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Comments on the First Draft of “Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy”


By Dale Vree | March 1985

Recent issues of the New Oxford Review have paid considerable attention to the ques­tion of economic ethics, partly in anticipation of the first draft of the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops’ pastoral “Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy,” released last November.

Inasmuch as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) has decried the fact that “in North America…wealth is the measure of everything,” it is not surprising that the draft has met with some bitter hostility. But for bishops, of course, wealth cannot be the measure of everything; to the contrary, wealth is measured by the Scriptures and the Catholic tradition.

Nevertheless, the bishops have stated that they welcome constructive criticism of the draft, and so it is only appropriate, here, that this com­mentary on the first draft include what are (I am hopeful) some constructive criticisms.

The foundation of the draft consists of cer­tain principles of the Catholic tradition, stretching from the Bible to the social encyclicals to the most recent statements of Pope John Paul II. One such principle is the preferential option for the poor, which the bishops say poses the following chal­lenges:

First, it imposes a prophetic mandate to speak for those who have no one to speak for them, to be a defender of the defenseless who, in biblical terms, are the poor. It also demands a compassion­ate vision (Lk. 10:33) which enables the church to see things from the side of the poor, to assess lifestyle as well as social institutions and policies in terms of their impact on the poor. Finally and most radically, it calls for an emptying of self, both individually and corporately, that allows the church to experience the pow­er of God in the midst of poverty and powerlessness. Indeed, the option for the poor is the social and ecclesiological

This is rather intimidating, but we should not be surprised because following Christ “demands suf­fering and renunciation,” say the bishops, no less in regard to social morality than in regard to sexual morality. But the bishops encourage us by remind­ing us that “the emptying of the cross is followed by the empowerment of the resurrection.”

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