Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Catholicism on Welfare

Recently, as we've noted, some Catholic pop-theologians sent a letter to Catholic U. and speaker Boehner attempting to establish that his invite to their commencement was on par with Notre Dame's invite to President Obama two years ago. The pop-theologians cited the Church's social teaching as evidence supposedly proving that Boehner has voted in opposition to helping the poor.

The letter again notes: "From the apostles to the present, the magisterium of the church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor."

What the pop-theologians assume is that any vote against Medicare, Medicaid, Welfare, or other programs for the poor is considered to be AGAINST Church teaching.

So what does the Church say about government assistance to the poor? This is a direct quote from the Compendium of the Church's Social Doctrine - "By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending."

The Compendium goes on to note that there are certain circumstances where the government ought to step in and stimulate or provide assistance for the poor, but it emphasizes that this can never be more than a SHORT-TERM intervention. The Compendium notes: "This institutional substitution must not continue any longer than is absolutely necessary, since justification for such intervention is found only in the exceptional nature of the situation."

Contrary to the assertions of the pop-theologians, Boehner's votes could potentially be said to be in line with the Church's teachings, while those voting for increases in such programs would be going AGAINST the Church's teaching.

Even more interesting than the blame game here is the Church's vision for programs like Welfare. The phrasing in the first quote mentioned above is brilliant and needs to be reckoned with - the idea that welfarish programs "depriving society of its responsibility."

What if there were no welfare? Right now it seems like most people view taxes as an annual bout with the IRS to get as much of our money back as possible - and because of the billions of dollars and the gigantic bureaucracy that we support, it is easy to plead the same as Ebeneezer Scrooge when it comes to taking care of the poor - citing the numerous places where the poor can receive aid from the government as a defense of why they don't need my financial help. With such bureaucracy it is easy to shrug off the poor, homeless, elderly etc. because we're indefinitely paying into a pot on the national level from which money is re-dispensed to the impoverished.

What the Church is getting at with its phrase "depriving society of its responsibility" is exactly what we see in our country. What if there were no welfare? What if I saw each poor person on the street as my own personal responsibility? What if I thought of every dime I hold back which is excess wealth as a missed opportunity to better the world? What if, as the Church suggests, there is no long-term welfare? Right now, our current form of capitalism coupled with government welfare and health care provides us with no opportunity to really decry anyone who is excessively wealthy - but if there were no welfare, that would change the game big time.

The basis of the Church's understanding of long-term Welfare as PROBLEMATIC is the idea that we will look at in detail later - the EXTREMELY IMPORTANT teaching called "subsidiarity" which simply says functions of government and functions provided by corporations should be left to the lowest level of society as possible - and that includes care for the poor.

Is voting against welfare anti-Catholic - no, and in fact, it may be just what the Church ordered for the long term spiritual and economic health of our nation.


  1. What an honor - Weigel picked up the same theme in an article published today about the state of Welfare/Government/the poor as well. Read his much more eloquently written piece here:


  2. Not sure why a Priest is making any statements that get involved with the current political climate..... after 19 or so years away from the Catholic I came and attended mass said by you on Easter. I thought I might return...... that said, I now won't.

    After the fiasco with "Family Radio" and the on going fiasco with Catholic Priests, I'll quote Emerson here "I cannot help remarking that it is not a little singular that we should have preserved this rite and insisted upon perpetuating one symbolical act of Christ whilst we have totally neglected all others"
    ...My relationship with Christ is just fine without the church ...

  3. A couple of points in response:

    1) The current political climate involves people and so priests talk about the current political climate. Separation of church and state has never been interpreted as "priests shall not speak about anything to do with politics."

    2) One should not be surprised that Ralph Waldo Emerson would say something anti-Catholic - he was a protestant preacher.

    3) The Family Radio affair (the group that said the world would end on May 21st) would seem to me to highlight the need FOR a Church which doesn't leave scriptural interpretation up to the whim of each individual person.

    4) What happened at the Easter Mass?

    5) Many people think they don't need the "visible" Church to get to Christ but the Apostles, St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Joan of Arc, St. John Bosco, St. Augustine and 1,000's of other saints, including St. Paul and numerous other New Testament authors speak UNANIMOUSLY about the need FOR the Church. Scandals are hard, and a scandal is tough precisely because every time there is a scandal people leave the Church for similar reasons that you quote above. We pray for an end to scandals but where humans are involved, there will usually be scandal - Christ never said the Church would be free of scandal - He did say the gates of Hell would not prevail against it. So far He's been right.