Catholic prelates are certainly entitled to their opinions but, when expressing those opinions, prelates should identify them as personal opinions. That’s especially true when Catholic prelates are speaking outside of their area of competence, as those opinions can be seized upon and promoted by others—and the mainstream media, in particular—as if they are official Church teaching.
Consider the example of Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, the Salesian Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, President of Caritas International, as well as Vatican spokesman with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Concerning the issue of Third World debt, Cardinal Maradiaga has written: “In this time the free market has produced one sector which is booming: social exclusion.”
In The Catholic Herald, Phillip Booth has written that this type of “sloganeering” is unbecoming a Catholic prelate. To wit: Booth identifies two substantive errors evidencing themselves in Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga’s opinion.
Error #1:The number of people living in absolute poverty
- The past 6 years (the Cardinal’s point of reference) extended a 25-year period during which absolute poverty has declined more rapidly than at any previous time in human history. Unfortunately, that’s not happening in Honduras, which ranks as the 112 freest country in the world (out of 189) with 25% of its citizens living in absolute poverty.
- Those who live at the margins are not suffering due to free markets. No, their poverty is due to cronyism, corruption, and the absence of the basic conditions for markets to function. In that regard, Honduras ranks 162 (out of 189) of the easiest places in the world to start a business.
In South and Central American countries, governments are excluding citizens from markets. Citizens are not being excluded by markets. But, according to the Cardinal, it’s the “rich countries”—especially Italy and Spain—where markets exclude people are at fault for this “social exclusion.”
Unfortunately, the Cardinal errs once again. As Booth correctly has noted, Spain and Italy are not hotbeds of free-market liberalism. Spain is the 22nd freest country in Europe and Italy is the 35th freest.
Error #2: The markets are unconstrained
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga has also overlooked how, in recent decades, governments have increasingly constrained markets. Again, Booth has rightly highlighted some inconvenient facts the Cardinal has conveniently overlooked:
- Between 1950 and 2010, government spending on the part of most of the world’s largest economies increased 200% as a proportion of national income. Much of this spending went to entitlement programs, the cost for which requires increasing taxes—thus decreasing income—and cutting back in other discretionary programs.
- The number of new laws and regulations passed and the proportion of people working for the government have also increased markedly over the past 20 years. This is true even of the financial sector.
Governments have been increasingly constraining markets, making it increasingly difficult for los pueblos to participate in free markets.
And that’s just the beginning of Booth’s well-founded critique of Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga’s opinion, because the Cardinal didn’t stop there. If people were to take the Cardinal seriously, Booth opines, nations like Britain would become more like Italy and Chile would become more like Honduras. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Spread the pain around for all to experience rather than eliminate the pain so no one experiences it…the latter seeming to be the case, contrary to the Cardinal’s problematic opinion.
Booth is correct: Communicating one’s highly debatable opinions as if they are truth “undermines the respect in which in which clergy are held when they talk about issues on which they are (or should be) expert and authoritative.”
When it comes to economic matters, it would much better if prelates invited Catholic economists to write and publish papers from an informed Catholic perspective. Then, let other experts have at those papers to vet their contents “speaking clearly with frankness and listening with humility,” much like Pope Francis desires for the Synod on the Family.
To read Phillip Booth’s article in the Catholic Herald, click on the following link:
To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, Omnibus, click on the following link: