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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pope Francis and the Kochs.

To put Pope Francis along side the Koch Brothers, extolling them all in the same breath, is in my mind obscene. But that's what John and Carol Saeman, seemingly good Mass-going Catholics, did in the Washington Post Article (11/30/2014) "Following the Pope and the Kochs." My biggest complaint is that they misunderstand both the Koch Brothers and Catholic Social Teaching to do so.

When they see the Kochs opposing cronyism, corporate welfarism (e.g. tax subsidies to oil and big agriculture), corrupt capitalism (e.g. the richest opposing higher taxes on themselves), and excessive lobbying ($86 million to oppose ACA and climate change legislation), I know they are not seeing the same people I am. But then I know that values shape how we look at "facts."

The values cited are Catholic Social Teaching which the Saemans rightly say are focused on three principles, dignity of all humans, solidarity, and subsidiarity--principles I find they distort. They are right not to identify government with the public or with the common good. But they are wrong in not seeing the government as an instrument of the public for the common good. I suggest that they read the American Bishops letter on "Economic Justice for All" as the best explication of Catholic Social Teaching for the US.

They refuse to see Pope Francis's attack on the libertarian economy, a Kochian dogma, which sanctifies the "free market," which of course is much freer for some than others. I too attack over-centralization in Washington or in State Government when there are not active labor unions and local communities, especially those of the working poor, holding accountable those governments because they are basically bought through election campaigns by the Kochs and their like.

And most of all they extort charity over justice. In a just world, people have a right to work, to survive with housing and health care, to have education, and to have enough income to innovate without being dependent on charity and the disposable income of the rich. Yes, as Director of Catholic Charities in Two States, I was grateful to people like the Saemans for our food, immigration, and housing programs. But I preferred to see donations to help people organize themselves in solidarity to get their government on their side and to provide the assurances that all people had the necessities of life so that they could make the contributions to society that they all wanted to make.

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