Newsweek: New York’s Homeless Say Pope’s Visit Won’t Help

Not all of my thoughts come into this blog. Here is an article in Newsweek in which I expressed a few of my thoughts. New York’s Homeless Say Pope’s Visit Won’t Help by Victoria Bekiempis.

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While New Yorkers are heralding the arrival of Pope Francis, whom many believe has fought inequality far more than any other modern pope, the pontiff’s visit here has generated mixed reactions among the city’s homeless.

Economic Policy Absolutely Has a Moral Quality

“I would strongly urge Sen. Rubio to go back and reread ‘The Sermon on the Mount,’” de Blasio said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “Clearly, the core of Catholic teachings and Christian teachings talks about the economic realities that people face, and has for thousands of years.”“I’m surprised Mr. Rubio doesn’t understand that,” he added. (The Hill)

Bill DeBlasio Pope Francis Marc RubioMayor DiBlasio was responding, of course, to Senator Marco Rubio’s assertion that while, as Catholics, we must listen to the Pope in matters of faith and morals, but are free to disregard the pope in matters of politics and economics. DiBlasio cited scripture as proof, in Christian thinking, of the moral quality of economics and concern for the poor. Bill BiBlasio is right and I applaud his swift response!

Marco Rubio is absolutely wrong to assert that economics does not have a moral dimension and, so, is immune from the Magisterium of the Church; but it is not an original argument, as if Rubio were capable of one. The notion that economics is amoral was pushed in the early 2000’s by the Heritage Foundation and by certain right-leaning Catholic theologians as a push-back against social-justice oriented Catholics. Their aim was to give cover to the Republicans and Conservatives in the political debate; primarily, it was aimed at protecting George W. Bush in the midst of a reelection campaign.

One particular theologian wrote an article that was published in First Things at the time [I currently don’t have the name of the theologian or the article. My internet is limited at the moment. When I get more internet access, I’ll research to find the article. If someone else finds it first, let me know]. The theologian argued that economic policy was not a moral policy subject to the teaching authority of the Church, but a matter of prudential judgement. His argument was a theological sleight-of-hand.

In Catholic teaching, there are differing degrees of assent a Catholic has to make to assertions of faith and morals by the Church’s magisterium (teaching authority). Prudential judgement refers to a matter over which a person with an informed intellect and conscience is free, absent the magisterium’s interference, to choose the best course of action. But those judgments are not morally neutral, which is why an emphasis is placed on prudence. The Church emphasizes that such a judgment is made by a person with an informed intellect AND an informed conscience, because the course of action has to aim at a moral good or justice. When a judgment or course of action achieves an injustice, the judgment is either not very prudent at all, or the judgment, itself, has a morally negative quality. We have a responsibility, then, to assess the moral outcome of economic policy and the judgment behind the policy.

That is why Pope Francis is doing, as did Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI did before him. Social justice-oriented Catholics were doing just this during the 2004 Presidential campaign season, and they were citing both the assertions of Saint John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger at the time in doing so. Social justice-oriented Catholics citing the teaching authority of the Church in challenging American economic policy, at the time, is what moved Heritage Foundation and right-leaning Catholics to bend themselves into a pretzel to argue away the moral quality of economic policy. That is what Senator Marco Rubio (not to mention Senator Paul Ryan and other right-leaning Catholic politicians) build on when they challenge the Pope’s authority to make moral assertions about economic policy.

The heat is turned up at the moment and it will be interesting to see how things unfold. Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both challenged the justice of American economic policy; but the tone of their assertions emphasized a questioning of the prudence of  American economic policy. Saint John Paul II was satisfied reminding them of the just aim of economic policy. Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that the economy was supposed to serve the human person and society, not the other way around; again encouraging people to consider whether American economic policy is prudent and achieving the desired aim.

Pope Francis in tone, on the other hand, seems to be challenging the moral quality of American economic polity – the judgment – itself. In his encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis pointed out that free market, trickle-down economics has proven not to achieve the end it claimed to achieve. So the economic policy has already been established as imprudent. But Francis went on in his encyclical to argue the unjust imbalance in the effects of America’s free market economic policy; that some are profiting and hoarding at the direct expense of others. The assertion, then, is not just that policy makers made the wrong, i.e. imprudent, economic policy choices; but that the economic policy choices were aimed at unjust ends.

I can see, then, why those on the right are up-in-arms over Pope Francis’ encyclical and why they’re very intent on keeping control of their economic narrative in the wake of Pope Francis coming to the United States. I think, though, it is very important that those of us who are social justice-oriented need to join Pope Francis and work so much harder to wrestle control of that narrative away from them.

Lookout! Worry About Pope Francis Address Congress. Worry!

Everyone’s predicting that the Republicans are going to get an earful when Pope Francis addresses Congress in September. I’m predicting it too, of course. But I also predict the Republicans are not the only ones who are going to get an earful. That was my immediate reaction when I saw the exchange between Black Lives Matter protesters and two of the Democratic presidential candidates at the Netroots conference (http://time.com/3963692/bernie-sanders-martin-omalley-black-lives-matter/).
Martin O’Malley seemed not to have been paying attention to the Black Lives Matter debate when he responded, “All lives matter.” We’ll just leave that to: he’s out of touch. More telling to me was Bernie Sanders’ response. When Black Lives Matter demonstrators challenged Bernie Sanders, Sanders got testy. He asserted his history of having engaged in activism for the black community, but attempted to shut down the messaging of the demonstrators. Sanders by effectively trying to dismiss the concerns of the demonstrators in the exchange seemed very arrogant.
I don’t think Sanders was being arrogant, though. Sanders has a very strong ideological politico-economic position. As far back as his days in college, Sanders believes that racial inequaltiy is a fruit, not a cause, of economic inequality; if you stay faithful to the social-democrat paradigm, you can uproot economic inequality, and, by doing so, uproot racial inequality. Sanders has argued that line for a very long time.
I have heard that same argument in scores of other places; most notably, at the Left Forum (http://www.leftforum.org/). I’ve attended that forum twice, and found it very annoying both times. Here you have a forum attended pretty much exclusively by left-wing activists; myself among them. Yet, somehow, you still have an incredible amount of inflamed infighting among those who attend the forum; folks challenging each other over who’s the true progressive. Evan the socialists who attend the forum fight with each other over whos the true socialist. Then you have those who are committed to very specific agendas arguing that others participating in the forum are not true progressives because others do not feel as strongly about their particular position or do not embrace the ideological paradigm behind their position. So, at times, the Left Forum breaks down into infighting between those whose primary concerns are economic justice vs racial justice vs lgbt justice vs disabled justice vs environmental justice vs animal-rights justice. It breaks down between between what progressive vision is more pure or what socialist vision is more pure. It gets really crazy. The root of the Left Forum’s breakdown rests in many people being more focused on ideological purity than they are about people.
That’s the same breakdown that occurred at the Netroots conference when Black Lives Matter demonstrators confronted the Democrat primary candidates. Which agenda is the more authentic agenda: economic justice or black-rights justice? Sanders’ response seemed arrogant, but it illustrates he’s more ideologically focused than people focused: a bad trait for a politician. That trait also won’t move the general electorate to get behind him.
Here’s why I think the Republicans are not the only ones who are going to get an earful from Pope Francis when he addresses Congress. Catholic social doctrine does not play in the world of politico-economic ideologies; in fact Catholic social doctrines holds that ideologies get in the way.. Catholic social doctrine addresses the matter of the proper relations between people and between a person and society. Yes, economic justice, racial justice and other questions of justice are involved in the question of Catholic social doctrine; and, as Pope Francis has emphasized in his latest encyclical, “Laudato Si,” so is the question of ecological justice. But Catholic social doctrine does not embrace particlular politico-economic ideologies. Moreover, as Pope Francis insists, embracing ideologies objectifies human persons.
So, here is my prediction. The Republican politicians and their supporters should be shaking in their boots in anticipation of addressing Congress. But Bernie Sanders and his supporters should be concerned too. [Sidenote: I think the likelihood of Sanders hearing and chaning course is greater than the likelihood of Republican politicians doing so. They’re motivated by different things.]