Before everyone gets all freaky on the pope once again, his latest statement – up on Drudge in big scary letters – is that there should be a “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state.” The headline reads:
POPE: ‘LEGITIMATE REDISTRIBUTION’ OF WEALTH
Well that’s not exactly what he said, but anyway even if it was, this is really not as controversial as the media wants it to be.
So pause. Breath. Have a piece of Easter candy (you know you still have some), and think about it for a second.
All the pope’s saying is that there are legitimate ways by which the state can distribute economic benefits, or wealth if you want. We already know this and believe this as Catholics. It is in fact a part of Catholic Social Teaching that the state has a role in making sure that the poor in a society have access to that which they have a right, like food and water enough to live.
This is what the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which was promulgated under Pope Benedict’s reign, says:
329. Riches fulfill their function of service to man when they are destined to produce benefits for others and for society. “How could we ever do good to our neighbor,” asks St. Clement of Alexandria, “if none of us possessed anything?”. In the perspective of St. John Chrysostom, riches belong to some people so that they can gain merit by sharing them with others. Wealth is a good that comes from God and is to be used by its owner and made to circulate so that even the needy may enjoy it.
The “made to circulate” part is the part in which the state can have a role. The extent of that role is the part over which good Catholics can argue, but it is certainly un-Catholic to argue that the state should have no role.
For those who insist that the pope is a Marxist, the quote from the Holy Father actually undermines that idea, for he obviously thinks there are illegitimate ways by which the state redistributes wealth, a position over which I suspect Marx and Lenin would have quibbled.
Also note, please, that he uses the phrase “economic benefits” and not actually the word “wealth.” CNN threw that in there for more pizzazz.
“Wealth” usually connotes money and capital and that’s it. The word, then, is handy for advancing the whole Pope-is-Obama meme. “Economic benefits,” on the other hand, in my mind include all sorts of things on top of money and capital like opportunity for upward mobility, job training, access to micro loans, education etc. These are all benefits which advance economic position, opportunity, potential.
This is another example of why we shouldn’t trust main stream media reports to learn more about our faith. That goes for you conservatives out there who take your cues on the pope from Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge.
By the way, the rest of the quote is “legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.” Note the word “indispensable.” Actually, what the Compendium says in paragraph 91 is that the State works with the private sector in order to help redistribute economic benefits. That’s the way the principle of subsidiarity works. If the state weren’t involved at all, then we wouldn’t be talking about subsidiarity at all. So maybe the headline should read:
POPE CONDEMNS SHUTTING OUT PRIVATE SECTOR
But I suspect we won’t see that one.
Omar F. A. Gutierrez writes from Omaha, NE. His new book, The Urging of Christ’s Love:The Saints and the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church can be purchased through online book sellers.