Wednesday, June 17, 2009

President Obama and Catholic Social Teaching

A majority of Catholics voted for President Obama in the last election despite his pro-abortion views. Their argument was a straightforward one: Yes, Mr. Obama supports unrestricted abortion rights, but he is with the Church on poverty, health care, immigration, torture, capital punishment etc.

This argument has been put forth by many and was at the core of the warm reception provided to Mr Obama by the President of the University of Notre Dame, Fr. John Jenkins.

Let us put aside for a moment the question of moral equivalency -- the argument that abortion is just one of many issues. (For the record, I adamantly disagree that abortion is just one of many issues.)

What has really bothered me the past year or so is that the oft repeated argument that Obama's positions on social issues (excepting abortion, of course) are "with the Church."

I disagree.

To automatically assume that President Obama’s approach to economic & social concerns (excepting abortion) is compatible with Church teaching is erroneous.

One may be correct in arguing that many of his end goals are consistent with Church teaching (alleviation of poverty, universal health care, etc.). However, his plan to use large, expensive programs administered by the federal government in Washington D.C. to achieve these goals is very questionable in light of Church teaching.

In fact the Church warns against such a government-dominated approach, lest individuals and local communities lose the incentive to take their own part in God’s work. This principle is known as subsidiarity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes the following:
In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, neither the state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and intermediary bodies. (CCC 1894)
Moreover, the words of John Paul II in his encyclical Centesimus Annus seem to warn against just the type of government-dominated approach being aggressively pushed by President Obama:
By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need. (Centesimus Annus 48)
Thus, in Catholic teaching, it is the responsibility of individuals and local communities to look out for the less fortunate (and failing that, perhaps state governments), not that of a distant, inefficient government in Washington D.C.

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