Thursday, October 25, 2012

On All of Our Shoulders II

Yesterday I posted the first two sections of the statement “On All of Our Shoulders,” an evaluation of the Ryan Budget proposal according to the norms of the magisterium issued by 150+ Catholic scholars and theologians.  Today I am posting the next two sections.   My point, as I wrote yesterday, is not to portray Congressperson Ryan in a negative light and certainly not to make him out to be a “ bad Catholic,” but only to demonstrate that the choice for Catholic voters in this election is not a moral “slam-dunk” in the Romney/Ryan hoop.  I believe that a Catholic can, in good conscience, vote for the Republican ticket because of its opposition to legalized abortion.  I also believe that a Catholic can look at the moral issues of the Republican Platform’s economic policies and compare them unfavorably—again, from a moral standpoint—to those of the Democratic candidates and go for the Obama/Biden ticket.  There are serious moral flaws in the projects of each party.  Ironically the Democrats seem to understand this better than the Republicans, but I think it is important that we not only look at the spectrum of issues in making our choices, but respect those who also look hard at the same moral spectrum of issues and make a different choice.  So now, back to “On  All of Our Shoulders….”

Prudence Misused
Catholic promoters of Ryan's policies often invoke "prudence" to argue that since bishops are not competent to judge the details of policy proposals, there is no properly "Catholic" problem with his policies. This distorts the authentic Catholic meaning of prudence. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as "right reason in action." It is the virtue through which we "apply moral principles to particular cases." [2] In St. Thomas Aquinas's words, no one "can properly apply one thing to another unless he knows both the thing to be applied and the thing to which it has to be applied." [3] Thus, prudence demands both knowledge of the principles of Catholic Social Doctrine and honest attention to the details and realistic consequences of policies.
Aquinas also warned that prudence is a risky business. We are perennially tempted to use it as a cover for achieving goals contrary to our professed principles. Aquinas taught that the vice of "craftiness" often masquerades as prudence. Craftiness uses "means that are not true, but fictitious and counterfeit" to achieve its ends "whether good or bad." [4] For that reason, we must always scrutinize the principles that inspire our actions in prudential matters. Are our actions and policies consistent with the ideals we proclaim? Or would an honest assessment reveal they are guided by less laudable motives?
Prudence and Principle, Love and Truth:
The Church's social doctrine is not simply an imperative to believe in God and help the poor, for which any proposal can claim equal legitimacy by promising positive consequences. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states that the Church teaches specific principles of social doctrine.
These principles of the Church's social doctrine "concern the reality of society in its entirety: from close and immediate relationships to those mediated by politics, economics and law; from the relationships among communities and groups to relations between peoples and nations." [5]
A Catholic use of prudence requires evaluating the compatibility between policy proposals and these substantial teachings.
Benedict XVI expressed the true challenge of Christian prudence in his great social encyclical Caritas in Veritate: the truth of Christian love must animate all dimensions of society. Caritas is more than a generic inspiration, if love is truth, it must give specific form to our actions.
Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word "love" is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite.
Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present. [6]

Prudence and Policy
Prudence also requires consideration of the full range of options available and an honest assessment of the outcome of policy proposals. After decades of tax cuts, honesty requires considering revenue increases in addition to program cuts. Government programs are not perfect and need to be improved. Proposals to slash or eliminate programs without proposing alternatives, however, is exactly the kind of indifference Jesus condemned in the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Rich Man and Lazarus.

2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1806
3. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II: 47, 3 resp.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II-II: 55, 3 resp.
5. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #161.
6. Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, #3,4.

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