UPDATE: See my follow-up comments published today: “Fact Check: Why Catholics Who Disagree With Justice & Peace White Papers Aren’t “Cafeteria Catholics.”
You may have seen this story which was headlined earlier today on the Drudge Report:
The Vatican called on Monday for the establishment of a “global public authority” and a “central world bank” to rule over financial institutions that have become outdated and often ineffective in dealing fairly with crises.
A major document from the Vatican’s Justice and Peace department should be music to the ears of the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrators and similar movements around the world who have protested against the economic downturn.
The 18-page document, “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of a Global Public Authority,” was at times very specific, calling, for example, for taxation measures on financial transactions. [CNBC]
In a scenario which will surely strike some as deja vu, the liberal jesuit Fr. Tom Reese previewed the contents of the document last week, in much the same way that the liberal Fr. Charles Curran “previewed” Humanae Vitae for the mainstream media before the document was actually released (the pope overruled Fr. Curran’s claims that the Church would endorse contraception — but the media had already made up its mind and few bothered to actually read what the pope had to say).
Here’s Fr. Reese on MSNBC “explaining” the news:
Notice that Fr. Reese does NOT correct the news anchor that this document comes from a vatican congregation — not the pope! Fr. Reese seems perfectly happy to help the mainstream media fundamentally misunderstand the authority of teaching this document enjoys. He claims that the pope has “more in common with the people at occupy wallstreet” than the tea party, even though he has to immediately walk back that claim when it is pointed out to him how violent (and anti-Catholic!) the Occupy Rome demonstrations were (as I blogged about last week). I think it’s no surprise that Fr. Reese spends so much time talking about the 60’s — that’s still his cultural frame of reference.
Rather than get into the nitty-gritty of the 18-page document (which I may do at a later point), let me focus on the most important point: framing. Here’s how Cardinal Turkson, President of the Congregation for Justice and Peace, and Bishop Toso, the secretary, explained how the document should be received and read (underlining mine):
…It is in this spirit of discernment that the Holy See, with the note of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, wishes to make a contribution which might be useful to the deliberations of the G-20 meeting”.
Bishop Toso explained that the aim of the note is “suggest possible paths to follow, in line with the most recent social Magisterium, for the implementation of financial and monetary policies…”
The Church does not wish to enter into the technical issues behind the current economic crisis, but remains within the ambit of her religious and ethical functions…
I have nothing to immediately add to that, because the very authors of the document make clear how it should be evaluated: namely, as a “contribution” (as opposed to a mandate), as a “possible path” (as opposed to a moral proscription), in line with the Magisterium’s social teaching (as opposed to introducing a new teaching), without getting into the technical issues (because the Church is an expert in humanity, not economics) while fully staying within the Church’s religious and ethical functions.
Liberal Catholic routinely (and in this case) try to read the Church’s social teaching as dogmatic while choosing to view the Church’s moral and religious teaching as optional. In fact, the Church herself is always careful to make clear that her moral and religious teaching is dogmatic and binding while her social teaching –and particularly her economic teaching– is exhortative and prudential.
With those extremely important guidelines in mind, we can more fruitfully read the text.
That said, I am absolutely sure the media cycle for the coming days and weeks will totally miss all these key points and distill this document down to misleading headlines such as “Pope Benedict Endorses Central World Bank.” But as I explain above, he didn’t.
Fr. Reese and his liberal Catholic friends would be better served acting as messengers of the Church’s teaching as opposed to creators of it.
UDATE — Samuel Gregg, an economist, adds helpful commentary:
Despite the Catholic Left’s excited hyperventilating that the document released today by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP) would put the Church “to the left of Nancy Pelosi” on economic issues, more careful reading of “Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary Systems in the Context of Global Public Authority” soon indicates that it reflects rather conventional contemporary economic thinking. Unfortunately, given the uselessness of much present-day economics, that’s not likely to make it especially helpful in thinking through some of our present financial challenges.
Doctrinally speaking, there’s nothing new to be found in this text. As PCJP officials will themselves tell you, it’s not within this curial body’s competence to make doctrinal statements that bind Catholic consciences. Moreover, the notion that an increasingly integrated world economy requires some type of authority able to make decisions about what the Church calls “the universal common good” has long been a staple of Catholic social teaching. Such references to a global world authority have always been accompanied by an emphasis on the idea of subsidiarity, and the present document is no exception to that rule. This principle maintains that any higher level of government should assist lower forms of political authority and civil-society associations “only when” (as this PCJP text states) “individual, social or financial actors are intrinsically deficient in capacity, or cannot manage by themselves to do what is required of them.” [Continue reading…]
Fr. Z also adds his editorial gloss on Gregg’s comments to aid comprehending his points.