Playing Both Sides of the Street on Catholic Social Teaching

The Washington Post’s Dana Millbank is just a little too happy over the Catholic bishops’ rebuke of Rep. Paul Ryan’s economic proposals:

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody this month, Ryan, the author of the House Republican budget endorsed by Mitt Romney, said his program was crafted “using my Catholic faith” as inspiration. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was not about to bless that claim.

A week after Ryan’s boast, the bishops sent letters to Congress saying that the Ryan budget, passed by the House, “fails to meet” the moral criteria of the Church, namely its view that any budget should help “the least of these” as the Christian Bible requires: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless. “A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons,” the bishops wrote.

I think that anyone’s glee over a conservative Republican being at odds with the RCC on economic issues is premature.  For me, the key factor in leaving the Roman Catholic Church for good was, this notwithstanding, its two-faced handing of social justice issues.

Once again I go back to a 2007 post where I lay this out:

Back in the early 1980′s, I was involved in a Catholic Charismatic prayer group.  We were under a great deal of pressure, some of which was of our own making and some of which came from a Church which didn’t really care much for what we were doing.  It was also the days of “if you want peace, work for justice,” the nuclear freeze, and other left-wing emphases which tended to deflect hierarchy and faithful alike from their relationship with God.

A major turning point for me took place on day when, while discussing things with one of our prayer group leaders, she mentioned that, because of the high tuition, she could not afford to send her eight children to Catholic school.  So they went to public school.

That revelation was the beginning of the end of me as a Roman Catholic.  I concluded that any church that was too bourgeois and self-satisfied not to subsidise its own needful children to attend the schools it wanted them to attend was too bourgeois to be an advocate for social justice.  So I took my leave on a course that’s best encapsulated in The Preferential Option of the Poor.

Now, a quarter of a century later, the Aussies are starting to realise that this is a problem in Australian Catholic schools: a preferential option for the wealthy?

The only hitch is that they’re looking at government funding for the schools.  And government funding brings government control, which will in the long run forces the schools to teach things the Church cannot support.  But at least the problem is recognised.

Hopefully someone on this side of the Pacific will tackle this problem as well.

There are two other things that need note.

The first is that the Catholic Church’s happy endorsement of state aid for the economically disadvantaged is a little naive.  The state does this as a patronage move, to keep the masses happy and prevent rebellion.  The Church’s attempt to baptise this with moral wonderfulness does no credit to the institution which has been watching this since the days of “bread and circuses” in Rome.

The second is that any institution the size and economic scope of the Roman Catholic Church will sooner or later get its hands dirty economically.  This is especially interesting to note for an institution that has always regarded businesspeople as basically morally defective, something that Rep. Ryan needs to keep in mind as he spars with his bishops.

One Reply to “Playing Both Sides of the Street on Catholic Social Teaching”

  1. Catholic education, without teachers from religious orders, is becoming limited to the upper middle class or upper class. That said, most of the remaining schools run in the red, requiring half or two thirds of their budgets to come directly from their sponsoring parishes. The Chesterton Academy is thriving on a low cost educational model of rented unwanted space, low technology classical curriculum, and intense fundraising. The sisters who gave up teaching to work for social justice did so in part because the no longer felt called to teach the children of middle class families.


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