of licit contracts?
To the laity, the Church gives economic life, the sum of those spontaneous and constant attempts to address scarcity, a consequence of the Fall. If the Church were to usurp this role, as John Zmirak has noted, it would “need much more than infallibility; popes would require omniscience.” In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, the ridiculous figure of Rex Mottram imputes just such omniscience to the pontiff:
"Yesterday I asked him whether Our Lord had more than one nature. He said: 'Just as many as you say, Father.' Then again I asked him: 'Supposing the Pope looked up and saw a cloud and said 'It's going to rain', would that be bound to happen?' 'Oh, yes, Father.' 'But supposing it didn't?' He thought a moment and said, "I suppose it would be sort of raining spiritually, only we were too sinful to see it.'"
It might be tempting to end hunger with de fide pronouncements or to improve standards of living with motu proprios. Instead we are rightfully told:
“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.”