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April 19, 2006

Catholic Conservatives Ignore Benedict on Political “Caritas”

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 11:32 pm

Pope Benedict XVI has apparently disappointed America’s “conservative” Catholics by not coming out swinging on their favorite issues. (Washington Post, “Pope’s 1st Year Lacks An Ideological Edge,” by Alan Cooperman; npr, “New Pope Surprises American Catholics,” by Greg Allen; April 19, 2006). Well, I’ve finally read Benedict’s first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est“(“God Is Love”), dated Dec. 25, 2005, and I’m pretty sure America’s Catholic conservatives are disappointing their Pope.

BenedictAmerica Pope Benedict XVI cover of America (March 13, 2006)

Ever since learning late last year that the Papal Letter, Deus Caritas Est [“DCE”], discusses “caritas” or “charity,” and the relationship between justice and charity, I’ve been waiting for conservative Catholic webloggers to analyze DCE — hoping to see how Catholic teachings affect their stance on important public policy issues. I’m especially interested, because prominent law professors — including Steve Bainbridge, MoJ‘s Rick Garnett, and Deans Thomas Menger (St. Thomas Law School) and Mark Sargent (Villanove Law) — have insisted that we need a revival of serious that is “unapologetically and actively committed to discerning and expressing distinctively Catholic approaches to law and lawyering.” (our prior post)

Call it an apostate’s natural suspicion, but the lack of discussion by conservative Catholics (and Catholic conservatives) — of DCE made me suspect that the Encyclical might have called for a bit too much caritas in the public sphere, or too high a level of commitment to charitable politcal activism by laypeople, for their liking.

What pushed me into actually finding and reading the DCE text, in fact, was Prof. Bainbridge’s discussion last week about the minimum wage, in response to was an article by Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly, dated April 11, 2006.) (our prior post) Steve’s thoughts were endorsed by Volokh Conspiracy‘s Jim Lindgren. At Prof. B‘s, VC, and WM, there were dozen of Comments, and the basic tone was so uncharitable and unloving — so miserly and spiteful — regarding the poor in America, that I decided it was time to see if Benedict XVI could help me figure out the issues. What the Pope had to say made my suspicions about a Catholic conservative cover-up appear quite justified.

Is Deus Caritas Est relevant to debates on issues such as minimum wage laws? I believe it absolutely is — for the Catholic faithful and for those who see in the core teachings of Jesus a universal ethics of human connection, interdependence, and responsibility. In summarizing Catholic teaching on caritas and justice, on the roles of both the Church hierarchy and the faithful, the Encyclical calls for an active,

engaged commitment among the laity to improve the plight of the poor — not merely through Church institutions and personal acts of charity, but also by using political processes in the public forum. (Such a “distinctively Catholic approach to law and lawyering” is one that Your Editor would welcome at American law schools.)

BenedictAmerica Here’s what I discovered in Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est:

The Letter first addresses at length the subject of God as love. Benedict eventually turns to the topic of “Jesus Christ – the incarnate love of God,” and explains that Jesus has “truly united” love of God and love of neighbor. Benedict explains [para. 16], for example, that through the parable of the Good Samaritan:

“The concept of “neighbour” is now universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now. The Church has the duty to interpret ever anew this relationship between near and far with regard to the actual daily life of her members.”

Benedict closes the section with this reminder:

“Lastly, we should especially mention the great parable of the Last Judgement (cf. Mt 25:31-46), in which love becomes the criterion for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof. Jesus identifies himself with those in need, with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). Love of God and love of neighbour have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God.”

JesusMoney jesus/moneychangers

Before you protest that this pious love-your-neighbor stuff belongs in the context of each Catholic’s personal life, please read on.

Part II of the Letter, titled “Caritas” begins by describing the centrality of charity to the essence of the Church. It then attempts to clarify the relationship between charity and justice. After dismissing the Marxist rejection of charity, Benedict nevertheless states [para. 26] (emphases added):

“It is true that the pursuit of justice must be a fundamental norm of the State and that the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community’s goods. This has always been emphasized by Christian teaching on the State and by the Church’s social doctrine.

“Historically, the issue of the just ordering of the collectivity had taken a new dimension with the industrialization of society in the nineteenth century. The rise of modern industry caused the old social structures to collapse, while the growth of a class of salaried workers provoked radical changes in the fabric of society. The relationship between capital and labour now became the decisive issue—an issue which in that form was previously unknown. Capital and the means of production were now the new source of power which, concentrated in the hands of a few, led to the suppression of the rights of the working classes, against which they had to rebel.”

After “admitt[ing] that the Church’s leadership was slow to realize that the issue of the just structuring of society needed to be approached in a new way,” the Letter notes that the illusion of a Marxist panacea for injustice has vanished. However [para 27]:

“In today’s complex situation, not least because of the growth of a globalized economy, the Church’s social doctrine has become a set of fundamental guidelines offering approaches that are valid even beyond the confines of the Church: in the face of ongoing development these guidelines need to be addressed in the context of dialogue with all those seriously concerned for humanity and for the world in which we live.”

An editorial in Catholic Weekly, “A More Excellent Way” (Feb. 13, 2006), explains the Church’s role “with respect to justice”:

JesusLibSJesus Was a Liberal

“The letter also makes a familiar and necessary distinction between the charitable work of the church and that of partisan, ideological movements. It affirms that justice is primarily the work of the state.

With respect to justice, the church’s role is that of teacher and critic. It hands on its social doctrine, guides consciences and helps identify the goals of authentic justice in society. ‘The church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contributions towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically,” Pope Benedict writes.

While not replacing the state, ‘she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.’

A similar explanation can be found in Greg Sisk’s posting at Mirror of Justice. The curious mind has to be wondering, “Well, if the Church’s insitutional role in achieving justice — defined by Benedict as “guarantee[ing] to each person, according to the principle of subsidiarity, his share of the community’s goods” — is indirect, who and how will the just society be achieved?

Benedict tells us the Church wants “dialogue with all those seriously concerned for humanity and for the world in which we live.” Naturally, he also expects that it is individual Catholics who will be the most receptive, who will have the most highly-enlightened consciences, and will in the forefront in securing justice and social caritas.

scales rich poor How do I know? Not because any conservative weblogger has told me! I know because Benedict tells us explicitly in Deus Caritas Est:

“The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the State, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. So they cannot relinquish their participation “in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good.” [21] The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility. [22] Even if the specific expressions of ecclesial charity can never be confused with the activity of the State, it still remains true that charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as “social charity”.[23] (emphases added)

I dare you to find either the sentence “The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful,” or the clause “charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as ‘social charity,'” in any of the political, economic, or religious commentary and punditry of the leading conservative Catholic webloggers. Indeed, you won’t find them on any obscure weblogs either (except for the Edmund Rice Justice Bulletin, which looks a little lefty to me).

JesusLibSN You can learn more about the Catholic notion of “social charity,” and “social justice” here. For example, the Catholic Catechism tells us that “The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of “friendship” or “social charity,” is a direct demand of human and Christian brotherhood.” Also, “Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work.” And, “The equal dignity of human persons requires the effort to reduce excessive social and economic inequalities,” because economic “differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods.”

JesusMoney Of course, any Catholic conservatives (or libertarians) who have read this far are already shaking their heads and thinking: (a) true justice can only come from the free market and its economic principles; (b) charity is a private matter and only the smallest government can be a just government; (c) the American form of government is as just as humankind will ever achieve, and doesn’t need more tinkering — especially of the welfare-state variety; or (d) no matter what you say, it’s immoral to take/tax money that I earn and redistribute it to poor people.

Pope Benedict anticipated such reactions. In DCE, Benedict therefore reminds the Faithful:

tiny check The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves. [para 28a]

tiny check Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics… The problem [what justice is] is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests. [para 28a]


tiny check Love—caritas—will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable.

tiny check The Church . . . has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper.

tiny check [The] Encyclical Ut Unum Sint emphasized that the building of a better world requires Christians to speak with a united voice in working to inculcate “respect for the rights and needs of everyone, especially the poor, the lowly and the defenceless.” [para. 30]

tiny check Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs.

tiny check The modern age, particularly from the nineteenth century on, has been dominated by various versions of a philosophy of progress whose most radical form is Marxism. Part of Marxist strategy is the theory of impoverishment: in a situation of unjust power, it is claimed, anyone who engages in charitable initiatives is actually serving that unjust system, making it appear at least to some extent tolerable. . . . What we have here, though, is really an inhuman philosophy. People of the present are sacrificed to the moloch of the future—a future whose effective realization is at best doubtful.

Benedict16 Perhaps most tellingly, Benedict tells ideologues of the Left and the Right: “One does not make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now. We contribute to a better world only by personally doing good now, with full commitment and wherever we have the opportunity, independently of partisan strategies and programmes.” [para. 31b]

That’s strong stuff. It seems directly relevant to political issues ranging from the level of the minimum wage, and the creation of universal health care rights, to the treatment of illegal (but otherwise law-abiding) immigrants.

When it comes to issues of social justice — and social caritasit seems clear that Jesus was indeed a Liberal. Living past 30 didn’t change that, and I’m sure the past two millennia haven’t either. The Sermon on the Mount, with its Eight Beatitudes, deserves the full respect of stare decisis. Jesus didn’t have a means test when he distributed the loaves and fishes. When the multitudes were hungry, He fed them — he didn’t tell them to figure out for themselves how to fish, or how to swim.

Conservative Catholics like First Things’ Richard John Neuhaus may be disappointed to see Benedict XVI playing the role of pastor now, rather than “enforcer.” But, even old cynics like myself believe that The Job often dictates the role that an incumbent must play. No job calls for the love of pastor and shepherd — and conscience for the faithful — like the papacy. I just hope the faithful are listening to Deus Caritas Est and will choose to live up to its call for political action in the name of social justice and charity.

afterthought (April 20): When it comes to feeding (or clothing, sheltering, healing, educating) the poor, the working poor, or even His more-comfortable “neighbors,” Christ was no Cafeteria Catholic. Can we say the same for America’s Catholic conservatives? Are they disappointing Jesus and His current Vicar, Benedict XVI? Are they leaving the social-justice heavy lifting to the non-religious (like myself), who they so often claim can have no solid moral foundation, and to the Liberal Catholics, who they so often deride as not really being Catholic at all?

TaxWhinerTUCummingsS larger Albany Times Union/Barbara Cummings – see our most-recent discussion of tax whiners:
ghosts of tax days past (Scrooge was surely a tax-whiner)

tiny check From the early 19th Century, Japanese Master haijin Kobayashi Issa offers a few closing haiku:

they curse the first snow
like it’s a beggar…
rest stop

in vain
the baby bird begs…
a stepchild

Great Japan!
even a beggar’s house
has a summer banne

even birds
make their nests…
beggars under the bridge

autumn wind–
a beggar looking
sizes me up

they must have kids–
bridge beggars
calling fireflies

deutzia tree–
among gods and beggars
it blooms

a pretty kite soars
a beggar’s shack

Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue


dis-n-dat from your decider-in-chief

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 12:44 am

It’s way too easy and way too tacky to be constantly poking

fun at George W. Bush’s awkward relationship with the English

language.  Nonetheless, his saying, this morning: 


        “But I am the decider. And I decide what is best


— regarding the future of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense —

did leave me shaking my head.  (see & WaPo, April 18, 2006)


“Blackboard ABCN”


Of course, being Decider-in-Chief is my role here at f/k/a, including

decidering which tangents to go off on.  The President’s line made

me think of a sentence that I have always associated with pundit

If you can’t say it clearly, you can’t think it clearly.”

                                                                                      cover  “statecraftWill”


Since the only George Will book I have ever read was his small,

I thought I’d try to find the quote and its context in that book.  Alas, only has an audio version, so I couldn’t peek inside,

and I couldn’t find the quote through Google. [I did, however, locate

an article from Smart Leader Mag-ezine,  by Nelson Searcy & Chad

Hall, Aug. 2000, that includes this quote: “Verbalize clearly – if you

can’t say it clearly, you don’t know it completely.”  Scary, huh?) 


My searching was not totally fruitless.  Although I very often find myself

disagreeing with George Will, in his column or Sunday’s on ABC, here

are a few quotations from Statecraft as Soulcraft that are well worth


“Statecraft is soulcraft. Just as all education is moral education

because learning conditions conduct, much legislation is moral

legislation because it conditions the action and the thought of

the nation in broad and important spheres of life.”


“Politics should share one purpose with religion: the steady eman-

cipation of the individual through the education of his passions.”




“Freedom is not only the absence of external restraints.

It is also the absence of irresistible internal compulsions,

unmanageable passion, and uncensorable appetites.”

“The essence of childishness is an inability to imagine

an incompatibility between one’s appetite and the world.

Growing up involves, above all, a conscious effort to

conform one’s appetites to a crowded world.”

“All politics takes place on a slippery slope. The most important

four words in politics are ‘up to a point’.”

Finally, Will is quoted by Richard Reeves in A Ford, Not a Lincoln, ch. 1

(1975) as saying the following apt sentence:

A politician’s words reveal less about what he thinks about his

subject than what he thinks about his audience.”



“tinyredcheck”  Our haijin patriot ed markowski is not reluctant to

offer senryu focusing on George W. Bush’s words:




               president’s speech

                  not once

                       does god

                           come to mind 







   remedial reading class

        an empty space

    where the W should be







                           the american president

                             defines his agenda



    – did you miss our post markowski: in your ear & “at the ballgame” ?





tiny check 
Last Saturday, we had a blurb about a bully in Schenectady who

allegedly has used several internet technologies to stalk his estranged wife.

[scroll to the blurb on David R. Monty, who got his wife fired with his haras-

sing email, and even set up a weblog pretending to be her.]  Today, NYT has

the worrisome article. “A Sinister Web Entraps Victims of Cyberstalkers,” by

Tom Zeller, Jr., April 17, 2006.  The article does mention two websites that

offer assistance to persons being stalked or otherwise harassed by persons

using the internet.  See and Working to Halt Online Abuse.



“UKG”  My British friends surely noticed a long time ago that the UK looks a lot
like the Easter Bunny.  For me, it was a new revelation today.  I happened upon
that discovery, when I checked the f/k/a archive this afternoon, looking for our
post ukku celebrates the coming of spring with haiku.  In that post we trumpeted:

Starting today, February 13, 2006, a new group haiku weblog will be
launched, to celebrate Winter’s turning into Spring.

Formed by our Honored Guest Matt Morden and haijin Alison Williams, the group
grew to twenty-two haiku poets and graphic artists, including dagosan.   After two
months writing our short poems chronicling and cajoling the coming of Spring, and
commentng back and forth, and to and fro, ukku spring haiku will stop adding new
poems at midnight Pacific Coast Tme tonight.   The poems and images will still be
there, so you are urged to look and linger.

farewell picnic —
wind blows the blossoms
off the dogwoods


       david giacalone, ukku spring haiku


ukku spring was my first attempt at participating in a group weblog, and it was an
enjoyable experience — introducing me to new artists, helping to know familiar ones
better, and egging me on to produce more quality one-breath poetry.  To celebrate,
I put together an online brochure, today, welcoming Spring: ukku haiku (2006), which
you are invited to print out for any non-commercial purpose.   It contains  my complete
ukku spring output (19 poems, clunkers and all), and is set up to be a printable, two-
sided, three-fold brochure.

“UKN”  Here are two hew haiku by Morden Haiku‘s Matt Morden, from
ukku haiku spring:


spring dusk
an old man ponders
on a
pea stick


ukku spring haiku, April 17, 2006



cold spring
spots of paint
on unopened tulips

ukku spring haiku, April 18, 2006


“THNLogoG”  We told you yesterday about the release of the

first annual edition of The Heron’s Nest printed journal (Vol. VII,

2005).  It contains around 500 haiku, including this pair from




women’s refuge —
new light finds the blue
in painted glass






January sales
a clown’s car steals
my parking space



women’s refuge” (March 2005)

January sales” (June 2005)


tiny check  You would also be enjoying this trio from our north-country

Honored Guest haijin friend, Alice Frampton:


“snowflakeSN”  “snowflakeSN”


dusting of snow
all the lights on
in the daycare






the slap of a beaver tail
at twilight





dead calf
a mother licks
the wind  


Alice Frampton from The Heron’s Nest (Vol. VII, 2005)

dead calf” & “mosquitos” – The Heron’s Nest (Sept. 2005)

dusting of snow” – March 2005)             


                                                                                             “Blackboard ABC”



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