A Sky View repost and originally published in the July edition of The Edmund Burke Institute’s Reflection column:
As a note of disclaimer, I am neither a registered Republican or a Democrat. I consider myself an Independent. The former party, in my opinion, has been a great disappointment by departing from the principles it claims to stand for. As for the latter party, from all appearances, they have been unabashed supporters of socialistic principles; if not in theory, certainly in practice. For me, I care little about party affiliation or about being a "team player." Along with the Church, I am concern myself with principles. It is important to keep in mind that the application of principles in terms of policies or programs is a matter of prudential judgment. As such, it is incumbent on every Catholic to follow these principles wherever they may lead.
Catholic social teaching is being misrepresented to advance Big Government.
On May 12, 2011, two Catholic theologians, Dr. Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University and Dr. Vincent Miller, professor at Dayton University, made an appearance on Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor to discuss a letter criticizing the 2012 Republican-supported budget that was led by House Speaker, John Boehner.
Drafted by Mr. Schneck, The Letter from Theologians enjoyed the support of approximately 80 signatories, one of whom was a well-known theologian Fr. Thomas J. Reese from Georgetown University. More than one-third of these signatories were from the liberal Catholic, Catholic University of America. Bill O’Reilly asked Mr. Schneck and Mr. Miller to appear on his show because of the controversy it provoked. The theologians invoked Catholic social doctrine in order to advance the erroneous belief that the Church requires the state, much like Socialism, to be the principal benefactor of the poor and the needy.
But in reality, Catholic social doctrine condemns the theory or national policy of the state assuming the responsibility of our neighbor—a responsibility which should be the burden of private citizens, families and Christian institutions.
Catholic social doctrine is based on subsidiarity, a theory opposed to what is commonly known as “Big Government.” The principle of subsidiarity holds that “nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization.”
In his most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth, 2009), Pope Benedict XVI mentions this principle 12 times, emphasizing its importance. The pope believes the Christian is called to love and help his or her neighbors on an individual level. Pope Paul VI reminds us in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples), that the chief causes of enduring poverty are not material in nature, but lie in failures of the will and “the lack of brotherhood among individuals and peoples.”
But Mr. Schneck believes otherwise. He says [T]hat those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor.” He begins The Letter from Theologians letter by accusing Mr. Boehner, a professed Catholic, of having a voting record at odds with the Catholic Church’s most ancient moral teaching of providing for the poor. Specifically, Mr. Schneck claims that Mr. Boehner’s 2012 budget guts “Maternal and Child Health grants and slash[es] $500 million from the highly successful Women Infants and Children nutrition program.” He also believes the House budget “radically cuts Medicaid and effectively ends Medicare.” Mr. Schneck implies that cutting entitlement programs is tantamount to heresy. He then admonishes Mr. Boehner to give full consideration of the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Mr. Schneck posits that the government ought to give preference to the poor, thereby giving the impression that the Catholic Church favors a welfare state. By listening to Mr. Schneck and Mr. Miller, one would think that the Catholic Church endorsed Obamacare and the stimulus bills that have spiked the national deficit to unprecedented levels. But the Catholic Church has done no such thing. In reality, the commonly held presupposition among Catholics theologians that the state ought to be the principal benefactor of the poor and needy is at odds with Church teaching.
To counter these misrepresentations about the role of government, Bishop Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, spoke to the practical implications of subsidiarity. In August of 2009, during the national debate on healthcare, he said that the sickest and those most in need should get the medical care they need. However, he goes on to say that how this is done is not self-evident. In fact, the decisions that are collectively made by society fall under “prudential judgment.” And in this category of prudential judgment, the Church does not teach that the government should supply healthcare.
As to the proper role of government, the Bishop of Sioux City reiterated the long-standing teaching of the Catholic Church. He said, “The proper role of the government is to regulate the private sector, in order to foster healthy competition and to curtail abuses. Therefore any legislation that undermines the viability of the private sector is suspect.” Many progressive theologians mistakenly criticize the budget cuts that are being called for.
In Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor, 1891), Pope Leo XIII warns about the undue interference of the state in the economy. He believes “that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected.” He notes that giving the surplus of one’s wealth is a “duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity—a duty not enforced by human law.” Hence, it is not the mandate of the state to take from the rich to provide for the poor. Rather, as Pope Leo XIII wisely remarked, it is a duty inspired by Christian charity that beckons individuals in the private sector. This is the principle of subsidiarity at its finest!
In short, the main difference between Christian charity and Socialism is the former inspires us- as individuals -to be generous with the poor while the latter expects others to do it! Indeed, Socialism, courtesy of the government, is a poor subsitution for Christian charity in the private sector.