During the news ramp up of the Pope's latest off-the-cuff remarks, I repeatedly heard people call the Pope a marxist, socialist, and liberal. And these were not your typical anti-Catholics. Some of these online people were claiming to be Catholics themselves. Granted I'm like everyone else and see how confusing at time the Pope's comments can be. He isn't the first Pope to be misunderstood though. Some people just keep looking for splinters in eyes or refuse to educate themselves about the teachings of the Catholic Church and instead pin their disagreements with Church teaching on the Pope. I could go into how the Pope's discussions about the environment aren't really anything new, but today I'd rather focus on his focus of Social Justice. Apparently people are conflating Social Justice with Socialism.
Social Justice is not Socialism.
Just keep repeating that to yourself. Also repeat this too: The Pope is not a Socialist.
Feel better? Me too.
Let's get to the nitty gritty. What is socialism? What is social justice? Socialism is an economic political system. Social Justice is a way of life for the individual. Socialism is organizing a country so that a central government controls facets of life such as education, health care, transportation, businesses, etc. Social Justice is how an individual is supposed to care for people. We are supposed to educate our children, provide health care for those who need it, etc.
And the Catholic Church is opposed to socialism.
CCC# 2425 The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with "communism" or "socialism." She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of "capitalism," individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for "there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market." Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended.
Now people would say "it looks like the Church rejects capitalism." And you would be somewhat correct. It rejects laisez-faire or unbridled capitalism. Capitalism without oversight. Capitalism that many libertarians espouse. Many Catholic thinkers have embraced what's called Distributism as a form of economic ideology. The basic idea is that each individual hold property or business. Those who supported distributism were G.K. Chesterton and Dorothy Day. I still see articles saying that Dorothy Day was a socialist who the Pope supports. While Day was a socialist early in life, the Catholic Worker Movement that she created is based on distributism and not socialism. She didn't die a socialist.
Distributism is born out of social justice teachings and the teachings of subsidarity. Subsidarity isn't socialism or anarchy. If socialism is about centralizing the government, subsidarity is about de-centralizing it but not to the point that it doesn't exist. Here's what the catechism says about it:
CCC# 1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which "a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."
CCC# 1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.
In a nut shell, in subsidarity the higher order like the central government should not usurp the powers of the lower order. An example would be the education of children. It is the duty of the parents to educate their children. The family should not have that power stripped from them by the centralized government. We have this in the United States system. Parents can decide to homeschool, private school, charter school, magnet school, public school, etc their children. It's the parents' duty and not the States'. But we are seeing some of the State meddling with things like Common Core. Here the central government is dictating how each local school teach and thus ignoring the needs and the cultural of each local environment.
Social Justice would dictate that parents have access to all types of schooling for their children. Subsidiarity would dictate that it's the parents' choice how to educate their children. Distributism would say that the parents have the right to private business in order to financially support their children's education and well-being.
None of this is socialism because socialism would put all of these things in the hands of centralized government instead of the family or individual.
Does this make more sense?
So when people start spouting off that the Pope is a socialist. Kindly remind them that Catholics are not socialists nor are we unfettered capitalists, rather our beliefs call us to a place somewhere in the middle: a third way. You would be surprised at how many people actually like this and agree with this third way but have never heard it named nor knew the Church's teachings on it. I'd also like to assert that Catholicism is neither "liberal" nor "conservative" or "right" nor "left" but rather I'd say in the middle and "moderate" in it's ideology and teachings.
Hope you enjoyed the article and it de-mystified some of the Church's teachings on economics and political systems.
Have a question? Leave a comment. I'm not an expert but I will attempt to help clarify.