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  1. Dan permalink
    September 19, 2011 11:37 pm

    In addition to your point, I question the accuracy of that statement. Bishops are administrators, and there are strong parallels between their jobs and those of a business owner. Staff need to get paid, parishes and dioceses need to pay bills. Cash flow is always a concern. Last time I checked, most cardinals have been bishops. Not to even mention the relationship they have with large benefactors, who are also businessmen and businesswomen…

  2. September 20, 2011 7:43 am

    I’d leave a comment, but my head is exploding… Seriously, thanks for posting this. I can now safely rethink when and how to safely reject papal teaching. Let’s see, (WARNING! Sarcasm alert!) – I think that means that I can say, “if the Pope possessed practical experience as a woman…” No. That just won’t do, will it?

    What is he thinking?

    If we want to elect business leaders as president, why not hope for one as pope too?

    (thwack – sound of my palm hitting my forehead!)

  3. brettsalkeld permalink*
    September 20, 2011 8:19 am

    Here’s is Don’s response to the challenge I offered over at TAC. I think it speaks for itself:

    “And I’m sorry Don, but the bit about how the Pope is not to be trusted on matters where he does not have practical experience is an argument I’ve seen before in places like the National Catholic Reporter. Only they weren’t talking about money.” (Brett)

    Because the National Catholic Reporter and other heterodox Catholics have little problem with contraception, abortion and homosexual conduct, sins universally condemned by the Church since the time of the Crucifixion, in no way negates my observation that when popes are talking about economics that we must judge them as we would anyone else making an economic argument. The popes as a whole have no special expertise in this area, as many of them have dramatically illustrated by the feckless manner in which they have overseen Vatican finances, and infallibility does not extend to papal pronouncements outside of the areas of faith and morals. That brief does not include a pope attempting to draft a blue print for how economies should function. Pius IX of blessed memory is a perfect example of a pope who was great when he stuck to faith and moral issues, and a complete failure throughout his ventures into secular arenas. His Syllabus of Errors should be a standing reminder to all popes of the limitations of their office. (Don)

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      September 20, 2011 9:28 am

      When Popes talk in their capacity as private persons we judge them as we judge anyone else making an argument in the same arena. When they write encyclicals, i.e., when they speak from their office, we owe them the religious submission of mind and will. This is crystal clear.

  4. September 20, 2011 8:57 am

    This dedicated husband and father believes that John Paul II, a great pope, would have been less fond of living in an “indissoluble marriage fully open to children”, whatever the heck that really means, if he had possessed practical experience as a wage-earner, struggling to pay for the expenses of actually raising children. Whenever clerics write about family life I always recall that very few of them have ever had to wonder how they were going to make a mortgage payment or pay for a decent education, or ponder how marriage partners get along for decade after decade while struggling to find agreement on how to manage their finances, raise children and love each other even as new personal and mutual irritations with each other just keep rolling in. Popes are great about telling us how to get to Heaven, but relatively poor as husbands or fathers, as a history of Vatican sexuality graphically reveals.

  5. September 20, 2011 9:21 am

    This is fun,…

    Any person with military experience (I confess I have none) knows that John Paul II, a great pope, would have been less fond of a “diplomatic solutions”, whatever the heck that really means, if he had possessed practical experience as a patrol leader, a field commander or a general. Whenever clerics write about diplomacy or the conduct of war I always recall that very few of them have ever had to wonder how they were going to survive a coming battle or meet an enemy who outnumbers them, or ponder how mercenaries in the private sector get along without airstrikes from friendly forces rolling in. Popes are great about telling us how to get to Heaven, relatively poor as commanders or strategists, as a history of the Vatican and the “Papal States” graphically reveals.

  6. Kurt permalink
    September 20, 2011 11:09 am

    Well, as much as I would respectfully disagree with Don’s assertion about the value of the Church’s economic and social teachings, that respectful disagreement is more than I can give to the absolutely bizarre assertions by some conservatives that CST actually supports conservative economic theories.

  7. brian martin permalink
    September 20, 2011 11:25 am

    “infallibility does not extend to papal pronouncements outside of the areas of faith and morals.”
    I’m wondering what gives the author the idea that Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict and as well as the other Pope’s who have written about economic systems were not speaking to matters of “Faith and Morals” in their encyclicals.

    Certainlt concervatives didn’t question John Paul II’s expertice when he was condemning the ills of the Communist economic system.

    The fact is that in a greed based society like ours, the economic moral pronouncements are inconvenient…so they are disregarded as the pope speaking about something he doesn’t really know about. The same with Pope John Paul II questioning the legitimacy of our war in Iraq…I mean really, the man knew nothing about warfare right?. nothing about the special nature of the USA in regard to the rest of the world in God’s eyes…right? Just light the left fringe sees statements about contraception or homosexuality as proof that the Pontif is clueless in those areas. It is amazing how we are willing to say on on one hand that he speaks Truth when we agree, but how he is ignorant or ill informed when it is inconvenient.
    I don’t think discipleship is supposed to be “convenient”

  8. September 20, 2011 11:47 am

    I used to spar with McClary back in the day on Amy Welborn’s blog and he is, to put it charitably, an [oh,that's right, we're nice on the blogosphere these days]. Anyway, when I read his comments, I couldn’t help but think that he’d never, ever, ever apply those strictures about priets to his chum Father Siroco and his pathetic Acton Institute.

  9. September 20, 2011 1:09 pm

    I’m pretty sure that popes don’t handle the Vatican finances.

  10. Darwin permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:06 pm

    While I think that Don’s comment was quickly and loosely enough written that it can be taken in directions that Don clearly does not mean (as Fran and Frank demonstrate above quite well, and as you imply in the comparison to National Catholic Reporter — though isn’t that one of the publications Mornings Minion wishes that Archbishop Chaput had commended everyone to read?) his point is not discernibly different in content from one which Kyle made here a couple months back. Kyle argued:

    When interpreting a statement, letter or other text from a bishop or the bishops, we need to keep in mind three different acts the bishop or bishops may be performing: 1) the teaching on matters of faith and morals, 2) the interpretation of the situation on the ground to which this teaching may be applied, and 3) the application of the teaching on faith and morals to the concrete situation. The bishops have the authority (assuming they have teaching authority) to speak on the principles of faith and morals, but they do not possess some special authority or ability to accurately assess the concrete realities to which those principles would be applied. As a result, they really don’t have a strong authoritative ground to stand on when speaking of the application of those principles.

    Now, perhaps you would say that Kyle’s piece is also parody that writes itself — but I think what he says is arguably right. When the pope, a conference of bishops, or a bishop makes a factual statement about “facts on the ground”, that statement itself is not particularly protected from error. Thus, if the pope were to write “It being of great importance that those engaged in agricultural labor enjoy the fruits of their work, and that those most vulnerable among the urban toiling classes should be able to afford their daily bread, a reasonable system of price controls on food items and other necessities should be established by the civil authorities,” I don’t think it would be remotely necessary for Catholics to all line up and insist, contrary to evidence and reason, that price controls are a good idea. Nor do I think that the Holy Spirit protects the pope from making such an error. At most, it seems to me that the first half of this “”It being of great importance that those engaged in agricultural labor enjoy the fruits of their work, and that those most vulnerable among the urban toiling classes should be able to afford their daily bread” could be a moral teaching which we could expect the pope to speak on with some protection form error. The second half, however, is a statement about how the world works in practical terms, and not something on which we can expect the pope to wield authority beyond that granted by his experience and his learning.

    Now, I’m not going to stand up and defend the precise way that Donald phrased his comments — I can see how people would take the basic wording and run to silly places like, “Well, if the pope hasn’t used a diaphragm, how does he know that it’s an example of birth control which is against Catholic teaching. He doesn’t have practical experience!” But the content of what he is saying is identical to what Kyle said, and I think it’s actually a fairly obvious claim.

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      September 20, 2011 2:25 pm

      Thanks Darwin,
      Two things: First, we all agree with Kyle and Don about the basics you lay out here. The trouble is that Don (like many others on left and right) applies it selectively. Those who use it on issues other than the economy are deemed heretics and Catholycs and dissenters.

      Second, Don is free to disavow any “loosely written” statements that lead where he doesn’t want them to go. I’m actually less concerned about the Pope’s “practical experience” and more concerned about Don’s subsequent claim that the Pope’s arguments on the economy (which is somehow unrelated to faith and morals!) do not demand any more allegiance than my own. That actually approaches heresy.

      • Phillip permalink
        September 20, 2011 3:59 pm

        I’ve read Don’s comments as consistent with Church teaching on the legitimate autonomy of the sciences in their own methods and conclusions. Thus the validity of physics in determining that the Earth goes around the Sun and not the other way around.

        I believe we can also conclude that economics has its own autonomy which, informed by the teaching of the Faith, can seek solutions to the problems of the world. The Faith will instruct economists, as Darwin and Kyle point out, as to the principles. But economists will instruct the Church, and Popes, on what the truth of a particular situation is and the valid means of applying the principles taught as seen in the light of economic understanding. In this application of principles to real situations, because of their particular expertise, a layman very easily stands to be better informed than a Pope. Also, given the Church teaching that it is the charism of the laity to order the world, it is likely that a layman is better able to form a judgment on a particular application of a principle to a given situation.

        • brettsalkeld permalink*
          September 20, 2011 9:22 pm

          But Don isn’t rejecting an application, he is rejecting a principle. The principle is that, if “capitalism” means a system in which economic freedom is not circumscribed by a strong juridical framework, then it must be judged a negative system. That is not, as Don is feigning, a detailed piece of practical application. It is a principle, and one which a Catholic is not free to simply dismiss as if it were the private opinion of any individual.

      • Phillip permalink
        September 21, 2011 5:01 am

        I’ve missed that in reading him. Can you point out where he states that?

        • brettsalkeld permalink*
          September 21, 2011 6:55 am

          Sorry Phillip. I’m a touch confused. Where he states what, exactly? (And maybe put it at the bottom so we have some more space. Thanks.)

    • Darwin permalink
      September 20, 2011 4:05 pm

      The trouble is that Don (like many others on left and right) applies it selectively. Those who use it on issues other than the economy are deemed heretics and Catholycs and dissenters.

      Could you be more specific?

      Yes, Donald pointed out in the same comment that some at National Catholic Reporter reject Catholic teaching on abortion, contraception or homosexual conduct — but these are not subject to the “facts on the ground” authority issue. Such a problem might arise, say, if a pope mistakenly asserted that a given medicine was contraceptive when it wasn’t, but when Don labels NCR as dissenting over these issues he’s not falling afoul of his own precept here. He’s pointing out that some of their contributors really do dissent on issues of faith and morals — not facts on the ground.

      Maybe you have some other issue in mind where Don routinely takes the pope’s or the bishops’ statements about “facts on the ground” as if they were doctrine — I just can’t think of any examples. Perhaps you are thinking of other internet personalities instead (some of those here not exempted)?

      I’m actually less concerned about the Pope’s “practical experience” and more concerned about Don’s subsequent claim that the Pope’s arguments on the economy (which is somehow unrelated to faith and morals!) do not demand any more allegiance than my own. That actually approaches heresy.

      How does that approach heresy? I don’t see how one could conclude anything else, given what we’ve already established we agree on.

      What’s important to be clear on, however, is what is meant by “the Pope’s arguments on the economy”.

      I see Don responded to one of your comments with:

      Condemn the rich all you want for ignoring the poor Brett and I will agree with you. However, Amos, a dresser of vines, did not seek to draft an economic plan to guide Israel, nor did our Lord in his parable of Lazarus and Dives. Our popes would do well to follow their example.

      Further down he says:

      When a pope condemns greed he has the strength of his office behind him. If he were to then say that therefore no one should earn more than a million a year and government should confiscate the rest, he is venturing a personal opinion that is entitled to no greater weight because he is pope.

      This strikes me as summing the differences pretty well, but since I’m pedantic by nature I’ll try to be even more clear. It seems to me that if the pope were to warn, “The employer who knowingly cheats the worker of his wage risks damnation,” he would be acting well within his authority, and I would fully agree with him. On the other hand, if a pope were to say, “It being essential for every worker to be paid a just wage, a democratically elected wage board should set standard wage rates for all occupations, and employers must abide by these rates,” I would think him to be speaking outside of his authority, and to be wrong to boot.

      So if by “arguments on the economy” you mean teaching about faith and morals in situations where money happens to be changing hands or work happens to be going on, then most certainly I think that pope has full authority when making them. However, if by “arguments on the economy” you mean that the pope has some special charism for determining how economies should be structured, what pragmatic regulations we should have, etc., then I think that is well outside the pope’s brief.

      As for the comments about how no one had an issue with the papal pronouncements on communism — keep in mind that central to the Church’s critique of communism is that communism was atheistic and materialistic. Other Church critiques of communism (and socialism as well) centered around the denial of private property (a moral issue, not one of economic mechanics) and the endorsement of class violence (again, a moral issue.) I would not say that the Church even tried to make a particularly strong case that communism had the mechanics of how economies work efficiently wrong.

      • brettsalkeld permalink*
        September 20, 2011 9:43 pm

        But Darwin, the question at issue here is not one of “facts on the ground.” The Pope has not said anything remotely like “there must be wage boards” or “everything beyond $1,000,000 should be confiscated.” The Pope would never say anything like this in an encyclical which is, by definition, as exercise of the papal office and not the place to flout private opinions.

        I never said the Pope has a special charism to determine how economies should be structured and JPII isn’t pretending to one. He is giving us a principle to work with, and one which we will admittedly have to figure out how to apply in our situation. When I asked over at TAC how conservatives interpret this principle some people (yourself included) answered as serious Catholics seeking to apply the principle articulated by the Pope into a concrete situation. Don, on the other hand, dismissed the Pope’s teaching in an encyclical out of hand as being no more binding on a Catholic conscience than your or my opinion. That is actually directly contrary to the injunction that Catholics owe the Pope, in the exercise of his teaching office, the religious submission of mind and will. That is not something I owe to just anyone at the bar with an opinion on the economy. (Don’s suggestion that the Pope is not speaking infallibly here is exactly the kind of thing he would condemn when done by the NCR.)

        No, Amos did not seek to draft an economic plan to guide Israel. But neither did John Paull! He articulated a principle, not an economic platform. Are we really supposed to ignore the text so much as to believe this assertion? How on earth is the quote above the drafting of an economic plan?

        You’ll get no argument from me about the Church’s condemnation of communism, but Don’s suggestion that John Paul was making a concrete proposal about application on a matter that is unrelated to morals and so his concerns about capitalism can be completely ignored by Catholics in good conscience is simply incredible – so incredible as to be disingenuous. We all have the quote right in front of us.

      • Darwin permalink
        September 21, 2011 9:00 am

        I guess I’m a bit perplexed here. You say:

        I never said the Pope has a special charism to determine how economies should be structured and JPII isn’t pretending to one. He is giving us a principle to work with, and one which we will admittedly have to figure out how to apply in our situation.

        Now, if you’re saying that you don’t think there is some particular set of policies or economic structures which is indicated by John Paul II’s “strong juridical framework” injunction, then I’m at a loss as to how it could either be a moral teaching or something that you would point out as a particular stumbling block for conservatives. If no particular action or range of actions is indicated, then it’s hard to see how it is a moral command or the “do this” or “don’t do this” type. And if no particular policy is indicated, then whatever it is that conservatives want to do is clearly not in violation of it, because it doesn’t indicate anything in particular.

        On the other hand, if it is a practical claim that a political economy should be structured in a particular way in order to achieve the best ends, then it’s a topic on which the pope does not have a particular authority.

        My personal interpretation would be that John Paul II is making an claim (though a rather general one) about how practical economies and polities are best structured — namely that they are best structured in which a system of laws and customs enforces standards in regards to fair play, etc. (what we might call “law and custom capitalism”) as opposed to being structured in a way in which anything goes and people do whatever they can get away with (what we might call “mafia capitalism”). I agree with him on this — but I do think that it’s a political and economic judgment rather than a moral one. An anarcho-capitalist might disagree with me and insist that laws should not be interfering here.

        Now, the subject of a lot of these laws which would form the strong juridical framework might be to enforce moral norms with the strength of law. For instance, we might legally punish people who violate contracts or who knowing sell defective products. Both of these would, under normal circumstances, also be sins, and the pope would obviously be in his full authority in calling them out as such. But as we both known, because something is immoral is not necessarily in all cases an argument that it is to the common good to use the force of the law to make it illegal.

        • brettsalkeld permalink*
          September 21, 2011 10:47 am

          I’m sorry Darwin, but this just looks obfuscating to me. It seems clear as day that John Paul is saying that capitalism understood as unrestrained economic freedom is a destructive force. On the other hand, it has good qualities that need to be channeled by a solid structure. He doesn’t say exactly what that structure looks like. Of course it will vary depending on all kinds of circumstances and, in any case, it is not the papal prerogative to define it precisely. But to say that such a structure is necessary for capitalism to contribute to human flourishing is clearly within his prerogative.

          Like I said before, you are willing to talk about what that might look like, and whether or not I agree with your rather minimalist interpretation, at least you are granting that the Pope has said something that you need to take into account in your considerations. Don has said that a Catholic need not take the Pope’s assertion into account. And he has disingenuously suggested that this is because the Pope has gone beyond his office by suggesting concrete applications. But, as you highlight, there is not concrete application spelled out here. So now we have Donald ignoring the Pope because of supposed concrete applications and you defending his right to do so because there are none! What is going on here?!?

          It certainly isn’t a moral command of the “do this, don’t do that’ type, but I fail to see why something has to be that kind of command in order to be a matter of “faith and morals.” And it certainly “isn’t a practical claim that a political economy should be structured in a particular way.”

          To suggest that the Pope cannot make concrete practical applications in this sphere (something with which I agree) and then suggest that anyone can do whatever they want because there is no way to contravene a teaching that is not a matter of practical application is to say, essentially, that all of the CST encyclicals are a waste of time.

          As for whether or not it is a stumbling block for conservatives, that depends. If a conservative Catholic thinks that capitalism as unrestrained economic freedom is a good, then the Pope saying otherwise certainly is a stumbling block. This seems to be Don’s situation. If a conservative Catholic is of the view that economic freedom does require constraints for the common good, then it is not a stumbling block. My question to you, as someone who I imagined to be in the latter category, was simply, “what does this look like for you?” In other words, how would you apply this principle? Don’s answer, not yours, was that he need not think about how to apply this principle because Don is capable of discerning when the Pope doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

      • Darwin permalink
        September 21, 2011 11:20 am

        I apologize if it seems like I’m obfuscating. I think it’s just that I have a somewhat constrained view of what is knowable theologically versus what is discoverable by science of the appropriate type.

        You say:

        It seems clear as day that John Paul is saying that capitalism understood as unrestrained economic freedom is a destructive force. On the other hand, it has good qualities that need to be channeled by a solid structure.

        I agree with you that John Paul II is saying what you lay out here, but it seems to me that in saying this he is making an economic judgment about how the world works. In other words, it appears to you, me, and John Paul II that without some formal system of law to restrain economic freedom, “economic freedom” would act as a destructive force. (I think actually there’d be less economic freedom without law, but that’s a weird side issue.)

        My issue is with whether this is a revealed moral truth which John Paul II has special authority on due to the protection of the Holy Spirit for his teaching office. My thought is that it is not. It’s a statement about how the world appears to work: economies not governed by laws tend to be destructive. However, it could be that order so naturally emerges from economic activity (and restrictions on economic activity so naturally emerge from the desire to conduct economic activity) that no law is necessary and that entirely emergent order results in greater common good than an economy guided by law.

        It seems to me that the answer to this is something which is observable and subject to study and expertise (a matter of facts on the ground) rather than a revealed moral truth. As such, it seems to me that quoting John Paul II’s observation here does not carry that weight of doctrine, but rather is inferior to actually presenting evidence that what he says here is true: that a juridical framework is in fact necessary in order for economic activity to be otherwise than destructive.

        • brettsalkeld permalink*
          September 21, 2011 2:35 pm

          I think we agree on a lot here, except at the end when you say “it does not have the weight of doctrine.” I mean, of course it doesn’t! Who on earth said it did?

          To suggest that my (and the Church’s!) insistence that we owe the Pope religious submission of mind and will when he exercises his teaching authority, as in an encyclical, amounts to the claim that everything in an encyclical has the weight of revealed doctrine is to create a straw man.

          It is not the case that everything the Pope says, even in his teaching office, must be accepted in order for one to be a Catholic in good standing. On the other hand, everything he says in his teaching office must be granted a presumption of truth that makes it different than reading the Post or the Times. It is manifestly contrary to Catholic teaching to suggest that Papal teaching is only as good as the arguments that the Pope marshals. If that were the case, why have a Pope?

      • Darwin permalink
        September 21, 2011 4:42 pm

        To suggest that my (and the Church’s!) insistence that we owe the Pope religious submission of mind and will when he exercises his teaching authority, as in an encyclical, amounts to the claim that everything in an encyclical has the weight of revealed doctrine is to create a straw man.

        I was not attempting to say that a pope’s teaching on faith and morals in an encyclical has the same weight as revealed doctrine, I’m sorry if choice or words suggested that I did.

        However, I am saying that if the pope makes a statement about “facts on the ground” (to use our rapidly wearing out term of art that I’ve adopted from Kyle), as opposed to a statement about faith and morals, he does not necessarily command from us as Catholics a degree of assent greater than is merited by his arguments and evidence qua arguments and evidence.

        That doesn’t mean that I’d treat his writing in exactly the same way that I would an editorial in “Post or the Times”, but that’s simply because I have a lot more respect for the pope as a person than I do for any journalist — not because I think that we owe religious assent to the pope’s thinking on “facts on the ground”.

        • brettsalkeld permalink*
          September 21, 2011 7:20 pm

          Well I think it is clear that the Catholic understanding is that you should give the Pope more creedence than the Post or the Times because of his office, when he is exercising his office, whether or not the person actually holding the office is someone you respect more than any journalist. It’s part of what it means to be a Catholic.

  11. September 20, 2011 4:28 pm

    There is a great danger is aligning oneself too closely with ‘particular systems’ which we think model ‘Christian economics’. I can think of various attributes of both capitalism and socialism which I find praiseworthy and other aspects which I find abhorrent. The term, ‘Christian economics’, to some extent makes me uneasy, as it’s most certain to recoil upon us when flaws emerge.

    I can imagine us moving towards a better economic system, but only to the extent that the participants converge on gospel values. The ‘strong juridical framework’ that JPII mentions is helpful and actually necessary because we will always lack full expression of gospel values. After all we are a pilgrim people who are making our way through the gospel conversion experience and never fully arrive.

    Much of the broader discussion avoids the issue of what sacrifices are involved in arriving at just and efficient economic outcomes. And who should make these sacrifices. This is where the Church really has the most to say. In a personal blog post when I was speaking on ‘the value of contradictions’ I wrote, “So many of our attempts to solve social problems end up in horrifying paradoxes; where we reap unintended consequences. These consequences are frustrating and often difficult and painful and are suffered unevenly. The Church, even if it doesn’t own perfect solutions, nevertheless acts as a ‘sign of contradiction'; opposing dark outcomes and continually casting light into shadowy areas.”

  12. September 20, 2011 6:13 pm

    There’s a reason I try to steer clear of the American catholic (Large A, small c!). This really boggles the mind. Quite apart from the obvious fact that clerics are celibate and have no experience in this matter, it is actually the case that the economic analysis of Catholic social teaching has been very prescient.

    Maybe if people had paid closer attention to the warnings in Quadragesimo Anno about an outsized and overly-powerful financial sector, we would not have had a financial crisis.

    It is in fact these people on American Catholic who know so little about economics (whether it is genuine or wilfull ignorance, I do not know). I’ve actually seen posts over there that show large increases in the budget deficit in 2009 and say it is due to Obama’s “spending”.

    But a larger point: given their common roots, perhaps it is not so surpising that the hardcore secular left and the hardcore liberal right arrive at the same understanding of Church teaching, one on sexual matters, one on economic matters, is it?

    Should we just keep repeating Benedict’s constant exhortation that there is no divide in Catholic social teaching?

    • Darwin permalink
      September 21, 2011 9:04 am

      Brett said:

      The trouble is that Don (like many others on left and right) applies it selectively. Those who use it on issues other than the economy are deemed heretics and Catholycs and dissenters.

      I said:

      Maybe you have some other issue in mind where Don routinely takes the pope’s or the bishops’ statements about “facts on the ground” as if they were doctrine — I just can’t think of any examples. Perhaps you are thinking of other internet personalities instead (some of those here not exempted)?

      Mornings Minion said:

      There’s a reason I try to steer clear of the American catholic (Large A, small c!).

      I think I can rest my case. Minion’s first shot off the mark is to question the Catholicism of those he disagrees with.

      • brettsalkeld permalink*
        September 21, 2011 10:47 am

        Sorry, which case?

      • Darwin permalink
        September 21, 2011 11:28 am

        You said that on issues other than economics it was typical of Don to denounce people who disagreed with him on the application of Catholic principles to concrete circumstances as “heretics and Catholycs and dissenters”.

        I said I was not aware that this was typical of Don, but that I thought it was typical of some other internet personalities, including some authors at this site.

        MM then promptly showed up and implied that writers at TAC weren’t really Catholic.

        • brettsalkeld permalink*
          September 21, 2011 2:14 pm

          Ah. I see. But this has subtly shifted the attention away from whether Don actually does such things. Now, it gets tricky because we can’t seem to agree on what amounts to principles and what amounts to application. My guess is, for instance, that Don was all for the excommunication of the Sister in Phoenix who disagreed with conservatives as to application, not principle. But it seems sure that I will be told that she actually disagreed about principle.

      • September 21, 2011 12:34 pm

        You should “rest your case” with your fellow bloggers – whose main purpose seems to be to “question the Catholicism” of people who do not toe the political, rather than the theological, line.

      • Darwin permalink
        September 21, 2011 4:57 pm

        It seems like much of the problem here is that people remember criticisms of themselves or those they associate with culturally or ideologically more than they remember criticisms of those they disassociate with culturally or ideologically.

        As a result, Brett and Mornings Minion both, it seems, are convinced that TAC spends most of its time denouncing people as not being true Catholics. This despite the fact that a perusal down the main page does not reveal, at least to my eye, any posts at this time which are of that nature.

        I, on the other hand, tend to see denouncing people like myself as “Calvinists”, “American catholics” or (in the good old days) “Christofascists” as being one of the favorite past times of Vox Nova writers. However, to be fair, if I do the same test and skim down all the posts currently on this site’s main page the only one I see which suggests another Catholic is “approaching heresy” is this one, and that only in the comments.

        • brettsalkeld permalink*
          September 21, 2011 7:17 pm

          Agreed. Good to flag this up.

  13. Anne permalink
    September 20, 2011 9:46 pm

    <<Should we just keep repeating Benedict’s constant exhortation that there is no divide in Catholic social teaching?<<

    Yes.

  14. September 20, 2011 10:21 pm

    Don’s thoughts would be hilariously nonsensical if they weren’t so deadly. Thank you for continuing the venerable Vox Nova tradition of exposing his nonsense for what it is, Brett.

  15. Darwin permalink
    September 21, 2011 9:10 am

    UPDATE: This just in, McClarey has now informed us, on the thread in question, that when John Paul II wrote about the death penalty he was not dealing with “faith and morals.” You read that right: the DEATH PENALTY is not a matter of faith and morals. This is becoming surreal.

    Actually, this seems a pretty clear conclusion to draw from how John Paul II went about opposing the death penalty. He said that while the state was justified in using the death penalty in circumstances where its use was necessary to protect the common good, that those circumstances did not exist in the modern, developed world.

    In other words, he made an argument about facts on the ground.

    Clearly, the death penalty in and of itself is a moral issue. Those who disagree with the Church and insist that it is always and everywhere wrong without qualification address this point, by disagreeing with Church teaching. But the particular claim that John Paul II was so famous for is not a moral claim but a facts on the ground claim. On the moral claim, he was saying nothing different from what all previous popes had taught on the issue.

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      September 21, 2011 10:58 am

      Wait, what? The death penalty when dealt with by Popes is not a moral issue but “clearly” in and of itself it is a moral issue.

      Can progressives use this argument for their pet issues?

      I’m literally pulling my hair out here.

      This “facts on the ground” thing is being used in a really misleading way. The Pope says that when there are other ways to keep people safe, it is immoral to use the death penalty. That is a principle, and apparently one with which that Don disagrees. Of course the Pope adds that in most contemporary cultures it is the case that we can keep people safe in other ways. And yes, that is a statement about “facts on the ground,” but so what? It doesn’t change the principle at all. Whether or not one agrees with the Pope about the capacity of contemporary society to keep people safe by other means, a Catholic still has to acknowledge that it is immoral to execute people for any reason other than as a last resort to protect the populace.

      Right?

      The facts on the ground affect if and how the principle is applied, but they don’t change the principle. And disagreement about the facts does not give a Catholic the right to reject the principle. And the principle, “It is immoral to execute anyone for reasons other than as a final resort to protect the populace” has to do with faith and morals, no? How could it not?

      • Dan permalink
        September 21, 2011 5:01 pm

        I’m literally pulling my hair out here.

        Nice try. You have no hair.

    • Darwin permalink
      September 21, 2011 11:24 am

      But John Paul II did not create any new principle — at least to my knowledge it was not, prior to him, the Catholic principle that people could be justly subjected to the death penalty regardless of whether that was necessary for preserving the common good.

      John Paul II’s argument was strictly about facts on the ground: He claimed that, as you put it, “in most contemporary cultures it is the case that we can keep people safe in other ways”.

      You can see how this is a facts on the grounds claim rather than a principle claim, right? Either contemporary culture can keep people safe in other ways or they can’t. It’s a facts claim, not a principle claim.

      • brettsalkeld permalink*
        September 21, 2011 2:21 pm

        Of course John Paul didn’t create a new principle. Though there is a subtle shift, it is in continuity with previous teaching.

        And, of course I see that the claim about contemporary society’s abilities is a facts on the ground claim. I said as much.

        But do you not see that the idea that it is immoral to execute people for any reason other than to protect the populace, and that as a last resort, is a principle and not a fact on the ground kind of claim?

        JPII did make this argument and it is an argument about principle. How can you say his argument was solely about facts on the ground? Is this not a principle and did he not say it?

      • Darwin permalink
        September 21, 2011 4:15 pm

        I’ll grant that JPII maybe had something of a subtle shift in emphasis, but I deny that he introduced a new principle or changed the existing one in a significant fashion. What was revolutionary about his teaching was that he made a wide ranging facts-on-the-ground claim — that it is possible to protect society from crime without resort to capital punishment.

        We agree that this is a facts on the ground claim.

  16. JohnH permalink
    September 21, 2011 1:35 pm

    Much of what Don says is true: Catholics can disagree on how to apply the Church’s teachings. The thing that bothers me is that he (as well as many other vocal Catholics online) take what is very much a minority opinion and insist that it is the norm to which other Catholics must conform.

    By minority opinion I mean this: among Catholics, there is a small minority who take the Church’s teaching and somewhat awkwardly shoehorn it into conformity with what could broadly be called a philosophy of American Conservatism. It doesn’t really quite fit.

    And it can lead active dissent as well. For example Don’s post and subsequent replies on this post here:

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2010/08/14/victory-over-japan/

    in which he rebukes the Church’s teaching as set out in the Catechism (2314) because it doesn’t fit his political vision.

  17. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    September 21, 2011 2:28 pm

    Darwin writes:

    “But the particular claim that John Paul II was so famous for is not a moral claim but a facts on the ground claim. On the moral claim, he was saying nothing different from what all previous popes had taught on the issue.”

    Actually, this is not correct. JP II did make some subtle but far reaching changes in the Church’s teaching on the death penalty. While still not teaching it is always wrong, he narrowed the moral justification for it by linking it very closely to self-defense. This is a real departure from previous teaching which also included the DP as just punishment, irrespective of whether it was necessary to protect society.

    • September 21, 2011 5:13 pm

      I’m not really sure that this is true; the self-defense-of-society justification has been at least a standard account for a long, long time, and is found in Augustine (if I recall correctly), Scotus (if I recall correctly), and Aquinas (definitely). For all of them the death penalty is only a just punishment insofar as it protects the good common to all the members of society; no punishment is just that does not.

      • Brian Martin permalink
        September 21, 2011 8:43 pm

        Would it not follow then that it is only just insofar as it is necessary to protect the good common to all?
        If one is to claim life is sacred from conception to death, then the taking of life should have to be a very significant decision, and it should only happen if it just.
        It seems to me that for it to be just, it would have to be proven beyond all doubt that the party is guilty, that laws were equally applied, that the individual’s race, economic background etc. were not a factor in the conviction or sentence, and that they had truely adequate representation

      • September 22, 2011 1:50 pm

        Would it not follow then that it is only just insofar as it is necessary to protect the good common to all?

        It would indeed; what is necessary to protect the common good, however, would depend on particulars of political structure and judicial custom, the resources of society, the type of danger in question and its seriousness in the context of that particular society, issues of toleration (i.e., whether greater evils would result from protecting against the danger in question) and urgency, and the like.

  18. Andy permalink
    September 21, 2011 9:05 pm

    For all of them the death penalty is only a just punishment insofar as it protects the good common to all the members of society; no punishment is just that does not.

    For all them, the death penalty is not a “punishment,” much less a “just punishment” at all. What all three had in common was a view that state sanctioned punishment is justified only if it is medicinal (in their words, it “heals the will”). The death penalty is not medicinal; therefore, the death penalty is not punishment. It follows trivially from this that the death penalty is not a “just punishment.” This also implies that your claim that no punishment is just unless it protects the common good is inaccurate, since protection of the common good is they no not think that the protection of the common good is a necessary condition for just punishment. The justification of some, not all, types of punishment requires the aim to be the protection of the common good. The justification for all types of punishment requires the aim to be medicinal.

    I truly think that too many bloggers write posts or post comments with too much haste, failing to thoughtfully read and consider what the magisterium or Aquinas or Augustine or whoever has written.

  19. Kimberley permalink
    September 21, 2011 11:25 pm

    I wonder if this post about Don was intended to baptize the internet. Good post written by an 18 year old reminding us how Catholics are supposed to use the internet. And the child shall lead us. Playing “look at this catholyc post is fun”, but not very Christian.

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      September 22, 2011 7:32 am

      Thanks for that Kimberly. He’s right and a good writer.

      For the record, Darwin and I have resolved to discuss this over beer next time geography permits. (We’re Facebook friends, which means we’re slightly more humanized for each other than simple blog rivals! Who knows how nasty this would have gotten were we not. That’s why I stopped having this battle simultaneously over at TAC.)

  20. Phillip permalink
    September 22, 2011 8:00 am

    “I’m sorry Darwin, but this just looks obfuscating to me. It seems clear as day that John Paul is saying that capitalism understood as unrestrained economic freedom is a destructive force. On the other hand, it has good qualities that need to be channeled by a solid structure. He doesn’t say exactly what that structure looks like.”

    I had a busy day so I’m just getting back here. Just will ditto what Darwin said. To add, I think the point of contention is not so much the “juridical framework” but the “strong” which does seem not to allow much room for interpretation for a Catholic. The term “strong” seems to imply some very high level of regulation. This seems, for me at least, to be what Don is talking about. As such, there is the question that this is a prudential judgment and not one of dogma. That is does capitalism need strong regulations? Do strong regulations actually hurt an economy?

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      September 22, 2011 9:51 am

      I would just note the distinction made for me by several TAC commenters, namely that lots of regulation is not exactly the same as good regulation. I would suspect the same applies to “strong.” It needn’t be cumbersome, but it should not have any loopholes.

      • Phillip permalink
        September 22, 2011 12:20 pm

        I can agree with you on this. But I think others might interpret “strong” not necessarily as cumbersome or even with loopholes, but as substantial to the point where is does interefere with legitimate business. Which I think is what Don is critical of.

  21. Kurt permalink
    September 22, 2011 9:10 am

    If I can raise an indirect issue. If the Church has consistently misunderstood the ” facts on the ground” when it comes to macroeconomics for over 100 years — or even if there is some element of partial truth to that — doesn’t that also question the ability of the pastors of the Church to properly administer the Church’s temporal goods? (The Papal States was raised as an example of poor stewardship by the Church). Would Don say that the Church would be better served with a restoration of Trusteeship for the administration of the Church’s temporal goods? Should not the lay faithful, particularly those with practical and successful experience in handling money and property, be given a greater role in these matters? Don? Darwin?

    • Darwin permalink
      September 22, 2011 1:01 pm

      I don’t think that stating that the pope does not have any special charism to determine the economic “facts on the ground” and from this draw a plan for an ideal economic system necessarily commits oneself one way or another as to whether the leaders of the Church should be supervised by lay leaders in regards to finance — or whether they should hire experts or simply deal with such issues themselves.

      After all, lots of people are quite good at managing their own household finances but are not good at understanding macroeconomics, much less able to provide a blue print for a better economy. Similarly, some people with all sorts of fancy economic knowledge may not be all that good at managing their finances.

      More to the point, I don’t see that having great finances is necessarily something that the Church is particularly called on to do. Going right back to when Jesus put Judas in charge of the purse, the Church has often had poor financial managers, and some of its better financial managers have been very bad Christians. But the Church’s job is not to run a business or a state or a financial distribution service — it’s to save souls. So fortunately it doesn’t matter so much whether its finances are in the best possible order.

      • Kurt permalink
        September 22, 2011 8:19 pm

        Darwin,

        C’mon now. Really.

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