Socialism in Catholic Social Teaching

I have read it all too often that Catholic Social Teaching is just socialism in religious garb.  I disagree.  Both those Catholics who insist on supporting socialist solutions to social problems AND those who would label Catholicism as socialism have based their positions on a flawed and selective reading of those Papal Encyclicals that make up the bulk of the documentation of Catholic doctrine.

So I have made a selection of quotes from those documents.  These do not negate the admonition that as Christians we are to consider others needs and especially take care of those who cannot work such as the elderly and handicapped, but neither do those admonitions, made to individuals in the Church, abolish the teachings against socialism and the principle of private property (which I will do more quotes for in another blog post).

Bl. Pius IX, Encyclical Letter Nostis et nobiscum, Dec. 8, 1849
“18. As regards…these theories, it is now generally known that the special goal of their proponents is to introduce to the people the pernicious fictions of Socialism and Communism by misapplying the terms “liberty” and “equality.” The final goal shared by these teachings, whether of Communism or Socialism, even if approached differently, is to excite by continuous disturbances workers and others, especially those of the lower class, whom they have deceived by their lies and deluded by the promise of a happier condition. They are preparing them for plundering, stealing, and usurpingeveryone’s property…. 20. …it can never be lawful under any pretext of liberty or equality to usurp or injure in any way the good or rights of other men. Divine precepts on this subject are clear and can be found throughout the holy scriptures. They forbid us strictly even to desire the goods of other men, much less seize them.[18]”

Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Quod apostolici muneris on socialism, Dec. 28th, 1878
“4. …For, “the church of the living God, which is the pillar and ground of truth,”(6) hands down those doctrines and precepts whose special object is the safety and peace of society and the uprooting of the evil growth of socialism.
5. For, indeed, although the socialists, stealing the very Gospel itself with a view to deceive more easily the unwary, have been accustomed to distort it so as to suit their own purposes, nevertheless so great is the difference between their depraved teachings and the most pure doctrine of Christ that none greater could exist: “for what participation bath justice with injustice or what fellowship bath light with darkness?”(7)”

Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter Quod multum, on the liberty of the Church, Aug. 22nd, 1886
“Effective Means of Restraining Socialism
4. Nevertheless to restrain the danger of socialism there is only one genuinely effective means, in the absence of which the fear of punishment has little weight to discourage offenders. It is that citizens should be thoroughly educated in religion, and restrained by respect for and love of the Church. For the Church as parent and teacher is the holy guardian of religion, moral integrity, and virtue.”

Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Quadragesimo anno, on the reconstruction of the social order, May 15th, 1931:  “117. But what if Socialism has really been so tempered and modified as to the class struggle and private ownership that there is in it no longer anything to be censured on these points? Has it thereby renounced its contradictory nature to the Christian religion? This is the question that holds many minds in suspense. And numerous are the Catholics who, although they clearly understand that Christian principles can never be abandoned or diminished seem to turn their eyes to the Holy See and earnestly beseech Us to decide whether this form of Socialism has so far recovered from false doctrines that it can be accepted without the sacrifice of any Christian principle and in a certain sense be baptized. That We, in keeping with Our fatherly solicitude, may answer their petitions, We make this pronouncement: Whether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.      “120. If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.

Bl. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter Mater et magistra, on Christianity and social progress, May 15th, 1961
“Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between Communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism. The reason is that Socialism is founded on a doctrine of human society which is bounded by time and takes no account of any objective other than that of material well-being. Since, therefore, it proposes a form of social organization which aims solely at production, it places too severe a restraint on human liberty, at the same time flouting the true notion of social authority.”

John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus annus on the hundredth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, May 5th, 1991                                                                                                                                     “42. Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?  …The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy”, “market economy” or simply “free economy”.”

Dear Lord, please bless our attempts to practice the entire social doctrine of the Church and protect us from falling into the errors of socialism and communism which in Your wisdom you have guided the Church to condemn.  Do not let us forget those who are weak and in need of aid, but neither should we violate the property rights of others.  Give us wisdom to seek the way of truth and liberty. Amen.

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