Volume > Issue > On the Bishops’ Draft Pastoral on the Economy & the Hostile Reactions to It

On the Bishops’ Draft Pastoral on the Economy & the Hostile Reactions to It


By Kenneth D. Whitehead | September 1985
Kenneth D. Whitehead is a veteran writer, editor, and translator. He is the co-author of The Pope, the Council, and the Mass, and the author of Agenda for the Sexual Revolution. He has translated an even dozen books from French or Italian, and has also worked as a senior editor on both The Macmillan Concise Dictionary of World History and The World Almanac Book of Dates. His Basic Data on the Economy of Libya was published by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Some nine months have passed since the U.S. Roman Catholic bishops issued the first draft of their pastoral letter on the U.S. economy. Much of the response to the draft has been mired down in secular political partisanship, and as such, we risk losing perspective on the whole point of the pastor­al. At this time, it is good to get our bearings straight, for the bishops are now on the brink of re­leasing their second draft to the public. If we fail to understand the logic of the first draft, we will find it extremely difficult to grasp the significance of the second draft, and then the final product.

What does the first draft look like? The basic point of departure is the Church’s teaching about the fundamental dignity possessed by each and ev­ery human being. The bishops believe that the economy was made for man and not man for the economy. They cite Pope John Paul II’s 1981 en­cyclical, Laborem Exercens, on the “principle of the priority of labor over capital.”

After a review of the Bible’s teaching on the purpose of God’s creation of the human race, on social justice, and on the temptations engendered by wealth (about which Christ himself delivered such dramatic warnings), they arrive at the “pref­erential option for the poor” as their fundamental criterion for judging economic policies. This phrase has been employed by Pope John Paul II, and Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI both employed al­most identical expressions.

Pursuing a fundamental approach based on this option for the poor, the bishops declare that “all persons have rights in the economic sphere and that society has a moral obligation to ensure that no one among us is hungry, homeless, unemployed or otherwise denied what is necessary to live with dignity.” They believe that the time has come for an experiment in economic democracy to match our political democracy.

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