Did the Bishops Strike Out in Pawtucket?
CHRIST & NEIGHBOR
Interviewing people on the street is not the most reliable way to get an accurate idea of what people are thinking. But this was the method employed by The New York Times to justify a five-column headline, “In Catholic Pawtucket Few Back Bishops’ Letter on Economy” (Dec. 30, 1984).
Well, let’s be fair. They weren’t all on the street. One was in a coffee shop, a local businessman who said, “I don’t think you can say someone has too much if he’s worked for it. If he’s earned it, well, it’s his to do with as he pleases.”
This reminded me of a fine progressive theologian I knew back in the 1930s who wrote a splendid commentary on Quadragesimo Anno of Pius XI. Splendid, that is, except for one serious error. He wrote that if a man were to light his cigar with a ten-dollar bill, he would be sinning against charity but not against justice. Since the 1930s enough has been done by way of research and study of the Fathers, Thomas Aquinas, etc., so that no respected theologian would today venture such an opinion. Failure to share our superfluous wealth with those in need is generally recognized as a sin against both justice and charity.
Please note, however, that the local Roman Catholic businessman in Pawtucket would not even concede that it was a sin against charity. To him the bishops’ concern with such matters was meddling in politics. “They should only preach religion, not politics to us.” Others in the Times’s survey echoed these opinions.
Retired factory worker: “They have no business sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong.”
Second retired factory worker: “They shouldn’t be telling us what to do with our pay.”
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