Fr. Schall on “Laudato Si”


SchallEighty-seven years old, Rev. James Schall, S.J. is one of the most respected Catholic scholars in the nation. A philosopher, theologian, and political theorist, Fr. Schall, the author of dozens of books, served as a professor of government at Georgetown University for 35 years before retiring to a Jesuit home here in California in 2012. (If you’d like a thrilling intellectual experience, go to YouTube, then, in the search bar, type “Fr. Schall’s final lecture at Georgetown.”)

Fr. Schall has just published a long article on Laudato Si, the encyclical on the environment that Pope Francis published earlier this summer. Fr. Schall’s analysis is respectful, erudite, intellectually humble — and devastating.


In the Pope’s view, the poverty of modern times, not its relief, is due mainly to uncontrolled capitalism….

The fact is that modern centuries have seen a gradual but increasingly effective alleviation of poverty as one society after another learned the hard way or the easy way what it takes to produce and distribute wealth. In the past several decades, the amount of poverty in the world has been rapidly reduced by what can only fairly be called capitalist presuppositions or imitations of them. We look for a means whereby new ideas can come into the economy. We must recognize that the real source of wealth is the human mind and creativity… The free market systems under laws and prudence, where they are allowed to exist, are the best and probably only way to aid the majority of the poor.

But the Pope evidently does not see this connection….While acknowledging subsidiarity, Francis seems to prefer a state-engineered solution, a take-care-of-the-poor solution rather than an expanding economy solution. Actually, the whole of this encyclical seems to be telling us not to be wealthy; it is morally dangerous. The purpose of an economy is not to create wealth but to teach us how to live frugally and in very moderate ways. The Holy Father has much practical advice about turning down the heat, wearing jackets, drinking less water, and taking public transportation. He is leery of a society of abundance, which also has its problems….

If we confiscate all the world’s wealth tomorrow morning and distribute it equitably to everyone on earth, two things would result: 1) everyone would become poor; 2) within a short time, large portions of the goods distributed would end up on the hands of those who knew how to acquire, barter, and use them. If we mistake the real ways of making everyone “not poor,” we risk spreading poverty, not alleviating it….

We find little in Laudato Si’ that would indicate awareness that government is itself a major factor in causing and extending world poverty. It is not just a matter of corruption or bureaucracy, though that too is a serious problem. My point is not that the Pope does not have his own worthy opinions. But what, in fact, has been working for the purpose of poverty alleviation is not really discussed….

[T]he goal of ecological vision is posed in terms of creating a world that takes into consideration future generations. The consumption of goods must include future usage. We might note that no generation previous to ours ever seemed to worry about this issue. Usually, population control theses are posed in the light of estimates about available resources in relation to projected population sizes. What seems to happen is that when previous future generations come about, they will have figured out some way to survive and even prosper. That is, human intelligence and skill are active elements in nature.

The question here is how do we know how many ages are left for us to plan for? And is there not reason to believe that a larger, rather than smaller, population will be the incentive to learn how to deal with human needs? We simply do not know how many generations there will be, what technology will be available to them, or even whether there will be a future generation. We know not the day or the hour. What we do know is that the earth, plus human intelligence on it, is adequate to provide for the human race as it is….We simply do not know how to calculate what future generations down the ages will need so that we can reasonably restrict our development now accordingly. It is incoherent to think that we can.

A wise, holy and learned man — and, like Pope Francis himself, a Jesuit — Fr. Schall could have taken no pleasure in writing this. But there you have it.

Laudato Si, incoherent.

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  1. user_1100855 Member

    Peter Robinson:

    Paddy Siochain:Peter, the Vatican’s Minister for the Economy has his own take:

    Muchisimas gracias, Paddy, which is close to Latin as I can come. You’re turning into Ricochet’s very own ambassador plenipotentiary to the Holy See. Now, let us all light candles for Card. Pell this weekend….

    Thanks a million for the compliments Peter, but this exceptionally lousy Irish Catholic wouldn’t dream of going near the Vatican yet… I’m lucky in that my reading circles are very widespread Ireland, UK, America…

    If anyone knows whats going on in the church Peter – its Spectators Damian Thompson. He is  a superb writer, tho God help you if you get on his bad side.

    • #31
  2. Pseudodionysius Inactive

    But your comment is cryptic and incomprehensible to me – what is it that I should take out of this 600+ page tome to understand the “problems” in the document and address authored by Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI? Pope Benedict XVI was a man who accorded primacy to the truth in his pontificate

    Neither Pope was immune to the intellectual fog that descended after the council. And Amerio’s two books demonstrate that to devastating effect by examining the errors underlying every document and pontificate since the council. The pre and post conciliar understandings of Catholic Social Doctrine are radically different.

    • #32
  3. Pseudodionysius Inactive

    His first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, was written to restore truth to love, seemingly in accord with the thought of Amerio

    Magister soft pedals Amerio’s book.

    • #33
  4. Pseudodionysius Inactive

    Romano Amerio, Italian by nationality, is a man of broad and classical erudition, who taught philosophy, Greek and Latin at the Academy of Lugano, Switzerland (his birthplace) from 1928 to 1970. He was an episcopal consultant to the Central Preparatory Commission of Vatican II and was a peritus for the Bishop of Lugano during the Council. In his own life, he has remained true to his principles. During the Fascist period in Italy he paid the price for refusing to take the Fascist oath at university. He was a friend of the late Cardinal Siri of Genoa and now lives in retirement in northern Italy.

    Amerio covers almost all the whole range of modem Catholic life and doctrine in 42 chapters, considering in detail amongst others: Vatican II, the priesthood, catechetics, religious orders, ecumenism, faith, morality, Catholic culture, the liturgy and eschatology. What makes Amerio’s analysis unique is that he restricts himself to official and semi-official pronouncements by popes, cardinals, bishops, episcopal conferences and articles in L’Osservatore Romano, from the time of Pope John XXIII to 1985 when the book was originally written.

    Each of the book’s 334 sections is a succinct essay in which the author quotes current ideas and events, cites the perennial principles relevant to the subject, and applies them to distinguish development from mutations. Amerio has the great gift of going to the heart of a subject in a few lines and very neatly distinguishes genuine Catholicism from imitations and aberrations.

    • #34
  5. user_3444 Coolidge

    Paddy Siochain:Peter, the Vatican’s Minister for the Economy has his own take:

    According to this article Cardinal Pell “challenged” Pope Francis by saying:

    “The Church has got no mandate from the Lord to pronounce on scientific matters.”

    In that one sentence, Cardinal Pell puts his finger on what is wrong with Laudato Si‘, Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment. In that document, Francis waded into an argument about climate change and took sides. Moreover, he gave the impression that he was speaking for all Catholics when he did so; and, if by any chance he wasn’t, errant faithful should fall into line.

    Ok, but Francis wrote pretty much the same thing in Laudato Si:

    188. There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus. Here I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.

    So I think you could just as easily say Pell was explaining or clarifying what Francis wrote — though that wouldn’t grab as much attention as a headline saying he “challenges” the pope.

    • #35
  6. user_536506 Member

    Pseudodionysius: Neither Pope was immune to the intellectual fog that descended after the council. And Amerio’s two books demonstrate that to devastating effect by examining the errors underlying every document and pontificate since the council. The pre and post conciliar understandings of Catholic Social Doctrine are radically different.

    By “neither Pope” I assume you are referring to John Paul II and Benedict XVI? Papal errors that had devastating effect go all the way back to Peter. Tearing down is easy, building up is hard. The good, true, and beautiful that JP2 and B16 gave to the world and the Church far exceeds any errors they made.

    It doesn’t seem that you interpret V2 with a hermeneutic of continuity, but maybe I’m wrong on that assumption. Do you have anything good to say about the post-conciliar Church?

    • #36
  7. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller

    Father Barron had this to say:

    • #37
  8. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller

    My response:

    An extra step in logic is necessary. Yes, we are morally obligated to serve the poor with our wealth and possessions. But that obligation can only be morally fulfilled by voluntary giving.

    The Holy Spirit’s gift of charity can only be realized through participation of the will. Government redistributive programs do not meet this criterium.

    Even with the support of a democratic majority, the property of many is taken without consent. The property is redistributed to so many ends that every taxpayer objects to some of them (Planned Parenthood, for example), because we disagree on what needs exist and how to address them. And such large-scale programs inevitably reduce the poor to mere statistics, rather than individual souls with personalities and complex circumstances.

    Contrary to popular myth, the alternative to heavy taxation and forced redistribution is not to heartlessly ignore the hungry, the homeless, the sick, and the lost. Do you believe all of your ancestors before 20th-century social programs were callous monsters? Of course not. Before state and federal government programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, families and neighbors and fellow professionals took care of each other in equally formal but less political ways.

    Who knows better the needs of the poor? Distant politicians and bureaucrats… or neighbors and relatives? Local communities and family bonds are the keys to uplifting the poor. Government can secure only the most rudimentary justice. The heavy lifting is left for face-to-face encounters.

    • #38
  9. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller

    Put another way…

    The Church calls on Christians to tithe. That tithe is devoted not just to the day-to-day needs of clergy, but also to the necessary charitable work that is part of the Church’s mission.

    Whether a Christian pays the tithe or not, he is welcomed at Mass. He is welcomed to receive the holy body of Christ, if he approaches with a penitent heart.

    But the Church has another tithe, and this tithe is not voluntary. It is the tithe of secular social programs which the bishops and priests advocate. “Government should help the poor!” they say, so government takes money by force to redistribute however politicians please… in an ever-growing variety of ways.

    God’s gift of free will is so important, so central to our earthly existence, that God permits horrifying evils and terrible destitution to plague every generation of humanity, rather than force us to do His will like beasts of instinct. If God is willing to endure such evils rather than violate free will to resolve them, why do we not do the same?

    If a man’s body is fed and sheltered but his soul is oppressed, we have not loved him. If we steal from the rich to give to the poor, we have hurt all involved.

    • #39
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