Cardinal staunchly defends pope’s critiques of capitalism

by Joshua J. McElwee

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A cardinal advisor to Pope Francis staunchly defended the pontiff’s continuing critiques of the free market system on Tuesday, saying the world’s economic system is founded on a “new idolatry.”

Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, chairman of a group of eight cardinals advising Francis on reforming the Catholic church, also bluntly critiqued global inaction in the face of growing income inequality and continuing conditions of poverty around the world.

“A system has been built now as a new idolatry and it's only the true God that has to be served and not worshipping idols, even if that idol is called market economy ... or the idol of libertarianism,” said Rodriguez, speaking at an event in Washington presenting Catholic views against libertarian ideologies.

“The libertarianism deregulation of the market is much to the disadvantage of the poor,” Rodriguez continued. “This economy kills. This is what the pope is saying.”

Rodriguez was speaking Tuesday at an event organized by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America, titled “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case Against Libertarianism.”

Held just southwest of the U.S. Capitol building, which was in view from the windows of the meeting’s auditorium, the event saw Rodriguez and a number of theologians and economists launch a full-throated attack on libertarianism based on the values of Catholic social teaching.

For his part, Rodriguez cited repeatedly from Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), saying the pontiff “analyzes the economy from the point of view of the poor, which is in line with Jesus’ perspective.”

Francis, Rodriguez said, “does not let himself be deceived by trickle down economics.”

“As someone who lived with the poor, Francis rejects such theory since facts speak another language and never have confirmed” that trickle down economics lead to benefits for the poor, said Rodriguez.

With 870 million people around the world living in hunger and that two billion without access to necessary medicines, Rodriguez said Francis’ “main point” in his apostolic exhortation is that “a wrong anthropology is creating this wrong distribution of wealth.”

Saying that the idolatry of the market “equally disregards the environment,” Rodriguez also confirmed that Francis is writing an encyclical letter on environmental issues.

“The Holy Father is writing an encyclical letter on that, but not only on the perspective on global warming,” said Rodriguez. “The problems are more deep. The problems come from justice to the environment.”

Rodriguez also said Francis sees poverty around the world as something that must be addressed soon.

“Elimination of the structural causes of poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed,” said Rodriguez. “We are no longer to trust the blind forces and the invisible hand of the market ... that became thief” from the world’s poor.

“There is an unrest in democracy today because the world economy took the world politics” hostage, Rodriguez said. “Now, politics are subservient to money and not the common good.”

To tackle the problems of poverty and inequality, Rodriguez called on Catholics to “hold the government responsible and accountable in the years between the elections.”

“Even though politics is often regarded as a dirty game, who else but committed Christians can clean it up?” he asked.

The cardinal also called on Catholics to educate their children in the principles of Catholic social teaching at a young age, and not to wait until high school or college.

“We have to start from the very beginning, because otherwise the social doctrine is taken like another ideology and it is not another ideology,” he said.

Spokane, Wash., Bishop Blase Cupich offered a response to Rodriguez at the event Tuesday, saying the cardinal outlined how Francis and libertarians offer “two compellingly different pathways for humanity at this moment in history.”

While libertarians argue for freedom for individuals on the basis of liberty, said Cupich, “they fail to uphold ... that since this dignity belongs to all human beings in common, it implies the solidarity of all peoples.”

“By uncoupling human dignity from the solidarity it implies, libertarians move in a direction that not only has enormous consequences for the meaning of economic life and the goal of politics in a world of globalization, but in a direction which is inconsistent with Catholic Social Teaching, particularly as it is developed by Pope Francis,” he said.

Tuesday’s event also included several other speakers, as well as two panel discussions on libertarian economics and how libertarianism affects U.S. culture.

Meghan Clark, an assistant professor of theology and religious studies at St. John’s University, spoke on the first panel and critiqued libertarian views of relationships between individuals.

Catholics, she said, do not view themselves only as individuals but members of a community, just as we view God as a Trinitarian being.

“We believe that God is triune,” said Clark. “If we are created in imago dei, we must also be imago trinitatis.”

Also speaking on that panel was Msgr. Stuart Swetland, vice president for Catholic identity at Mount St. Mary’s University and a popular radio host.

Responding to a question from the audience after the panel about why there were not any libertarians presenting their viewpoints, Swetland said it would be difficult to have a productive conversation between a libertarian and a Catholic.

“We didn’t want as a church to dialogue with communism as much as to show that it had an inadequate ideology,” said Swetland. “There are fundamental flaws in most theories of libertarianism ... that makes dialogue just as difficult.”

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR national correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac. He is a graduate of The Catholic University of America.]

A version of this story appeared in the June 20-July 3, 2014 print issue under the headline: Cardinal defends pope's critiques of capitalism.

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