Judge Andrew Napolitano wrote an op-ed in which he is critical of Pope Francis’ comments on economics. I am reposting part of Napolitano’s op-ed which Father Z has posted on his blog with added remarks of his own in red.
NAPOLITANO: Pope Francis should be saving souls, not pocketbooks
Church teaching on personal freedom includes a moral imperative to work and share
By Andrew P. Napolitano Wednesday, December 4, 2013
What is the worst problem in the world today? Might it be war, starvation, genocide, sectarian violence, murder, slaughter of babies in the womb? Any of these would be a rational answer. When Pope Francis was asked this question recently, he replied, “Youth unemployment.”
To be sure, youth unemployment is a serious problem. In some parts of the United States, the richest country in the world, it has reached 25 percent. These are people who are no longer in school full time and are not yet 30 years of age. It is a problem for them and their families, for their communities and for the welfare states that are supporting them. Is it the worst problem in the world, though? Is it a problem for the Roman Catholic Church? Is it something the pope is competent to comment upon or to resolve?
The pope’s youth-unemployment comments recently were removed from the Vatican’s website. No sooner had that been done than the Holy Father issued his first encyclical — a formal papal teaching, as opposed to his now-famous, impromptu back-of-the-plane yet on-the-record comments.
His encyclical is about economics, [No. It is neither an encyclical nor is it - primarily- about economics. These errors of fact, however, don't change the argument too much.] and it reveals a disturbing ignorance. [At least about economics.] I say this with deference and respect. I also say this as a traditionalist Roman Catholic who laments the post-Vatican II watering down of sacred traditions, lessening of moral teaching and trivialization of liturgical practices. [OORAH!] I also say this, though, as a firm believer that Pope Francis is the Vicar of Christ on Earth and, as such, personifies the teaching authority of the church. He is morally and juridically capable of speaking ex cathedra — that is, infallibly — but only after surveying and distilling traditional Church teachings and only on matters affecting faith and morals.
Thank God, so to speak, that his teaching authority is limited to faith and morals, because in matters of economics, he is wide of the mark.
His encyclical, [See above.] titled “Joy of the Gospel,” attacks free-market capitalism because it takes too long for the poor to get rich. [That may be the money quote.] “They are still waiting,” the pope wrote. Without capitalism, which rewards hard work and sacrifice, they will wait forever. No economic system in history has alleviated more poverty, generated more opportunity and helped more formerly poor people become rich than capitalism. The essence of capitalism goes to the core of Catholic teaching: the personal freedom of every person. Capitalism is freedom to risk, freedom to work, freedom to save, freedom to retain the fruits of one’s labors, freedom to own property and freedom to give to charity.
The problem with modern capitalism — a problem that escaped the scrutiny of His Holiness — is not too much freedom, but too little. The regulation of free markets by governments, the control of the private means of production by government bureaucrats, and the unholy alliances between governments, banks and industry have raised production costs, stifled competition, established barriers to entry into markets, raised taxes, devalued savings and priced many poor out of the labor force. The pope would do well to pray for those who have used government to steal freedom so as to satisfy their lust for power, and for those who have bowed to government so as to become rich from governmental benefits and not by the fruits of their own labors.
Traditional Catholic social teaching imposes on all of us a moral obligation to become our brothers’ keepers. [This isn't just an imperative from Catholic social teaching, by the way.] But this is a personal moral obligation, enforced by conscience and church teaching and the fires of hell [When is the last time you saw that in a secular paper? When is the last time you heard that from a pulpit?] — not by the coercive powers of the government. Charity comes from the heart. It consists of freely giving away one’s wealth. It is impossible to be charitable with someone else’s money. That’s theft, not charity.
Father Z is correct when he notes that Evangelii Gaudium is not primarily on economics. I have only read about 10-12 pages of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation but the majority of those pages focused on spreading the Gospel, evangelizing, and spreading God’s love to others. What I’ve read so far is very well written. Pope Francis may be somewhat naive and too trusting of governments when it comes to economics and aiding the poor. Some of the Pope’s words on economics are odd and had Kevin and I asking “what are you talking about?” Maybe we are misinterpreting his words? Or maybe Pope Francis’ words really mean something different than what his words mean if taken at face value? Regardless, economics is a moral issue. Feeding the hungry is a moral issue. Whether persons believe that government does a better job of helping the poor or that charities do a better job of helping the poor is a matter of prudential judgment.