Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Trying to Understand Catholic Social Justice


Oh to be back in my liberal Catholic high school circa 1975... where pretty much all of our religion classes were classes on social justice. Theology -shmology.  We never touched the stuff.  And the only veering we did off of the social justice topic was to make the occasional burlap banner with cocoons and butterflies (we were spoon fed the death-into-life analogy until we choked on it) with the occasional look at "I'm OK, You're OK."  But even with all that going on, we learned that as far as social justice goes, we were to do things like take time to clean up yards, and help old folks get to the doctor, and recycle and give our good but used clothes to someone that could use it, and that we should tithe but also give money and assistance to good social causes because we were blessed enough to have, so we should share.

There was also a sense that success was important  in my high school.  There was the notion that that you wanted to study hard and play hard because it was only with effort that you could succeed in this world and secondarily, that it was important to succeed so that you could have a decent life for yourself so that then you could help others. These two different trains of thought seemed very compatible to me - you could work hard and succeed and then give back and help someone else up.

And for years and years that was my idea of social justice.

Of course this was all during the last part of the cold war which I remember very distinctly as a competition between two different world views - is it better for each citizen to strive their hardest to get ahead and succeed (us), or was it better for everyone to be kept "equal" and controlled and "fair."  (them)?  Well I guess looking at how it turned out, the better way was us!  Because if everyone is equal and all get treated the same, where is the incentive to excel?

This makes perfect sense to me!

So at this point in my life, I have a great deal of trouble wrapping my head around what passes for "social justice" in my weekly parish bulletin.  A couple of weeks ago they had an article with excerpts from "Catholic Social Teaching (CST) and Taxes," by Fred Kammer, S.J.  (uh oh... anything in the last 20 years with SJ behind it warrants caution! - with notable exceptions).

The excerpts were:








  • First, the tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor.










  • Secondly, the tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity, so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation. The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation.










  • Thirdly, families below the official poverty line should not be required to pay income taxes. Such families are, by definition, without sufficient resources to purchase the basic necessities of life. They should not be forced to bear the additional burden of paying income taxes.21 They enunciated three principles to guide such evaluations.







  • My bulletin took it a bit farther by stating, "In the new Catechism, payment of taxes is presented as part of one's responsibility for the common good:


    2240:   Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country.  "


    The bulletin went on to opine: "In this context payment of taxes is seen as a moral responsibility of the person or institution."  Although the actual catechism does not say anything about institutions in this context.  2240 does go on to say:

    Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

    And that folks, is the only mention of "taxes" in the catechism.

    There are several mentions of "tax collectors" and this mention of the word "tax."

    2409 Even if it does not contradict the provisions of civil law, any form of unjustly taking and keeping the property of others is against the seventh commandment: thus, deliberate retention of goods lent or of objects lost; business fraud; paying unjust wages; forcing up prices by taking advantage of the ignorance or hardship of another.


    The following are also morally illicit: speculation in which one contrives to manipulate the price of goods artificially in order to gain an advantage to the detriment of others; corruption in which one influences the judgment of those who must make decisions according to law; appropriation and use for private purposes of the common goods of an enterprise; work poorly done; tax evasion; forgery of checks and invoices; excessive expenses and waste. Willfully damaging private or public property is contrary to the moral law and requires reparation.


    So I took a peak at the catechism around 2240 and I could not find anything about how a tax system should be structured.  But it did say quite a bit about individual responsibility to the poor.

    2208 The family should live in such a way that its members learn to care and take responsibility for the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped, and the poor. There are many families who are at times incapable of providing this help. It devolves then on other persons, other families, and, in a subsidiary way, society to provide for their needs: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world."1



    But I could not find anything about tax structures and the moral responsibility of governments to be morally responsible to raise adequate revenues.

    Recently Representative Paul Ryan has been trying to come up with a balance to keep the country afloat. From the Heritage Foundation:

    Ryan’s plan identifies the nation’s looming fiscal crisis as a product of big government. For the fourth consecutive year, a trillion-dollar-plus federal deficit burdens the nation, and the government’s publicly held debt is on course to exceed the size of the entire U.S. economy within a decade and to nearly double it by 2035. Clearly, this trend must be reversed.


    Reversing the Keynesian-inspired meddling of the past several years, Ryan’s budget promotes the “prosperity of commerce,” as Hamilton termed it. The budget ends crony capitalism and other market distortions and therefore gives the economy room to grow. “This budget stops Washington from picking winners and losers across the economy,” the budget report says. “It rolls back corporate subsidies in the energy sector. It ends the taxpayer bailouts of failed financial institutions, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It repeals the government takeover of health care enacted last year and begins to move toward patient-centered reform.”

    Then there is this chart of entitlements growing by 50% by 2050 - which certainly means we should do something.


    And yet the Bishops are against the Ryan Budget - which makes me wonder - well then what are we supposed to do?  And what are we as Catholics supposed to make of this.  To me, a simple lay Catholic it seems as if it is a battle between obedient spirituality and common sense.

    Luckily, I found this great article by Steve Kellmeyer that totally explained it for me. Some great excerpts:

    “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” – James Madison, author of the Constitution.


    Today, some of the more reckless bishops in the USCCB have called for Paul Ryan's head. His budget, they claim, is not Catholic.It does not care for the poor.
    But the Constitution has not changed since Madison's time. There is within it, to this day, no provision whereby public funds can be disbursed for private benefit.
    As an elected official, Paul Ryan has a duty to care for the funds entrusted to him. The bishops have a duty to recognize Ryan's duty.
    Let's put this another way.
    Assume you were a bank teller. You are a friend of mine. I walk in and plead with you. I need money. My family is starving, my children homeless. I need money. You know it is true. 
    As you stand at your station in the bank, you realize you have money close at hand - a whole drawer full of it. Would your Catholic faith justify you in giving part or all of the money in that drawer to me?
    If you refuse to reach into the bank till to hand me money, would you be violating your Catholic faith?
    That's essentially what the USCCB is demanding of Paul Ryan.There are poor people.Paul Ryan is standing at the bank till."Give them the bank's money!" cry some of the USCCB bishops

    Charity flows from individuals towards individuals. Government's role is to facilitate this one-on-one charity, not confiscate it. The government can never become what we already are.
    Christians are children of God. The Church is a real person, ensouled by the Holy Spirit. Charity is love between individual persons. The Church can practice real charity because the Church is a person.Government is not a person.Government cannot be a child of God. Government is incapable of practicing divine charity because government is not a person. 
    The bishops of the USCCB do not seem able to distinguish between God and government.Thus, they compel Paul Ryan to do something which violates Catholic Faith.They have become the evil they claim to fight.This is a source of sadness for all Catholics.



    This makes total common sense to me and I think it is a very relevent perspective.  Maybe if the USCCB could come up with their own budget so that we could look it over I might feel differently, but right now I'm having a hard time seeing

    • Where the "three principals are found in the catechism.
    • How continual handouts are good for the poor, the general citizens and the country. 
    • How the USCCB can advocate for more debt when Pope Benedict has said: "  “we are living at the expense of future generations.
    and perhaps lastly - how come none of the social justice articles never touch on these things?














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    4 comments:

    Janette said...

    I wouldn't be upset about not paying more taxes. My property tax is terrible. The sales tax in town is 10%. We don't have a mortgage- so I have no deductions.

    Close all the loop holes. Flatten the taxes and move forward.

    I am surprised you haven't written about the Chinese Dissident that was "lead out of the embassy because he needed medical treatment." His main cause for desertion--- China's one child policy and forced abortions. Hillary walked in and he was escorted to the door. It perked my ears that abortion is a totally acceptable thing for the state department and we do not condone (as a country) those who fight for the unborn or their families........
    BTW- The embassy has a complete medical staff on duty!

    Huge issue in my book---where are the bloggers on this one (or did Hillary fly UNDER the radar on this one?)

    Elena LaVictoire said...

    I totally agree about the flat tax. I'm intrigued about the sales tax idea.


    I haven't had much time to do serious writing about Mr. Chen.

    You can read some other bloggers:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2012/05/obama-aborts-chen-guangcheng.html

    http://deaconforlife.blogspot.com/2012/05/lifesitenews-wednesday-may-2-2012.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DeaconForLife+%28DEACON+FOR+LIFE%29


    Of course, I never voted for this regime in the first place. I'm never surprised at how low they will stoop.

    Moonshadow said...

    I don't know much about the Chen case but aren't conservatives in favor of the rule of law?

    On the one hand, you want the U. S. Government to "act Christian" by helping a *foreign* dissident who has problems with a legal procedure but not to help its own people with food stamps or whatever.

    Me, I'd rather we look to our own first.

    As for this:

    "you could work hard and succeed and then give back and help someone else up."

    The Catholics got this very idea from the Bible, Eph. 4:28 - "he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need." (NASB)

    Elena LaVictoire said...

    THere's a difference between "help" and enabling a lifestyle choice, which is what the welfare state has become.

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