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FRONT ROYAL, VA — “Many leftists cheered when Benedict issued his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, in 2005.” So writes Rocco Buttiglioni, one of Europe’s foremost Catholic lay leaders. “They ignored most of the document, naturally, which insists that true charity is inseparable from Christ and His Church. They focused instead on his condemnation of ‘unbridled capitalism with its cult of profit.'”
Well, the cheering has only increased with the election of Pope Francis – and some prominent conservatives have taken the bait, charging that the new pope was a true-blue socialist.
Recently, New York’s Cardinal Dolan tried to set the record straight in his local newspaper, the Wall Street Journal.
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“From media reports,” he wrote, “one might think that the only thing on the pope’s mind [is] government redistribution of property, as if he were denouncing capitalism and endorsing some form of socialism. This … overlooks the principal focus of Pope Francis’ economic teaching-that economic and social activity must be based on the virtues of compassion and generosity.”
Simply put, Francis, like Benedict, rejects all views of man that reduce him to a paltry pygmy in a material world.
Buttiglione puts it bluntly:
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The leftist progeny of earlier Liberation Theologians deny what Benedict affirms: that his critique is inseparable from what he calls a ‘Christian anthropology,’ a view that is threatened by the modern resuscitation of an ‘ancient material hedonism’ that flows from ‘a purely horizontal and materialistic view of life.’
Inseparable indeed. After all, the virtues of generosity and compassion are pre-economic: they are noble virtues inherent in man’s social nature, and the good man exercises them in whatever economic and political order he participates.
For Benedict and for Francis, these virtues are uniquely Catholic, in the universal and spiritual sense of the word. Again, Buttiglioni clears the air with refreshing candor:
The world of today wants a Christianity that is kind to everybody and is ready to take at face value whatever everybody wishes in terms of their fulfillment, the meaning of their life. It wants a Christianity that is ready to help everybody to reach their goals. But what they do not want is the Church to have an idea about the truth of man. …They want a love without truth.
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A love without truth! The Dictatorship of Relativism – that postmodern spirit so keenly perceived by Benedict – deftly hijacks the Holy Father’s condemnation of a soulless search for profit; but its alternative is just a soulless search for power.
In condemning the deadly sin of greed, it substitutes envy, the engine of socialism.
Benedict will have none of it, says Buttiglione:
The message of Benedict XVI is that true love is a passionate interest in another, a passionate interest that is aimed at the true happiness, true fulfillment of each individual human being. If you really love someone and see that he is destroying himself, you have not only the right but the duty to tell him he is doing wrong.
But wait – isn’t that pretty judgmental?
Not to those who love one another as Christ has loved us – longing for our eternal salvation, rather than some earthly pleasure.
As Buttiglioni explains:
If you do not try to explain to him why it is wrong, if you don’t want to enter into a confrontation with him in order to convince him to save his own life, then you don’t really love him.
To put it succinctly: love without truth is dead.
As Francis Cardinal George observed some years ago, “Social Justice without love is Marxism.”
The love that Cardinal George has in mind is not the false love of the Left. It is caritas, the theological virtue that Saint Paul calls the greatest virtue of all (I Corinthians 13:13).
“Without charity, I am nothing,” Paul tells us. And that is Benedict’s point, and Francis’, regarding the economy. Caritas, yes, but always and indelibly infused with veritas – truth.
“Social Justice” advocates might sneer at capitalism, but they often harbor a similar disdain for truth. They want to bypass Benedict’s caritas because it is inconveniently inseparable from the truth of the Catholic faith.
Cardinal Dolan builds on this foundation, but bear in mind that he is trying to calm the secular nerves of a restive gaggle of American Crony Capitalists. In doing so, it’s fair to say, he lets them off easy.
“The spread of the free market has undoubtedly led to a tremendous increase in overall wealth and well-being around the world,” he writes. “Yet Pope Francis is certainly correct that ‘an important part of humanity does not share in the benefits of progress.'”
He continues: “the church certainly disapproves of any system of unregulated economic amorality, which leaves people at the mercy of impersonal market forces.”
Well, the church has never approved of any “amorality,” as far as I know. And many of Cardinal Dolan’s Wall Street neighbors routinely leave a lot of people at the mercy of some amoral and very personal market forces – namely, those manipulated by the Cronies.
The Cardinal continues: “That kind of environment produces the evils of greed, envy, fraud, misuse of riches, gross luxury and exploitation of the poor and the laborer.”
All too true. And both Crony Capitalism and the “People’s Paradise” of socialism create “that kind of environment,” although the Cardinal can’t bring himself to say so.
After all, Cdl. Dolan wants to go easy on his Wall Street neighbors. So he tells them that they’re not the problem; it’s those other guys: “The Holy Father is speaking to this world-wide audience,” he explains; and “for many in developing or newly industrialized countries, what passes as capitalism is an exploitative racket for the benefit of the few powerful and wealthy.”
So our domestic Crony Capitalism is compassionate, generous, and charitable?
“Stop asking questions.”
Let’s get real: The Cardinal is trying to cajole his capitalist neighbors, perhaps even to persuade them, certainly not to attack them. He’s trying to defend Pope Francis, Pope Benedict, and, when all is said and done, the Catholic Church.
“The church has consistently rejected coercive systems of socialism and collectivism, because they violate inherent human rights to economic freedom and private property. When properly regulated, a free market can certainly foster greater productivity and prosperity.”
Wait a minute, Your Eminence. “Properly regulated”? What do you do when the regulators are the most anti-Catholic government in American history, who have repeatedly lied to Cardinal Dolan and his brother bishops and betrayed their trust? And what about the bipartisan Cronies who want to keep the party going?
Cardinal Dolan daintily spells it out at the end of his article, for those who have bothered to read that far: “the value of any economic system rests on the personal virtue of the individuals who take part in it, and on the morality of their day-to-day decisions.”
There, he said it: amorality bad, morality good.
Really? “Any economic system?”
As usual, Aristotle said it best: good men can muddle through the worst of constitutions; but bad men can wreck the best of them.
Right now, a lot of bad men are doing their best to wreck our own Constitutional Republic. Perhaps Wall Street could ponder the Cardinal’s words, and decide whose side it’s on.
Need a little help? Catch the Lexington Avenue Express, Northbound. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral is only ten minutes away.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.