As many know, when the Second Vatican Council assembled in 1962 the preparatory commissions established by Pope John XXIII had already prepared draft schemas which, it was assumed, would be simply ratified by the Council with little ado. Sadly this did not happen, and the schemas were rejected and eventually replaced with other documents. Recently, some of these preparatory schemas were translated into English and made available on the Internet. These schemas and parts of schemas have been entitled fittingly, The Lost Condemnations of Communism of Vatican II as they deal with atheistic communism and methods to combat it.
Today communism seems like merely an historical incident. Many people alive today have no memory of communism as an active menace or political movement. But at the time the Council assembled, communism posed a serious threat, a powerful ideological and political movement backed by a nuclear superpower, one which already controlled large parts of Europe and Asia, and was actively seeking to expand everywhere in the world. Although the threat of a communist takeover in the United States was exaggerated in the 1950s, in western Europe powerful Communist parties existed, and it was by no means certain that France or Italy would not elect communist governments.
Thus it was certainly not an anachronism or an instance of hysteria that documents on communism and its dangers should be prepared for the upcoming council. While this should surprise no one, what might surprise those unfamiliar with the body of social teachings of the Church is that the schemas on communism make it clear that while communism is directly opposed to Catholic faith and morals, a capitalist economy is likewise opposed to Catholic doctrine, and at bottom for the same reason: materialist atheism.
The chief passage in the schemas dealing with capitalism deserves to be quoted in full:
While Marxism, which Pope Pius XII personally reprobates and condemns, is the most grave form of materialism and the one most hostile toward the Christian faith, it is yet not the only form of modern materialism. In this day, there are many men who, although they openly profess themselves to be Christians, passively consent to the daily course of events, identify human happiness with technological and economic progress, covet riches, strive to construct a world based on them, and gradually withdraw themselves from God, whom they remove little by little from their own lives. This practical materialism to a greater extent infects those who refuse to manifest the social doctrine of the Church, decline to recognize the rights of the poor and the weak, offend against social justice, and refuse to prevent open and unjust inequalities or at least to diminish them. All of these undoubtedly open the way to every kind of perverse doctrine.
Marxist materialism cannot be properly combated if these other forms of materialism are not likewise openly rejected; nor can there be any hope whatsoever of someday eliminating Marxist atheism from the world and from the heart of man, while the latter is given over to some other form of materialism, to that, indeed, which is undergirded by a so-called “capitalist” economic regime, and is promoted by the same, and is pervasive in the daily life of man.
Anyone who is familiar with the papal social encyclicals, especially Quadragesimo Anno and Divini Redemptoris of Pius XI or Centesimus Annus of St. John Paul II, will have read numerous similar passages, and will know that while always stridently opposing communism, the Catholic Church has never accepted the logic of capitalism or of free-market economics, and that although communism is a false and harmful ideology, the popes were aware that those who supported it were “sometimes moved by an impulse against injustices which we have received in our day as an inheritance from an unjust economic regime,” as one of the schemas notes.
In addition to what I have already quoted, there is another section in the Vatican II preparatory schemas that deserves our attention. It reads as follows:
The clergy and religious should not be prohibited from rightly and prudently seeking the resources of wealthy or powerful men and applying them to the fulfillment of acts of divine worship, of the apostolate, and of charity, but they are to most diligently beware lest they become altogether subject to such people in any way, or seem to be so; among people of more humble means the Church is more often accused of being the instrument in the hands of those who have control of the economic or civil or political power.
Recently a rich Catholic by the name of Tim Busch, who runs a chain of hotels in California, has proclaimed, in open opposition to the repeated teaching of a long line of popes, that there is no need to pay just wages. He asserts
that it is the job that is essential, and the pay secondary. Once people are working, they can acquire additional skills or be promoted from within to earn higher pay. But the minimum wage can eliminate them from having any opportunity to work in the first place.
I discussed elsewhere the gross ethical and economic violations that Mr. Busch is engaged in. Likely he would pay his hotel workers even less than he does now if only those pesky minimum wage laws didn’t get in his way.
It is hardly rare in our day for Catholics to openly contradict Catholic social doctrine or to pay sweatshop wages. What makes Mr. Busch different is that in conjunction with one of the Koch brothers and some others, he recently bought himself a school of business and economics at Catholic University in Washington. When I say “bought himself,” I mean the school is now named after him and his wife, and is ex professo dedicated to promoting the sorts of ideas that Mr. Busch and his fellow rich folks find gratifying—and profitable too, no doubt, all under the veil of “working to reduce poverty through prosperity,” and of a “virtue-based free enterprise to lift the human person and transform the culture of business.”
This is the language that has been peddled for some decades now, and is more accurately known as “trickle-down economics”. It is not the language found in the social teachings of the Church. One wonders how the minimum-wage employees of Mr. Busch’s hotels will achieve their prosperity or how whatever personal virtue he himself may have will lift those employees of his trying to live on a minimum wage. I do not doubt but that if Mr. Busch and his political allies have their way, they will abolish the minimum wage entirely. After all the “minimum wage is an anti-market regulation that leads to unemployment,” so he says. But if Mr. Busch doesn’t like being compelled to pay a certain wage by law, let him generously pay his employees higher wages with no compulsion by the state and show by his actions that he has those virtues that his school claims to teach.
“The clergy and religious … are to most diligently beware lest they become altogether subject to such [wealthy] people in any way, or seem to be so….” Catholic University is controlled by the U.S. bishops. Are they aware, do they care, that a part of their university has become “altogether subject to such people,” and openly promotes a social philosophy that has been condemned by pontiff after pontiff?
Do they care that this latest victory by the forces of neoliberalism makes it appear as if the Catholic Church is simply on the side of the rich? Do they care that they are thereby contributing to the alienation of our contemporaries from the Church, from religion altogether?
The tradition of Catholic social thought, of which these schemas are merely one example, was hard-hitting in its indictment of the commercial society created by capitalism, of its ideals, its motivations, its attempted justifications. But this has been largely forgotten today as Catholics have thrown away their own identity and embraced one or another of our secular cultural-political blocs, that is, conservatives or liberals, on the surface bitter enemies, but both in truth ideological descendants of the classical liberalism of John Locke.
If there is to be any hope of restoring Catholic identity and discipline, then in addition to such vital matters as the liturgy or catechetics, the question of the Church’s social doctrine must be an important part of our efforts at Catholic renewal and restoration. Far from being an optional or questionable part of Catholic teaching, it is simply the application of the Gospel to the social order. Without it, the Catholic faith becomes a mere matter of personal morality and the social and political order is given over to the Devil. But our Lord came to redeem us both individually and socially, and we will be false to him and to his teachings if we fail to work and to pray for what Pius XI called “Reconstructing the Social Order and Perfecting It Conformably to the Precepts of the Gospel.” This is simply a command for us; we have no choice.