The election of Matteo Renzi represents a low point in the fortunes of political Catholicism in democratic Italy, as engaged Catholics across the political spectrum have less influence over the national government than at probably any point since World War II. This decline in fortunes illustrates the weaknesses of mainstream Catholic political strategies in the post-Cold War era. A cross-country comparison of Italy and the U.S. can help illustrate how the struggles of political Catholicism in the early twenty-first century reflect certain weaknesses in the Catholic Church’s current understanding of its social mission.
A week ago Monday, in the United States and Canada, we celebrated Labor Day, a holiday established to remind us of “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.” Before we are too far past the holiday, I wanted to respond to a post by the blogger Morning’s Minion at the Vox Nova blog on the living wage, or just wage, and its role in Catholic social teaching. My point is not so much to dispute his conclusions but to complement them with some further reflections on the just wage.
Carl Raschke argues that, given the ongoing debt crisis, political theology must more adequately grapple with economics, and in particular Keynesianism. The tradition of Catholic social teaching, particularly in the period of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, already provides an example of a political theological response to Keynesianism, and, in both what it gets right and what it gets wrong, can serve as a resource to political theologians today.
The controversy surrounding the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, defeated in the U.S. Senate on December 4, demonstrates the tension in Catholic teaching between the need for effective international institutions that promote human rights and the need for international institutions that respect a proper balance between their own authority and the authority of states.
The debate in the United States over the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities earlier this month brought to the fore the issue of state sovereignty. Since Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, Catholic social teaching has taught that an international political authority is necessary to solve today’s global problems, but also that such an authority must be limited, respecting the legitimate authority of states. This post outlines this teaching, pointing out the inherent tensions present in it.
Now that the election season is over in America, it might be a good time to take a step back and take a longer, more substantive look at some of the principles of Christian social thought than is sometimes possible in the midst of soundbites and stump speeches. Given the religious makeup of the candidates at the top of the tickets, Catholic Social Teaching (CST) was the focus of some attention in the national political conversation. It’s been noted that the political overlays onto religious faith are often just as constricting and reductive as partisanship itself. As Robert Joustra has observed, “Isn’t it ironic that the ecclesial conversation is essentially a thinly-baptized version of exactly the same disagreements in the secular world, but with less technical capacity and more theological abstraction?”
This is in some sense what has happened to principles of CST like subsidiarity and solidarity.
In the first presidential debate of 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney tried to outdo one another in currying favor with the middle class. Yet Catholic social teaching proposes a preferential option for the poor. Catholics are called to promote the common good of all by putting the poor front and center.
The principle of subsidiarity is perhaps one of the most crucial and most misunderstood in Catholic social teaching. According to the principle, decisions should be made at the lowest level possible and the highest level necessary. Subsidiarity is crucial because it has applications in just about every aspect of moral life. In medical ethics, subsidiarity helps guide decision-making. In social ethics, subsidiarity helps us prudentially judge not only decision-making but allocation of resources. Subsidiarity is an effort at balancing the many necessary levels of society – and at its best, the principle of subsidiarity navigates the allocation of resources by higher levels of society to support engagement and decision making by the lower levels. Despite how often it is stated – subsidiarity does NOT mean smaller is better.