There is much talk these days about the relationship between religion and society, between faith and politics, between the church and the world. Within the Catholic church this debate often centers around how one interprets the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Curia, has called, for example, for a kind of new withdrawal from the world, a new fuga mundi. In the book, The Ratzinger Report, in terms that sound much like the Fathers of the Patristic period, he has challenged the Catholic Church to take a stance of opposition over against the modern world. The bishops gathered at Vatican Council II had grappled with that question and come out with a different solution in their document, A Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. In paragraphs 40-45 of that document a more nuanced vision of the way in which the earthly city and the heavenly city compenetrate each other is given. There it is stated that the church, acting through her individual members and her whole community, believes she can contribute greatly toward making our world and our history more human. In positive terms, then, that document states the following:
With great respect, therefore, this council regards all the true, good and just elements inherent in the very wide variety of institutions which the human race has established for itself and constantly continues to establish. This council affirms, moreover, that the Church is willing to assist and promote all these institutions to the extent that such a service depends on her and can be associated with her mission.
This relationship, moreover, is seen as a two-way street in which the church profits much from the world and is enriched by human social life and development.
The second half of that conciliar document deals with several specific subjects. Chapter three is devoted entirely to economic and social life. That chapter ends with the following admonition: “Christians who take an active part in present-day socio-economic development and fight for justice and charity should be convinced that they can make a great contribution to the prosperity of humankind and to the peace of the world.” This document, promulgated in 1965, remains the source of so much that is in the economic pastoral letter and is the theological backdrop for it.
Perhaps no other sentence in that document clarifies the perspectives of the economic pastoral letter more succinctly than this one: “Pursuing the saving purpose which is proper to her, the Church does not only communicate divine life over to human beings but in some way casts the reflected light of that life over the entire earth, most of all by its healing and elevating impact on the dignity of the person, by the way in which it strengthens the seams of human society and imbues the everyday activity of people with a deeper meaning and importance.” As one can see, those aspects of life that touch on the dignity of the person and the quality of human life are also of importance to the faith. For us in the U.S. the separation of church and state, thus, cannot be interpreted to mean that there is a separation of economic issues from religious issues, but, rather, that we must have a concern for all those socio-economic issues that touch the quality of human life. We have expressed this by saying that we are concerned by what an economic system does to people and for people and how it permits people to participate in it. In a pluralistic society we are indeed interested in how these issues are discussed in the public forum and want to contribute our reflections based on our particular faith tradition.
The sources for our teaching are twofold: the Bible and Catholic social teaching. Before the Second Vatican Council one could have begun a document such as the economic pastoral letter without much reference to Sacred Scripture. Today that would be impossible, since our people have become more and more a biblical people. The change of the liturgy to the vernacular has made Catholics more acquainted with Scripture, our priests preach more and more on the basis of scriptural texts, our theologians base their reflections on scriptural sources. Moreover, we find for this topic of economic arrangements much inspiration in the Hebrew scriptures. Perhaps no other document from the Catholic church in recent memory has been inspired so much by the Old Testament tradition.
Our second source is Catholic social teaching. The paragraphs mentioned in the document of Vatican Council II on The Church in the Modern World that dealt with economic life did not come out of nowhere, but represent the thinking of a consistent body of teaching that goes back to the last century. Pope Leo XIII was the first to wrestle with the relationship between the Catholic tradition and the new industrial age. Much of the social teaching of the Middle Ages had been lost or seemed irrelevant in the light of subsequent socio-economic conditions. But the plight of the worker during the 19th century and the rise of statism and collectivism forced Leo to reflect on the rights of workers and the need to say something about those rights in relationship to the state and society. Starting, thus, in 1891 — a bit late it is true — there has been in the Catholic Church a tradition of reflecting on socio-economic issues. Much of that tradition was not based on Scripture but on natural law philosophies. Our present pope and his two immediate predecessors, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, have spoken and written much out of that tradition. Paragraphs such as those I quoted from the Second Vatican Council would have been impossible without that body of teaching. We see our own economic pastoral letter as coming out of that tradition, of being true to it, but of moving further in analyzing it and bringing it into sharper focus. We have complemented this tradition with a more biblical source, but we have also appreciated the depth of the philosophical thought that is inherent in it. Especially in our dialogue with the ecumenical community, we have appreciated how helpful it has been to use the truths of philosophy and science in passing from a scriptural vision to present-day phenomena.
Our methodology has been to write the letter, as it were, in public. We began with a long series of hearings in an attempt to grapple with the topic in a realistic way and in order to hear from all sectors of society and from all points of view. In the light of that knowledge we tried to formulate from Sacred Scripture and from Catholic social teaching those visions and truths that would help us. We were seeking for guidance on how economic decision-making and the moral values we hold intersect. We made no attempt to repeat the whole of Catholic social teaching but enunciated only those ideas and principles that affected the theme assigned us. These principles we attempted to lay out in order. In this section the debate on the first draft centered more on the ethical norms than on the biblical vision and we were, thus, able to clarify them in the second draft. Since this is the “centerpiece” of the document, we hope to continue our reflections before the third draft is completed. For most readers it is the most difficult section, but it remains the key for understanding the whole letter.
Our process has also been highly ecumenical. In selecting presenters at the closed hearings, we were interested in obtaining the best expert in the area of concern without regard to faith affiliation. We also held special hearings arranged for us by the non-Catholic and Jewish communities. We felt that it was imperative to obtain this ecumenical input before the writing of the first draft because of the valuable contribution we say this to be.
In the middle of our work on the first draft there rose a controversy about the teaching authority of a conference of bishops. It is not the role of our committee to solve such an ecclesiological problem. We count on a certain level of sophistication on the part of our readers to differentiate among the levels of material we are dealing with. Thus, we write:
Throughout this letter, when we treat the fundamentals of Christian faith, Church teaching, and basic moral principles, we are proposing norms which should inform the consciences of the members of our Church. When we make recommendations about specific decisions or policies in the economic sphere, we recognize that prudential judgments are involved. These depend on the accuracy of our facts and on our assessment of them. Although we believe these judgments are correct and will stand up to public scrutiny, we acknowledge that differing conclusions are possible even among those who share the same moral objectives. From Catholics and from others we expect and welcome debate on these more specific conclusions.
It would be impossible to take each statement in such a lengthy letter and try to assess its authoritative value. We are aware of the fact that there is often a gap between the intent willed and the outcome in reality. Social theorists must deal with this phenomenon constantly. The more rapidly an economy is changing, the more difficult it is to harness it and to control its effects. Thus, a gap can exist between principle and policy. Often, too, the vision proposed seems to be “utopian,” in that it demands the striving for the alleviation of all evils or inadequacies. The reality often means a certain compromise because of the inability of a society to do all things at once. Thus, one could hold that certain principles can only be put into full operation after other matters have been taken care of. The problem of the deficit is such an issue. On the other hand, to have no vision and no goals, or to resign oneself to the status quo without positive steps to arrive at the ends desired is in itself morally untenable. In our pluralistic society a compromise in implementation does not imply always a compromise in principle.
After this first section on preliminary subjects, so that the economic pastoral letter can be put into its proper perspective, I would like to comment on the contents of the letter as an aid to reading it more easily.
Since most Americans are accustomed to inductive reasoning processes, they found the first draft to be too deductive — that is, too concerned with principles to be applied. We decided in the second draft to present the material in a slightly different fashion in order to lay out the questions in a more inductive fashion before going on to principles. The first chapter attempts to show the average reader the importance of the subject of relating economic decision- making with the daily task of society and living in society. Not all the questions raised in this chapter could be treated later in the letter, but it attempts to be a survey of the situation of the domestic and international economic scene and the positive and negative effects that system is producing on this world. It is necessarily too short and must presuppose that the reader has some acquaintance with the questions raised. Perhaps our first revelation as a committee was that the general population does not possess such knowledge and that there is an urgent need for more general understanding of the economic picture of the world. The fact, however, that this letter raised such an enormous discussion in all circles of our population shows that there is a genuine interest in trying to grapple with these issues in an intelligent and systematic fashion. There is also a felt need not only to understand what is happening but also to bring to this arena a sense of direction and an understanding of the values projected.
In the introduction we have emphasized as the new moment or the special sign of our times the interdependency of nations in the economic sphere. Nations have always traded and relied on one another, but the way in which the nations of the world are tied together economically at this moment of history has no precedent. It has caused the failure of older methods of economic analysis to function as before; it has occasioned the rethinking of so many of the time-honored principles that have previously worked. It will continue to vex the theoreticians. We know that we write our letter at this crucial moment when the reality of a world economy is forming. It is a good time to reflect, thus, on what is happening and what the future of the globe might look like.
We know that it is also an important moment because of the constant tension between East and West and the economic consequences of this tension for the whole world. From the feedback we have received from Third World nations we have come to realize the importance of this controversy for them in their search for resolutions to economic problems. We sense a need to present values to our economic system that go beyond the profit motive, that are in accord with religious belief, and that respond to the desires and yearnings of so many on this globe. We see our document as a contribution to that attempt and it has been so recognized as such by many in the Third World. This ideological struggle is real to the Catholic Church and within the Catholic Church and we find ourselves in the middle of it because of historical events. We are forced as members of this nation, seen — as it is — as the leader and example of capitalism, to examine the values of our society and to articulate how they resonate with our Catholic faith. Our failure to do so at this moment would be an omission that could have grave consequences. I hope that our letter will continue to bring us as a church closer to the people of the Third World, so that we can see better the relationships between our economies and can also articulate the concerns not only of our own citizens but also of the citizens of other countries affected by our economy. The feedback from the first draft, I repeat, has made us aware of the enormity of the task but also of its timeliness.
One should not seek in the Bible practical solutions to complex socio-economic problems of today. But the Bible does have something to say about how people should relate to one another. It has something to say about the value of people and the importance of life and how life should be lived. Our document reflects on the Genesis story, for example, to search out the place of the human person in the act of creation. From the account it is clear that the sacred writer sees the human person as the peak of creation, that the human person is made to the image and likeness of God, and is given a kind of control over creation. Such a dignity we affirm precedes race or national boundaries. Here the biblical vision coincides with the philosophical assertions that the dignity of the person is manifest in the ability that humans have to reason and understand, which forms the basis of their freedom to shape their lives and the life of their communities.
We all are aware, however, that this human dignity must be lived out in communion with others in society. That primary social concept is exemplified in the history of the Jewish people of old. God made a covenant with them as his people. He outlined for them how they were to live in relationship one to another in fulfillment of that covenant. The message of Jesus takes those concepts further toward that universalism that is inherent in them. Love and solidarity extend beyond national borders:.(e.g., the story of the good Samaritan) to all. We state,’4Aus: “The commandment to love God with all one’s heart and to love one’s neighbor as oneself are the heart and soul of Christian morality.” Within that concept of solidarity with others lies also the duties and rights of each member of society. We speak then of the requirements of justice in community and the duties and obligations of the members. Within that section on justice we present the traditional Catholic social teaching on distributive justice and the need to be concerned about those whose basic material needs are not met. The term that has become classic now in contemporary literature is the “preferential option for the poor.” Perhaps one should just say: “the clear choice to come to the aid of the poor.” The biblical vision stressed in its own way this concept. As a part of the covenant between God and his people was prescribed a special care for those without political right and power: the widows, the orphans, and the aliens or strangers in the land. If there is any revolutionary aspect of Christ’s teaching, it is clearly in his attitude toward the poor. In the Sermon on the Mount, when he told the poor that every hair on their heads was numbered because of their worth in the eyes of their heavenly Father, he was again emphasizing this dignity of each person and the special role each has in society.
Within the same context we reiterate the teaching of recent popes on the question of economic rights. If one has a right to life, one has a right to all that is needed to sustain life. This concept will require continued discussion on our part but may well become with time even more important than it now seems to be. The whole of society guarantees these rights. As we move toward more automation, as our job market changes in the types of people needed for the jobs created, we may find this concept of even more value in determining a just society. Neo-Malthusianism is not foreign to our day. We are saying that all have a right to contribute to the common good and we, thus, make the fulfillment of the basic needs of the poor the highest priority of any society.
These concepts of solidarity and the way in which human dignity is lived out in society have led to a further concept in Catholic social teaching that is called subsidiarity. It is a concept that is meant to place limits on the role of government. Father John Pawlikowski, O.S. M., describes it this way:
The principle holds that it is a serious violation of just social order to allow larger political entities to absorb functions that smaller and lower communities can ably carry out. Subsidiarity assigns to the state the responsibility of assisting in the empowerment of smaller groups. The state must not attempt to destroy these groups nor interfere with their operations. (Justice in the Marketplace, U.S. Catholic Conference, 1985.)
There seem to be no biblical roots for this concept, but it rose out of the theological and political need to guarantee freedom to institutional pluralism, initiative, and creativity. It does not deny the need for global structures to correspond to the dynamics of our present economy nor does it state that the government that governs least governs best. It simply tries to protect freedom and to delineate roles in such a way as to safeguard that freedom.
We have complemented this section on ethical norms with a section on the economic actors needed in any society. Here we deal with workers and labor unions, owners and managers, citizens and government. Pope John Paul II has caused a rethinking in this area with his encyclical, On Work, from 1981. He takes workers or labor in an inclusive sense to embrace also management. His now famous dictum of “labor over capital” is simply a reminder that the economy is meant for people and they are to be its controllers and subject, not to be its object and to be manipulated by it. In that encyclical he also restated the position of Catholic social teaching on private property or ownership by again defending the right to private ownership but insisting that it is not an absolute or unconditioned right. He places the common good above this right and calls it the value that regulates it. Some feel that this section is not challenging enough. It does sound a bit theoretical, since it deals primarily with principles that tend to be abstract. Some also wished that we had emphasized more the distinct vocation of the laity here and spelled out more clearly the consequences of these principles on the lives of each person. That would have taken a full book. Perhaps in subsequent writings we can make this section more challenging and more practical.
The vision of this whole biblical and ethical section can be summarized by paragraph 46:
Every human person is created as an image of God, and the denial of dignity to a person is a blot On this image. Creation is a gift to all men and women, not to be appropriated for the benefit of a few; its beauty is an object of joy and reverence. The same God who came to the aid of an oppressed people and formed them into a covenant community continues to hear the cries of the oppressed and to create communities which are to hear his word. God’s love and life are present when people can live in a community of faith and hope. These cardinal points of the faith of Israel also furnish the religious context for understanding the saving action of God in the life and teaching of Jesus.
Many bishops had asked the committee to clarify where our document stands concerning systemic economic issues, that is, how we view capitalism, as such. It was not a request for a theoretical analysis of capitalism, but, rather, a statement of position. We do this before chapter three of the second draft as an introduction to the policy section. It is clear that our document is one of a “mixed” economy, one that is not afraid of alterations in the unfettered free-market system to obtain the greatest benefit of all. It is not a “third way” or a specific new economic system; that is not our purpose. We feel it has been in the very best U.S. tradition to continue to search for an ever-more-just economy.
Many bishops also asked us to be careful in this section of policy application lest we become too specific. It would have to be admitted that the hardest task before our committee was the degree of specificity with which the body of bishops would be at ease. It seems that the second draft is within the range that they desire.
One question that arose constantly in the feedback was the role of government in dealing with specific issues. Here the replies from all sectors of society seemed to respond to concerns according to party affiliation. We were aware of the fact that the role of government in Catholic social teaching is a more positive one than that currently in vogue around the nation. There is no hint of the forms of libertarian philosophy that one finds on the rise today in Catholic social teaching. I suppose this strain has been a part of capitalism since the days of mercantilism, but it is not found in the concepts on government that characterized medieval philosophy and became a part of classic Catholic theory. We tried to point out this more positive role of government in our first section, but there remains a need for a fuller treatment. In an article entitled, “John Courtney Murray and the Pastoral Letters” (America, Nov. 30, 1985), John A. Rohr argues that the economic pastoral would not be acceptable to John Courtney Murray if he were alive because it does not take government seriously. He would have begun, the author states, with the nature of government and reasoned from there. Our document does take government seriously — more seriously than we feel many of the respondents do — but we did not want to do a treatise on the role of government in order to do one on the economy. Nevertheless, many questions are left unanswered and will require further thought on our part.
From an economic point of view serious questions are also raised by the economic phenomenon we see today: that is, the U.S. must compete against many nations that sustain their economies in different ways than our own, that also subsidize and plan in ways that we do not support, and that carry on experiments for national businesses to give them a world edge. These, questions more rightly belong to the economists to debate, but they presuppose a position on how government and business should relate. I look forward to continued discussion on the role of government.
When the committee had completed the theoretical section, it debated long on the need to enter into policy suggestions and if so how to do it. After much thought it was felt necessary to enter into this type of reasoning so that the theory would not end in mid-air, but become the source for policy seeking. Then the discussion centered on what themes to pick for these policy demonstrations. We finally settled on five out of a possible twenty-six that were suggested by committee members. In the second draft the number is four: employment, poverty, agriculture, and Third World trade and aid. These four do not make a complete economic or moral analysis; they are but a beginning and must be seen as such.
Our presentations of employment and poverty overlap and have engendered much discussion in the nation. Perhaps the most trenchant criticism was that the solutions proposed seemed but to repeat the already discarded programs of the war against poverty or the programs of “The Great Society.” Many political elements are mixed into this economic criticism, but I feel that the months of debate have been helpful. Almost all today recognize that poverty is still very real among us and that the rate of unemployment — very much related to the poverty question — has not dropped to a sufficient level. There is perhaps a certain frustration. Many are aware of the problem but do not feel that much can be done about it. It is certainly true that just throwing money at it — as some describe The Great Society programs — is no answer. It is not at all proven to our satisfaction that the welfare programs of The Great Society are the cause of the present intractable situation. The number of people who go in and out of poverty, who want to work, is too large for such a facile solution.
We do feel that positive solutions are open to us today. In addition to the creation of new jobs to reduce the unemployment rate (we feel that a collaborative effort in this respect between government and the private sector would be helpful), we see other positive signs from programs tried and from new ones now suggested. We know that these will be costly, that they will be best put into practice with as much subsidiarity as possible and with as little bureaucracy as needed. Naturally, we are most concerned about strengthening our educational system. One can talk much about incentives, but the most effective incentives come with quality education. Education is also the source of the skills needed for jobs today. Many other questions require not so much economic solutions of themselves but solutions where both the economic and the psychological aspects are carefully analyzed to bring some clarity to the problems. Recent articles and experiments show hope in those areas. I might add that I feel religion is and should he one of the prime forces in giving to people a sense of dignity and worth and in helping them also to see their role and duties in society. Perhaps the challenge to religion in this area is only now becoming evident.
The agriculture section has been especially difficult. An immediate crisis is at hand and we have a mind-set about such problems that go back to Jefferson and the founding of the nation. It has been most difficult to seek solutions to the current problems and at the same time to take a long-term look at the whole question of food supply around the globe. More radical solutions will have to be devised in the future, but I am not sure that we have the political will to face them. I regret in this study that economists did not follow through on some of the research of early capitalist theorists who dealt specifically with natural resources and land as special in an economic system because they are fundamental for the subsistence of people. They present special problems that cannot be so easily resolved. We raise some of these issues but do not go into them in depth. Perhaps those who cry for a more limited government involvement should also clarify where they stand on the phenomenon of the large tracts of land and resources that are government owned. Catholic social teaching grew out of the industrial revolution and has always had an urb–1 imprint. It, too, needs a more profound analysis of these questions. In some respects one could say that the agriculture chapter of the document is still far from finished. It will remain the subject of much debate for years to come.
The separate section on the United States and the world economy is too short for such a complicated subject and it has received the least amount of feedback. That is unfortunate, as it is a key chapter and one that means much for the future. Because of the signs of the times and the economic interdependency mentioned in the first chapter, this discussion is important to the whole edifice. The small feedback probably represents the lack of knowledge on the part of most Americans in this complicated subject. To many, the terms used and the international institutions mentioned were all foreign concepts. The only consistent criticism that we received from the Third World — and this criticism came primarily from American missionaries abroad — was that we were too lenient in describing the effects of multinationals on Third World life and financial crises. Many wanted us to take a specific stand condemning multinationals, but we felt that this was not in order. A history of the behavior of multinationals would have to be accompanied by a history of the behavior of the host nations and many elements in them, as well. This did not seem to be a profitable course for us to pursue.
We are aware, however, that here and in other places of our document we seem to be naive about the extent of power that accompanies such large economic institutions. The relationship between power and money is one that we did not avoid, but it is true that we failed to give it the significance it deserves. Many of the members of the committee would have liked to have seen this section much larger and more detailed, but as a beginning it seems to be adequate. Perhaps the hearings we have had with Third World economists and the feedback from the second draft will help us formulate this section in a more cogent way. Perhaps, too, with time our people will become more acquainted with this whole area and be more inclined to respond to the ideas presented. It is one thing to talk about a global economy; it is another thing to realize all the ramifications of that concept.
In all of these questions several themes recurred among the respondents. The first deal with the family. There was a general concern that we did not treat sufficiently of the effects of our economic system on the family. I will admit that it is so difficult to be clear on what is cause and what is effect in this area. The large numbers of women entering the workforce in recent years is connected with this issue, but it is not easy to state without error what this fact means in terms of the family and family life. It is easier to treat the phenomenon of so many single-parent households due to divorce or the lack of a father. Even here there are deeper sociological causes than just the economic system that are at work, and one would not want to be simplistic in giving solutions nor be moralistic in denouncing trends that might have other causes at their roots.
Many want also more analysis of the effects of the military buildup on the economy. On this subject we have inserted much more in the second draft than in the first but have shied away from a full treatment. Although we have examined some of the studies done on the possible conversion from military to a full capitalist use of money and although we have explicitly stated that we feel that a reduction in military spending is called for so that the social programs which we see as absolutely necessary today can be carried out, we do not treat at great length the whole military question and the economy. I doubt that our third draft will be able to do much more than the second has done in this regard. We have been explicit about the sale of arms and have deplored the fact that so many Third World nations spend so much to obtain arms when vital human needs are not being fulfilled. These questions become then political and are not solved by economic means alone.
Some have found our treatment insufficient in terms of economic trade-offs needed to take care of the social problems of today. Some very urgent contemporary questions were not treated, such as the deficit, and which require solution before any of the other questions we raised can be treated. In response I would have to say we do not consider these as either/or situations, but it is true that a new listing of priorities would have to be effected to find solutions to problems we consider more urgent. Much of the economic material we gathered in this area we felt should not be placed in our document, as it would be too specific for a moral treatise coming from the mouths of bishops who are not professional economists. We also had to admit that the present state of economic analysis would mean the presentation of many theories, not all as yet very conclusive. In some respects we took the easier road of stating objectives to be aimed at rather than specific solutions. We are hoping that this kind of discussion will continue among professional economists and are happy to see that our document is indeed stimulating such research.
It is true that we at first tried to examine the whole question of planning and the economy. This proved to be a word that caused so much confusion that we have only briefly referred to it. Instead, we see the future as presenting a broader challenge of new forms of collaboration and cooperation that are only now in their incipient stage. At first these forms look innocent enough and are already being tried in the U.S. and elsewhere. A closer look at this section, chapter four, shows that more is at stake. People are becoming more and more aware that there is a shift of political power taking place because of the strength and importance of large corporate economic undertakings. People are noticing that with these new international and multinational firms goes also much power that can only be called political. It is also becoming more evident that people want more control over the economic decisions that affect their life even though it does not involve such large international holdings. At first we used the term “economic democracy,” but then felt that such a term already carried with it a certain amount of intellectual baggage and was best avoided. The concept, however, remains. Pope John Paul II in the encyclical On Work enlarged the concept of participation in the workplace to include more democratic participation by workers in economic decisions that affect their lives. Paragraph 285 sums up our reasons for writing this chapter:
The nation’s founders took daring steps to create structures of mutual accountability and widely distributed power to ensure that the political system would support the rights and freedoms of all. We believe that similar institutional steps are needed today to expand the sharing of economic power and to relate the economic system more accountably to the common good. Since there. is no single innovation that will solve all problems, we recommend careful experimentation with several possibilities that hold considerable hope for increasing partnership and strengthening mutual responsibility for economic justice.
Again, I might mention that perhaps this chapter, little discussed in the press and little commented on by individual respondents, might contain within it much that will indicate future trends and prove to be more prophetic than perhaps even the authors foresee.
We look forward now to digesting the feedback on this second draft and to redoing the document one more time. The final vote on that third and final draft will take place among the bishops next November. Although it will be a final draft of this letter, it will not mean an end to the fascinating and important search for ways and means of making our economy and the world economy more equitable and more just. In so many ways we feel we are only at the beginning of reflecting on how our faith and the values that flow from it intersect with the economic realities we live under. That kind of reflection, I hope, will never end.