Jesuit Justice and the Pope
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor, 25 March 2013Pope Francis has the power to initiate world peace and prosperity, if only someone would tell him. The man whose name was Jorge Mario Bergoglio has become the first Jesuit pope, the first from Latin America, and the first to take on the namesake of St. Francis.
The Jesuits, a religious order in the Catholic Church founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, are officially named the Society of Jesus. Having taught economics at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution, I appreciated its emphasis on ethics and social justice. The missionary zeal of the Jesuits motivated them to establish Catholic schools and universities world-wide, and it is a happy coincidence that Santa Clara, named for St. Clair, was founded at one of the historic California Spanish missions, which remains the spiritual core of the university.
However, the good Jesuits at SCU and elsewhere have yet to confront the core of ethics, just as economists have not confronted the core question of what is the optimal division between what is personal and what is social. After the founding, the Jesuits were regarded as having great influence over both royalty and the Vatican. Today, Jesuits are viewed as a liberal order for their promotion of independent thinking and theological debate.
The missionary push of the Jesuits into economically deprived places led many of the order’s priests to sympathize with the poor. So it is within Jesuit tradition that Cardinal Bergoglio, a son of Italian immigrants, had a fellow feeling with the poor of Argentina. He applied his social values into his daily life, living in an apartment and commuting by public transit.
Jesuits participated in the “liberation theology” movement, by which they promoted the aspirations of the poor rather than backing the power of the Latin American landed elites. Some, though not Bergoglio, even sided with revolts and revolutions, which alarmed the Vatican.
Sympathy with the poor does not necessarily imply liberality in religious issues such as the acceptance of female priests and marriage for priests. But Pope Francis is deeply concerned with economic justice and the plight of the poor. Such sympathy could make the Pope a leader in the movement to reduce poverty and economic inequality.
Santa Clara University adopted the Jesuit educational motto, “competence, conscience, and compassion.” As stated by the office of the provost, “Competence emphasizes the acquisition of knowledge across multiple areas, the practice of critical thinking, and the pursuit of lifelong learning. Conscience informs and develops the moral compass in students, regardless of their religious or cultural heritage, and establishes the importance of living an ethical life, recognizing consequences, and addressing justice issues. Compassion nurtures the human desire and will to fashion a more humane, just, and sustainable world. It means using knowledge for the well-being of all, especially the poor and powerless.”
Competence in social policy enables activist students, scholars, and the public to apply their compassion where their efforts will have the greatest positive effect. There are two basic categories in the promotion of social justice: 1) treat the effects and symptoms to help the poor live better; 2) eliminate the cause of poverty so that poverty is extricated from the economy, so that poverty does not arise in the first place.
Much of the efforts of Jesuit-led social programs has been in dealing with the effects of poverty. It is very good that students and other activists are being taken to the deprived poor to help them with food, housing, medical care, and family counseling. But if that is all that is done, the activists will be spending eternity in just treating the effects.
If you are ill and go to a doctor, you most of all want to be cured, not just have your symptoms treated. Unfortunately the governmental policy prescriptions of those who say they care about the poor have also only addressed the effects. Those espousing social justice have advocated more redistribution from the rich to the poor, and more government assistance to the poor. Moreover, the social justice advocates have favored taxes on income as the prime means of redistribution, even while the taxation of wages and enterprise is the prime cause of the poverty among what welfarists call the “working class.”
The remedy that would eliminate the cause of poverty was set forth by Henry George in the late 1800s in several publications. Of prime interest to Jesuits should be George’s speech, “Thy Kingdom Come.” a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. George pointed out that surely as there is justice in heaven, if we truly seek to establish justice on earth as it is in heaven, then the economic principles that would apply in heaven should be applied on earth. At Santa Clara University I presented a lecture-sermon “On Earth as it is in Heaven” along these lines.
Economics is based on scarcity, and if land in heaven were scarce, then justice in heaven would require an equal benefit of the land, which is most efficiently applied by distributing the land rent equally. Thus too the purest application of ethical equality on earth would be an equal distribution of the land rent, while letting labor keep its full earnings no matter how high. (If anyone would like to deliver my sermon in church, you are welcome to take it from my website with attribution.)
Henry George believed that an equal distribution of unearned rent and the equal ability of all to apply their labor and keep all the earnings, would prevent poverty, for gone would be the barriers that now oppress the poor. Of course other reforms are needed also, but the joint reform of land tenure and taxation is the keystone without which other efforts have failed.
Now Pope Francis has the opportunity to influence the world with a social justice policy that would pull poverty out by the roots. There needs to be a dialog about extirpating and not just treating poverty. Some Jesuit scholars, perhaps at Santa Clara University, who know Francis and could bring him this idea, would then achieve a lasting liberation theology that would save the world.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2010 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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