Fact Check: Why Catholics Who Disagree With Justice & Peace White Papers Aren’t “Cafeteria Catholics”

UPDATE 2: A Round-Up of Excellent Comments On The Justice & Peace White Paper.

24 hours have passed since the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace released its note (i.e., “White Paper”) on finance and development.

I find that’s about how much time it takes to get a good snapshot of where general opinion is on a given news story, so now it’s time to take stock over what we have learned from Day One.

First of all, many liberal Catholics are complaining that orthodox Catholics have sought to “downplay” the level of teaching represented in this document and have “refused” (they claim) to actually engage with what the text says. In other words, they’re trying to claim orthodox Catholics are “cafeteria Catholics” for simply explaining and following the distinction the Church herself makes about her various levels of teaching.

And news flash: the official English translation of the document has not yet even been made available on the Vatican website! Plus the link that originally contained a provisional translation on the Vatican radio website has since been taken down. (An unofficial translation has now surfaced on www.News.va).

I, and my orthodox Catholic friends — and the Catholic press — do not enjoy the luxury apparently afforded Fr. Tom Reese who, as I noted yesterday, had advance access to the document. I know from my experience with embargoed texts that you are not supposed to leak the contents of the document in advance, and yet for some strange reason I don’t see liberal Catholics complaining that Fr. Reese got the scoop days (if not weeks) before the rest of us.

Once again, orthodox Catholics and the Catholic press who care seriously about accurately presenting the authentic teachings of the Church were scooped by a liberal Catholic voice who, with advance warning and talking points prepared, got in front of the mainstream media to confuse millions of people about the Church’s message before the rest of us had even had a chance to see the text. That’s the headline story about Day One.

With all that in mind, it should therefore come as no surprise that the first reaction of many orthodox Catholics was to simply set the record straight and say what we can know before even reading the text: namely, that the Pope and the Vatican do not introduce new teaching binding for Catholics around the globe through a note published through a curial council aimed in particular for the attendees of a United Nations General Assembly which won’t take place for weeks!

It’s extraordinary how many self-professed Catholic and reporters on things Catholic don’t get this point, while simultaneously lecturing the rest of us about what it means to be Catholic. It makes me wonder if they actually understand their own argument.

Here’s what I mean.

Evaluating the level of authority of papal documents is not a game of comparing words that can be found (or will soon be found) on the Vatican’s website with other words that can be found on the Vatican’s website. It’s to fundamentally comprehend how the Church teaches. Furthermore, it strikes me as a deep hypocrisy for liberal Catholics to complain that orthodox Catholics are being “selective” when we don’t accept prudential comments on tangential things such as economics issued by a second-tier curial department, when liberals regularly refuse to accept authoritative teachings on the fundamental right to life, on the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, let alone the Church’s whole doctrinal system.

Is that the debate they really want to have — fidelity to the Church’s most basic teachings?

I’ll make this simpler: for any liberal Catholic who claims orthodox Catholics are being “cafeteria Catholics” on questions of economics, they should pledge publicly that they fully, 100% support the Church’s teaching on life, marriage and contraception right now.

Then we’ll talk. If not, we simply don’t share the same basic commitments to being fully Catholic.

I look forward to reading this document eventually, around my many other daily obligations. But I know that reading it won’t revise what I said above about how the Church teaches. And if liberal Catholics seriously want to invite orthodox Catholics to read it fairly, they can begin by not falsely claiming that it is on the same level as actual authoritative Church teaching.

In the meantime, I’ll conclude with a section of Nicholas Hahn’s critique of the document:

“…a question that must be asked is: does [the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace] a king? [It] has, in effect, suggested the creation of a near god-like emperor to rule the world’s financial and monetary systems.

This king would be entrusted with “universal jurisdiction” over the world’s economy. It would, because the International Monetary Fund has supposedly “lost an essential element for stabilizing world finance,” facilitate the creation of a “central world bank” responsible for “global monetary management.”

The king would have authority to tax transactions made by firms like Goldman Sachs. Revenues from such taxation would be deposited into a “world reserve fund,” a fantasy collection basket of sorts, aimed at supporting economies most affected by financial crises.

And if that wasn’t enough, the king would also be directed to bailout banks (“recapitalization with public funds”) subject to wildly ambiguous “virtuous behaviors.” As if the guarantee of a bailout would somehow ensure a stable market.

Ultimately, the king calls on States to look beyond Hobbes’ “state of nature” which would trap people “in a never-ending struggle with one another.” Evidently, this new global authority is the “only horizon compatible with the new realities of our time and the needs of humankind.”

People of good will know better. There is brighter horizon. One of self-government and free markets. One that has lifted more people out of poverty than any other. One that has empowered the disenfranchised and most vulnerable. Indeed, one that has some measure of Truth, albeit imperfect.

The Council concludes its document with a reference to the Tower of Babel “where selfishness and divisions endure.” Yet, the real towers of Babel these days are precisely the kind of bureaucratic authorities the Council seeks to proliferate.

As I said, I look forward to reading it.



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  • brian Martin

    In regard to Martial Artist..”It is demonstrably provable that the Holy Father has no special expertise about economics”
    1. Can you demonstrably prove that no one involved in the writing of said document has economic expertise? Since we know that this was not written by the Holy Father?
    2. To follow your logic, it is demonstrably provable that the Holy Father Has no special expertise in Marriage or raising Children either…but that does not mean that he does not have the ability speak and teach about the subject from the standpoint of Catholic Belief.

    As far as economists go, I have little trust for theories that from what I can see, go out the window in the face of realities of human behavior.
    Find me an economist that does not ultimately see things through the lens of profit at the expense of people, and view people (workers) as economic commodities, and perhaps i’ll be interested.
    As it is, I see little economic justice anywhere…in practice or in theory.

  • brian Martin

    (for any liberal Catholic who claims orthodox Catholics are being “cafeteria Catholics” on questions of economics, they should pledge publicly that they fully, 100% support the Church’s teaching on life, marriage and contraception right now.)
    1. I’m not sure if I would term the tone, as Arrogant, Condescending, or simply Snarky….What you seem to be suggesting, is that any “Liberal Catholic” ie. anyone who suggests that anyone who takes seriously the Social and economic justice teaching of the Church must not take seriously issues of life, marriage and contraception. I’m tired of arrogant commentators and bloggers from both sides of the spectrum who blather on about who is and isn’t legitimately “Catholic”. I would suggest that when it comes to looking at Church commentary and teaching on matters of economics, a vast number of those who identify as “Orthodox Catholics” seem to look at things not through the lens of the Church as a Universal Church speaking of justice and moral and ethical behavior to the world, but rather through the lens of the American economic system.

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    Thomas ~ Quick note here. I’ve only had time to read this once and, being an important document I want to give it more study and thought before I comment. At the same time AP/CV and other Catholic blogs have consumed thousands of more gallons of ink than the paper itself did. Yes, this is not the Pope speaking in ex cathedra, however we all know that’s not how things work. Whether Fr. got an advance copy etc. etc. is a tertiary issue. Again, this is an important document. It needs to be read, discussed and debated thoughtfully and soberly ~ Greg

  • Martial Artist


    You write: “I … don’t believe in setting aside Church documents wholesale because they disagree with my political preconceptions.”

    First and foremost, this is not about political preconceptions, it is about economic understanding. Second, it is demonstrably the case that the Holy Father has no special expertise about economics, nor is it a subject on which he would deign to speak with any guarantee of infallibility.

    Given the lack of such assurance, prudential judgments are involved. If it can be demonstrated that a central bank (whether national, international or global) operating solely with fiat currency and controlling the interest rates (and thereby the money supply) is the source of the problem rather than its solution, then it would morally behoove any Catholic interested in protecting the poor (or anyone else, for that matter) from imposed privation to oppose the establishment of such an institution. The case has been made very persuasively by any number of economists (Hoppe, Mises, Hayek, Rothbard to cite but four), and has been tacitly admitted by Krugman and Greenspan, the latter of whom thinks the distortion of the market caused by interest rate manipulation can be controlled by “regulation.”

    In the absence of infallible teaching to the contrary, it would be to violate one’s own conscience to support, let alone advocate, the continuation of central banking in a market place now essentially devoid of non-fiat currencies. You might wish to read a bit about economics, for which I would suggest Thomas E. Woods, Jr.’s book The Church and the Market. If one is going to discuss economic issues, then not only ought one’s conscience be properly formed, but so ought one’s understanding of economics.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer



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