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DJ Can Catholic Social Teaching Unite a Divided -2-

· 02/05/2021 10:53

This positive development in the church's view of the market reflected in large part the influence of the American Catholic philosopher and theologian Michael Novak, author of "The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism" (1982), who argued that economic competition is compatible with the Christian values of charity and community. Novak was also an important influence, along with the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, a prominent Catholic priest and writer, on President George W. Bush's philosophy of "compassionate conservatism," which assigned a major role to faith-based and other nongovernmental organizations in providing social services, Mr. Wehner said.

"'Compassionate conservatism' was designed to be a policy application of Catholic social thought," Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter and adviser to Mr. Bush who is considered one of the architects of compassionate conservatism, wrote in the Atlantic in 2018. He noted that the evangelical Christian movement to which he belongs lacks "a coherent, comprehensive tradition of social and political reflection" to match that of the Catholic Church.

More recently, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a Catholic and a likely presidential candidate in 2024, quoted four popes in a speech at the Catholic University of America proposing worker-friendly policies such as paid parental leave, expansion of the federal per-child tax credit and changes to the tax code to incentivize job creation and higher wages. The senator now says that job losses and social dislocation caused by the pandemic have made even clearer the need for what he calls "common-good capitalism." "To be a strong nation, we need strong families and strong communities, but none of that is possible if we do not have dignified work," Mr. Rubio said in a statement. "This is foundational in Catholic social teaching, but it is also core to what America is supposed to be."

A presidential candidate, of whatever religious affiliation, who combined socially conservative policies with a populist economic program would not only be in line with Catholic teaching but would win the White House, says Robert George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University. "It's a fertile field, it's ripe for the harvest," Mr. George said, though he added that such a candidate "would have to embody in a way that Trump didn't, in their own lives, the socially conservative" values of their supporters.

Both progressive and conservative Catholics agree that neither major party's program currently lines up with church teaching. "It's very hard to find a candidate who reflects even 40% of Catholic social teaching in their views," said Bishop McElroy. "The parties bifurcate what Catholic social teaching holds out as most crucial."

Catholics on the left and right also agree that their church's social doctrine is inseparable from its teaching on morals, including sexual and medical ethics. But they differ forcefully over how much political weight to give what Pope Benedict XVI called nonnegotiable moral issues, especially abortion. "For the nation's bishops, the continued injustice of abortion remains the 'pre-eminent priority,'" wrote Archbishop Gómez, quoting a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voter guide, in his statement on the presidential inauguration.

"The clear and undeniable respect in which Biden denies foundational Catholic social teaching is in exposing the unborn to the lethal violence of abortion," Mr. George said. "What guides his agenda, what informs his ideology, is secular progressivism, not Catholic social teaching." According to George Weigel, a biographer of John Paul II, "Any serious understanding of Catholic social teaching begins with the dignity of the human person from conception until natural death. That is the fundamental principle...To claim that you are thinking within the social doctrine of the church and to support abortion on demand or euthanasia is simply wrong, it's a logical fallacy."

But Mr. Carr, who contributed to earlier editions of the bishops' voter guide, wrote last fall in America magazine that he was endorsing Mr. Biden, despite the Democrat's position on abortion, "for what he can do to help us recover and heal, lift up those left behind, ensure health care for all and treat immigrants and refugees with respect."

"Catholicism is not just about abortion and sex," Father Hollenbach says. "The orientation of the Democratic Party, especially the orientation that Joe Biden is trying to bring, is responding to a wider range of important Catholic concerns across the board."

Supporters of President Biden note that the message of Pope Francis to the new president, released the same day as Archbishop Gómez's statement, contained no reference to abortion. "Francis is not a culture warrior, and he clearly wants to lead the church away from the kind of reflexive opposition that the Gómez statement demonstrated and toward a more engaged approach to help resolve issues," Mr. Gibson said.

Bishop McElroy is a vocal member of the minority of U.S. bishops who diverge from the conference's line. "It is a great sadness that President Biden and Democratic political leaders across the spectrum do not support legal sanctions to protect the unborn," Bishop McElroy said. "But that is not the pre-eminent issue. The pre-eminent issue for our country at this time is healing and coming together," he said. "Because unless we can get a political culture that's healed in some fundamental ways, we can't advance the common good in any sustainable way."

Write to Francis X. Rocca at francis.rocca@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 05, 2021 10:53 ET (15:53 GMT)

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