When Theocons Attack! Vatican Edition.

Andrew Sullivan —  Oct 26 2011 @ 1:02pm


You knew the Church's effective endorsement of Occupy Wall Street would prompt a sudden outbreak of heterodoxy on the theocon right, didn't you? I mean any Catholic challenge to Randian orthodoxy in the GOP must be smacked down quickly, right? And, sure enough, the theocon blogosphere rises as one in dissent. K-Lo dismisses the document in line with decades of Catholic social teaching as a "bureaucratic curial note." George Weigel reassures conservative Catholics by claiming that the document is meaningless:


The truth of the matter is that “the Vatican” — whether that phrase is intended to mean the Pope, the Holy See, the Church’s teaching authority, or the Church’s central structures of governance — called for precisely nothing in this document. The document is a “Note” from a rather small office in the Roman Curia. The document’s specific recommendations do not necessarily reflect the settled views of the senior authorities of the Holy See; indeed, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the press spokesman for the Vatican, was noticeably circumspect in his comments on the document and its weight. As indeed he ought to have been. The document doesn’t speak for the Pope, it doesn’t speak for “the Vatican,” and it doesn’t speak for the Catholic Church. 

But the slightest off-hand comment by the Pope – if it benefits the GOP – is treated as weightily as an Encyclical. These people are so transparent. When it suits their interests, on sex, marriage and mores, the theocons love BXII. When it doesn't suit their interests, on the Iraq war, torture, the environment, economic inequality, they move on. And they call others "cafeteria Catholics." Samuel Gregg pens an open criticism of the Vatican's analysis in NRO, just as those damned relativist "faux-Catholics" liberals do all the time in, say, Commonweal:

[T]he text makes a legitimate point about the effects of a disjunction between the financial sector and the rest of the economy. It fails, however, to note that one major reason for this disjunction has been the dissolution of any tie between money and an external object of value that regulates the quantity of money and credit in circulation in the “real” economy. … Second, this document displays no recognition of the role played by moral hazard in generating the 2008 crisis or the need to prevent similar situations from arising in the future. …Third, given this text’s subject matter, it reflects one very strange omission.Nowhere does it contain a detailed discussion of the high levels of public debt and deficits in many developed economies, the clear-and-present danger they represent to the global financial system, and their negative impact upon the prospects for economic growth.

These are fair points. When liberals make them in other contexts, however, they're attacked as outliers and not real Catholics. In the hard-right Crisis magazine, Jeffrey Tucker condescends:

The Vatican seems to be growing in intellectual sophistication over worldly affairs. Now it gets economic matters half right. Sadly, being half right on something this important can lead to permanent calamity. To return to the original metaphor, the patient should thank the doctor for discovering the illness, but flee the poisonous “cure.”

Nicholas G. Hahn III simply argues that government is the problem, not reckless financiers:

The Council concludes its document with a reference to the Tower of Babel "where selfishness and divisions endure." Yet, the real towers of Babel these days are precisely the kind of bureaucratic authorities the Council seeks to proliferate. Perhaps once it ceases its own incompetent babble on financial reform, the Council will see that the real selfishness and divisions — and an idolatry of government — exist in itself.

Richard A. Viguerie goes all Beck:

Outside the classroom of a major university, it would be hard to find a more Marxism-based economic plan than the one espoused in today’s statement. Not only does it legitimize the various “Occupy” crowds, its criticism of capitalism goes beyond the Council’s past commentary on economics to call for nothing less than the abolition of economic freedom and the establishment of a new world economic system managed by the United Nations.

Rod Dreher is "deeply" troubled, and calls it "sinister utopianism, full stop." He adds

On a more practical level, it seems to me that they’re calling for the European Unionization of the planet at precisely the time when the EU is falling apart. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the EU designed to be precisely what the Vatican dreams of? … Is this really what the world wants and needs replicated on a global scale? Are the American people, the Russian people, and the Chinese people (to name but three) really prepared to relinquish sovereignty for the Vatican’s vision of a global superstate? The question is risible. What is so troubling, at least to me, is that this vision is accepted as a good and noble thing for humanity by the men in the Vatican. The problems they point out with the current system are very real. But their proposed solution would be a nightmare.

He finds, however, as one must, that it's consistent with a recent papal encyclical, which renders Weigel's spin all the more hackish:

[A] cursory reading of the encyclical suggests to me that yesterday’s statement from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, while not formally a binding Church teaching in the way a papal encyclical is, nevertheless is undeniably grounded in Benedict’s clear and authoritative teaching. I hope I’m wrong about this, but it seems pretty clear to me that Lee Penn’s analysis is more sound than those conservative admirers of Benedict’s who wish to dismiss the Justice and Peace council’s teaching as a one-off from the Church Left.

Score one for Rod's intellectual honesty. Score zero for the GOP reactionaries who are just as much cafeteria Catholics as any church liberal – and in many respects, more so.

(Photo: An 'Occupy Wall Street' protester marches in front of the Chase Manhattan Bank headquarters on October 12, 2011 in New York City. By Spencer Platt/Getty.)