Did Novak Intimidate the Bishops?

March 1987By John C. Cort

About as close to unanimity as human nature can be expected to get, the U.S. Catholic bishops voted 225 to 9 for a pastoral letter on the U.S. economy that I believe is on the whole magnificent.

In the May 1986 NOR I expressed some criticisms of the second draft, which is not too different from the fourth and final version. These criticisms center on (1) the failure to say right out that when unemployment rises above, say, 4 percent, the government must be the employer of last resort and those of us who can afford it must pay the taxes to make that possible, and (2) the bishops' ambiguity and apparent confusion on the question of "economic democracy" as a "third way" between capitalism and communism, a third way that has repeatedly been endorsed, not simply by Catholic scholars and laymen, but by popes and bishops, singly and in conference or synod assembled.

As a matter of fact, the bishops' committee that wrote the pastoral included the phrase in its first draft, in this splendid pair of sentences:
In order to create a new kind of political democracy [the founders of our nation] were compelled to develop ways of thinking and political institutions which had never existed before.... We believe the time has come for a similar experiment in economic democracy: the creation of an order that guarantees the minimum conditions of human dignity in the economic sphere for every person. [emphasis added]
Somewhere between the first and second rafts the phrase "economic democracy" disappeared, although the same idea is expressed in a later section in both the second and final versions where the bishops put their seal of approval on "a new experiment in bringing democratic ideals to economic life" (298).

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