Pope Benedict XVI and Wealth Redistribution?

So sayeth the Huffington Post, ergo it must be true…

Noting a “rising sense of frustration” at the worldwide economic recession, Pope Benedict XVI said that a more just and peaceful world requires “adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth.”

The message laments that “some currents of modern culture, built upon rationalist and individualist economic principles, have cut off the concept of justice from its transcendent roots, detaching it from charity and solidarity.”

Authentic education, Benedict writes, teaches the proper use of freedom with “respect for oneself and others, including those whose way of being and living differs greatly from one’s own.”

Fun with excerpts?  Of course, Catholic News Service picked up a much different tone coming from the Holy Father:

He asked parents and teachers to be more attentive to the hopes and fears of young people today and to their search for true values, and he asked governments to put more resources into education and job creation.

And the pope asked young people themselves to take their schooling seriously and to be open to the example and knowledge their elders have to share.

He asked them “to be patient and persevering in seeking justice and peace, in cultivating the taste for what is just and true, even when it involves sacrifice and swimming against the tide.”

Well that’s a bit more balanced… but neither really captured the essence of what was a truly excellent and appropriate message to leaders in Rome for this week’s World Day of Peace 2012.

The message is worth printing out and carrying with you to lunch this week.  Pope Benedict XVI — in fact, many arms of the Vatican — are generating some excellent, hard-hitting content.  Sadly, most of this has to run through a filter… the media.

Let me give you a quick sample:

Where does true education in peace and justice take place? First of all, in the family, since parents are the first educators. The family is the primary cell of society; “it is in the family that children learn the human and Christian values which enable them to have a constructive and peaceful coexistence. It is in the family that they learn solidarity between the generations, respect for rules, forgiveness and how   to welcome others.”  The family is the first school in which we are trained in justice and peace.

We are living in a world where families, and life itself, are constantly threatened and not infrequently fragmented. Working conditions which are often incompatible with family responsibilities, worries about the future, the frenetic pace of life, the need to move frequently to ensure an adequate livelihood, to say nothing of mere survival – all this makes it hard to ensure that children receive one of the most precious of treasures: the presence of their parents. This presence makes it possible to share more deeply in the journey of life and thus to pass on experiences and convictions gained with the passing of the years, experiences and convictions which can only be communicated by spending time together. I would urge parents not to grow disheartened! May they encourage children by the example of their lives to put their hope before all else in God, the one source of authentic justice and peace.

That’s stuff right out of Rerum Novarum — the papal encyclical establishing Catholic norms on social justice — and worthy of being compared to Pope Leo XIII’s exposition on the ends of a just society.  I’m sure the language on family can’t please most observers (the Huffington Post editors most of all), but it remains a salient fact that what separates Catholic social justice from the namby-pamby variety peddled by the socialist left in America is precisely this — an emphasis on family.

For those counting, this also offers a bit of insight as to why the Catholic Church hesitates on just about every other issue of import (abortion, environment, living wage legislation, even health care) but will lead with its chin on family.

And why is this so important?  Because families are where good consciences are formed:

I would also like to address a word to those in charge of educational institutions: with a great sense of responsibility may they ensure that the dignity of each person is always respected and appreciated. Let them be concerned that every young person be able to discover his or her own vocation and helped to develop his or her God-given gifts. May they reassure families that their children can receive an education that does not conflict with their consciences and their religious principles.

Every educational setting can be a place of openness to the transcendent and to others; a place of dialogue, cohesiveness and attentive listening, where young people feel appreciated for their personal abilities and inner riches, and can learn to esteem their brothers and sisters. May young people be taught to savour the joy which comes from the daily exercise of charity and compassion towards others and from taking an active part in the building of a more humane and fraternal society.

I ask political leaders to offer concrete assistance to families and educational institutions in the exercise of their right and duty to educate. Adequate support should never be lacking to parents in their task. Let them ensure that no one is ever denied access to education and that families are able freely to choose the educational structures they consider most suitable for their children. Let them be committed to reuniting families separated by the need to earn a living. Let them give young people a transparent image of politics as a genuine service to the good of all.

Did the Pope just endorse home schooling?  Why yes… I believe he did.

You can see the argument being laid brick by brick by the Holy Father: family, formation, vocation, education, polity, and finally social justice.  Skip just one, and the entire thread separates.

Oh — you didn’t get this in the Huffington Post article?  Of course you didn’t… that’s not what they wanted to stress.  They’d rather stress that even the POPE! supports a program of socialist wealth redistributions, the rest is just blah blah blah… which is why Benedict is quick to point out their role too (something the HuffPo writers must have missed as they were furiously editing their pre-programmed stories):

I cannot fail also to appeal to the world of the media to offer its own contribution to education. In today’s society the mass media have a particular role: they not only inform but also form the minds of their audiences, and so they can make a significant contribution to the education of young people. It is important never to forget that the connection between education and communication is extremely close: education takes place through communication, which influences, for better or worse, the formation of the person.

Interestingly enough, Pope Beneidct XVI never uses the term “socialism” to describe his position.  For those familiar with the German economy and the experience of Poland in the 1980s, you’ll note a very different phrase: solidarism.

In this world of ours, in which, despite the profession of good intentions, the value of the person, of human dignity and human rights is seriously threatened by the widespread tendency to have recourse exclusively to the criteria of utility, profit and material possessions, it is important not to detach the concept of justice from its transcendent roots. Justice, indeed, is not simply a human convention, since what is just is ultimately determined not by positive law, but by the profound identity of the human being. It is the integral vision of man that saves us from falling into a contractual conception of justice and enables us to locate justice within the horizon of solidarity and love.

We cannot ignore the fact that some currents of modern culture, built upon rationalist and individualist economic principles, have cut off the concept of justice from its transcendent roots, detaching it from charity and solidarity: “The ‘earthly city’ is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion. Charity always manifests God’s love in human relationships as well, it gives theological and salvific value to all commitment for justice in the world”.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt5:6). They shall be satisfied because they hunger and thirst for right relations with God, with themselves, with their brothers and sisters, and with the whole of creation.

Solidarism — sometimes derisively called “social Catholicism” — is the name given to the works of Fr. Heinrich Pesch S.J. which are sometimes summarized as the Summa Economica — a 10-volume marriage between Catholic social teaching and Thomistic scholasticism.  His works have only recently been translated into English, but summaries are available and recent experience has verified their timelessness.  The Polish Solidarity movement that broke the back of Eastern European communism?  Now you know why they used the term.  Germany’s Christian Democrats in the 1950s rebuilt the West German economy on such principles, ones that have weathered the recent Great Recession in grand style.

Solidarity has a lot more to do with just hanging in together, nor is it a baptized form of socialism.  It is an understanding and a realization that labor and capital depend upon one another, that individual accomplishment should not be sacrificed to the collective, and that such individuals must pass on their accomplishments and opportunities to future generations.  In other words, leave the world better than we found it.

Here we get to the rock of the Huffington Post article, because it is the only time in the entire message the word “redistribution” is even mentioned (guess they failed to tell folks that, eh?) in the message, and it’s remarkable from a couple of perspectives:

“Peace is not merely the absence of war, and it is not limited to maintaining a balance of powers between adversaries. Peace cannot be attained on earth without safeguarding the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and the assiduous practice of fraternity.”  We Christians believe that Christ is our true peace: in him, by his Cross, God has reconciled the world to himself and has broken down the walls of division that separated us from one another (cf. Eph 2:14-18); in him, there is but one family, reconciled in love.

Peace, however, is not merely a gift to be received: it is also a task to be undertaken. In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:9).

 How’s this for awesome?

  1. “Peace is not merely the absence of war” — guess what Pope Benedict is quoting?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Not an unsubtle message to those turning Pope John Paul II’s legacy and turning into a condemnation of Catholic just war doctrine, eh?
  2. Peace, and by extension social justice, is not an end.  It is a means that must be lived in union with faith.  Ouch… so much for orthopraxy without orthodoxy.
  3. “(A)dequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth” — like, I dunno, the free market perhaps?

This distinction in #1 is critically important, because otherwise one totally misses the point of what Pope Benedict XVI is trying to say.  “Redistribution of wealth” is not an end.  It is a means — a byproduct of a just society.  Nor is it an indictment of the free market system… or even a recommendation that the current system need be replaced by a competing idea (socialism, for instance).

Rather, in the light of all that was said before, socialism has been utterly rejected by the Holy Father.  What is instead being suggested are two items: (1) Social justice is a symptom of a just culture that includes a respect for family — and above all, life — and (2) ideologies that promise social justice as ends are to be assiduously questioned and rejected.

Moreover — and this is what I sincerely appreciate — is that the task of establishing Catholic social justice is not one for the bishops or even for the Church to accomplish.  Rather, this responsibility lies with the laity to accomplish.  The Church can only point the way… if it seed remains in the pews, it will never accomplish itself.  We have to go forward and set good examples — and create the conditions so that others may set good examples — if the means of peace are to be achieved.

This truly was a fantastic message to the world’s youth.  Unfortunately, the media completely missed the point… and pearls that would otherwise be considered wisdom were tossed before less worthy creatures.

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