Saturday, November 30, 2013

Only Fools RUSH in Where Angels Fear to Tread: Limbaugh Excoriates Pope Francis Unfairly

Matt Abbott asked me to comment on Rush Limbaugh's recent lambasting of Pope Francis recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium


I often listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio and find him to be an intelligent man and an erudite conservative journalist. He uses common sense and logic to expose the fallacious arguments of liberal progressives. UNFORTUNATELY he himself has fallen into a trap by which he erroneously extrapolates a false premise from the recent papal document from Pope Francis. Evangelium Gaudii is an Apostolic Exhortation issued on November 24, 2013. It is not a Papal Encyclical (like Humanae Vitae) nor is it an Apostolic Letter (like Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) While not an ex cathedra infallible document, it nevertheless contains ordinary papal magisterial teaching which demands submission of mind and will by faithful Catholics.

Rush is uncharacteristically inaccurate in his quotations. Pope Francis did NOT criticize unfettered capitalism, he used the phrase unfettered consumerism. The late and great Father Richard Joh  Neuhaus defined consumerism as: "precisely, the consuming of life by the things consumed. It is living in a manner that is measured by having rather than being. As Pope John Paul II makes clear, consumerism is hardly the sin of the rich. The poor, driven by discontent and envy, may be as consumed by what they do not have as the rich are consumed by what they do have. The question is not, certainly not most importantly, a question about economics. It is first and foremost a cultural and moral problem requiring a cultural and moral remedy."

Capitalism is an economic and political ideology whereas consumerism is a personal and individual ideology. The former is focused on a free market whereas the latter is obsessed with the acquisition of goods in and of themselves.  Blessed JP2 made the distinction that communism and consumerism are far extremes and both threaten human freedom. One denies the right to access of necessary goods, the other deifies materialism and promotes avarice, greed and envy. A free market system, on the other hand, treats human beings equally, not giving undo advantage to card carrying members of the communist party while penalizing those who express some political dissent.

What Pope Francis, Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul and Pope Leo and others have consistently been saying and teaching, however, is that the individual PERSON is a moral agent and he or she must answer to God for what they did or did not do to help their neighbor in need. The Gospel of Matthew ends by separating the sheep from goats based on what each individual DID or DID NOT do to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, etc. It is not a judgment of government policies or agencies but a personal judgment on each one of us. That being said, besides personal acts of Christian charity, it is logical and reasonable, prudent and necessary to pool resources and even for the state to help in cases where the most needy and most urgent cases are helped.  Yet, no Pope ever promoted nor called for a welfare state that perpetually cares for the poor.  The ultimate goal is to enable the poor to rise above poverty and reach a level of dignity commensurate with their human dignity. Access to necessary goods is a natural right. That does not mean, however, that the Natural Moral Law requires the poor to become enslaved to the state by permanently keeping them dependent. Rush calls Pope Francis a Socialist at best and a Communist at worst. Does this sound like a commie comment? "Welfare projects, which meet certain urgent needs, should be considered merely temporary responses." (#202)


Contrary to what many modern public school textbooks currently tell our children, capitalism was actually created during the high Middle Ages and as Michael Novak wrote in 2003, Catholicism is what created it. While feudalism sustained Christendom from the fall of the Roman Empire (476 AD) through the so-called Dark Ages, during the 12th to 14th centuries the middle class arose thanks to capitalism which eventually replaced feudalism. Mediaeval guilds and religious orders, such as the Cistercians, became contemporary entrepreneurs of their time. "They mastered rational cost accounting, plowed all profits back into new ventures, and moved capital around from one venue to another, cutting losses where necessary, and pursuing new opportunities when feasible. They dominated iron production in central France and wool production (for export) in England. They were cheerful and energetic. Being few in number, the Cistercians needed labor-saving devices. They were a great spur to technological development. Their monasteries 'were the most economically effective units that had ever existed in Europe, and perhaps in the world, before that time.'" (Novak)

Thomas Woods "How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization" (2005) has an entire chapter (8) entitled "the Church and Economics" where he, too, proposes that money was not an artificial product of government (crown or parliament) but a result of a voluntary process between merchants. Barter became more and more impractical when dealing with perishable items and dealing with transporting goods over long distances. Religious orders like the Cistercians devised accounting systems by which goods could be bought and sold between fellow monks and this was duplicated by lay merchants who participated in the process. While the secular states were governed by aristocracies and monarchies and while the Church herself is hierarchical, it is still Catholic doctrine that all men and women are created in the image of God and by baptism are considered children of God. That spiritual equality was translated into an economic equality which transcended the political. The emerging middle class came from the peasant class and they did so because their faith taught them they were equal in the eyes of God and therefore had equal opportunities to improve their material situation.  Those who could not, like the destitute poor, the lame, widowed and orphaned, relied on the Christian charity of the nobility and the emerging middle class. It was the Church who literally created the colleges and universities, hospitals and orphanages and who ran the poor houses, soup kitchens, etc.  The secular state (government) did not create these institutions, religious orders and dioceses did. Christian charity motivated those who had more to help those who has less.

When you read Evangelium Gaudii in its entirety, it continues the papal magisterium found in Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, Mater et Magistra, Gaudium et Spes, Centesimus Annus and of course, the Catechism of Catholic Church. The very reason any nation has banking and finance laws is that human beings are not perfect. Original Sin affects everyone and some people, be they CEO's, CFO's, bankers, brokers, et al., sometimes make bad choices that produce bad effects and which cause great harm to many innocent people. I know of no conservative or liberal, republican, democrat, or libertarian who would advocate the repeal of laws barring insider trading. We needs laws to maintain some parameters on banks and stock brokers to protect people from abuse and exploitation. Republicans and democrats dispute the length, breadth and depth of such legal regulations but even a free market has some borders which cannot be ignored. Limited government is still very different from no government.  Some, even if minimal, legislation is needed since not everyone acts prudently or fairly nor for pristine motives. That being said, it was totally unfair and inaccurate of Mr. Limbaugh to attack Pope Francis for addressing a letter as head of the Roman Catholic Church to his more than one billion members. The pontiff was merely reiterating consistent church teaching that supports a free market but which also reminds the moral obligation to act responsibly, honestly, and prudently. No one can command generosity but it is something which should be encouraged and promoted. Welfare dependency does not help the individual nor the nation. Some welfare is necessary for those who cannot be helped by private or non-profit charitable organizations. The goal always, though, is to help move those into economic independence and become self-sufficient. Laborem Exercens teaches us the sanctity of human work. The Catechism tells us that the Catholic Church always believes justice and solidarity are essential and necessary to human freedom. Justice is distributive, commutative and social. 

Unfettered consumerism is not synonymous with capitalism. A free market system respects human freedom and autonomy. Consumerism is an abuse and an extreme. Communism wrongly treated human labor as a means of production for the state. Consumerism wrongly treats the product of human labor and of the free market as the final source of happiness and fulfillment. Things are helpful but in and of themselves do not produce enduring and lasting and true happiness. Material things make life easier and more comfortable and more convenient. Technology helps cure sickness and disease and help makes life less a burden. All Pope Francis was warning, however,  is that the possession and acquisition of goods is not salvific nor do they bring lasting joy. Pleasure is temporary whereas joy can be eternal.  The Pontiff was not forcing any nation or government to abandon capitalism nor was he advocating socialism let alone communism.  He was, however, reminding Catholics all over the globe that we must buy and sell prudently and using our conscience. In that light, I see no reason for Mr. Limbaugh to take offense or issue with Pope Francis. I highly urge Rush to read Fr. Robert Sirico's "Defending the Free Market" and John Horvath's "Return to Order".  Horvath does a splendid job explaining the notion of frenetic intemperance which is a cousin of unfettered consumerism and Sirico precisely shows that freedom requires a free market while greed is no friend of capitalism, rather it flourishes under socialism.

18 comments:

Sadie Vacantist said...

All the Americans whom you quote have given sign off to the neo-conservative agenda. As you are doing also. I'm with Rush, the Pope does offer a critique of unfettered capitalism but unlike Rush I agree with the Holy Father.

Ben Warren said...

Fr., it seems plain that the Pope is promoting tyranny, and that that promotion is not Catholic. St. Thomas Aquinas condemned the welfare state in the Summa Theologiae (I-II, Q. 96, Art. 4) and St. Augustine compared oppressive rulers to pirate-kings. The only formula that makes sense to me is that the Pope is infallible, but rarely, such as in 1870 and 1950. Do you agree?

Anonymous said...

I hope you sent a copy of this outstanding analysis and explanation to Rush. It would be great if he would "correct the record."

Rev Dr John Trigilio said...

Do a word search. You will not find the word 'capitalism' in Pope Francis' document Evangelii Gaudium. UNBRIDLED "CONSUMERISM" is mentioned four times, however. Rush and others are WRONG in their assault on the Holy Father when they accuse him of condemning capitalism since the word NEVER appears even once. He merely says what previous popes have always said, there is a right to private property, a free market is the most fair but we must have the rule of law to protect the common good from ABUSES caused by individuals and groups (associations, corporations, etc.) Social responsibility is not something you can legislate but it is something a spiritual leader MUST promote, defend, and encourage among his followers. Temporary welfare is better than an addiction to an entitlement attitude and it is no substitute for charitable agencies and works of mercy. Painting the Pope as a socialist or communist is unfair and illogical as there is no evidence. Only subjective inference. BALANCE and PRUDENCE is what Catholicism have always advocated. Social Justice demands we also respect and uphold Commutative and Distributive Justice. Help should never enslave someone into dependency. Help should always move towards self-sufficiency, when possible. Just like the spare tire in your trunk is meant to TEMPORARY, i.e., it is not designed to permanently replace your regular tire. It is smaller, lighter, hence easier to change in emergency. You cannot drive too fast nor too far but it WORKS insofar as it HELPS until you can get the regular tire FIXED or REPLACED with another one. Likewise, public welfare is meant to be an emergency, temporary assistance until one is able to get a permanent job. Of course, there are some who because of disability, illness, disease, catastrophe, et al. need longer and more in depth assistance. Here is where private and public assistance work TOGETHER. There always has to be some form of SAFETY NET for the most needy and most vulnerable and least likely to fend for themselves. Creating more jobs, paying fair wages, and making more opportunities is the best medicine to reduce poverty. A free market makes this possible whereas state controlled markets fail miserably.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Under the free for all of unfettered "capitalism", the American people are bailing out usurers and assenting to endless wars which bail out the military industrial complex.

Your second contribution is much better than the first. As in this piece you at least you acknowledge the continuum between Francis and the past.

The American Catholic Church remains in the grip of heretical 'Americanism'. A heresy which has been succesfully exported around the Catholic World since World War II. Yet where is this heresy taking you? You are getting kicked out of the public square just like everywhere else.

Sharon said...

I heard Rush's comments and he did not criticize the Pope he criticized Marxism. He was taken back by what he read. He even said he would need to look into this further because he found it hard to believe that the Pope would embrace Marxism. I am wondering if he was reading from an article and not the document. Maybe you should, in a pastoral capacity, contact Mr. Limbaugh and share your insights. He has expressed his interest in and admiration for the Church many times.

Tom Tomaszewski said...

Father I agree with your critique but respectfully disagree with your observation: "Rush is uncharacteristically inaccurate in his quotations." It has been my experience that what you are hearing in this controversy is akin to much of Rush's analysis. He proposes the ridiculous straw man and then seeks to logically defeat the ridiculous construct of Rush's own making to make a point. Listen closely as he spins his "mistake" to be a critique of the "main stream press" and their liberal interpretational bias distorting Pope Francis' views. In the end the truth is Rush is inconsequential and I'd rather we focus on the leadership Pope Francis is exhibiting in bringing the Church back to it's roots.

Jon Scott said...

I heard Rush and I thought he just objected to the translation of "trickle down" and things like that.

Netmilsmom said...

The English translation of the Pope's words were awful. Maybe we should look into that.

Anonymous said...

Rush hates Pope Francis for the same reason the Pharisees hated Jesus.

h2omasteor said...

Thank you for your article and let me enlighten you about talk show hosts especially conservative talk show hosts like Limbaugh, Sykes here in Milwaukee and countless others. Since former President Reagon vetoed the "Fairness Doctrine" in about 1984 the result has been wordsmiths abandoning fairness and values in favor of wealth and power.

Commercial radio uses their portable media capability to bombard and therefore brainwash gullible listeners. They have very little incentive to be honest or accurate as they lack social conscience in favor of ratings and revenue from the greedy rich who have agendas that take advantage of the poor and unsuspecting general public.

Quote me on this and consider it fair warning they talk radio like Rush, Sykes, Fox tv and radio almost all Conservatives want the Catholic voting block to hold on and capture power,power they retain with money that surpasses their competiton two fold.

They have already infiltrated the Diocese of New York as Cardinal Dolan has fallen for leaning conservative as a way to have anti-abortion allies. The conservatives are messing with the street unwise Archbishop because they are desperate to retain power and use the abortion hot button issue to accomplish this. The conception part they champion while the to natural death they ignore.

In conclusion it would be best to not get snared by conservatism nor liberlism but instead embrace neutralism where our great faith can achieve its namesake goal of being catholic (universal)

Some qotes that apply:

"Beware there are wolves out there in sheeps clothing"

"Do not believe anything you hear and only half of what you see"

And if my brethren Jesus was standing before me and my beloved church at this time he would say " Judge by Actions not be Words"

God Bless our Pope, Our great church and the spiritually lost. We strive to create refuge for all!

Katalina said...

Speaking of Tom Woods he had a podcast on a few days ago where he says clearly that Rush is not the issue and that what the Pope was advocating was Marxism not the teaching of Pope Leo. He also said he was tired od certain conservative Catholics claiming he was taken out of context. Pat Buchanan and Judge Napolitano also both feel the same way.

Anonymous said...

I saw your homily on EWTN trying desperately to convince people that Pope Francis is indeed an orthodox Catholic. You kept saying read what he says in totality. I have. Have you. He does condem Capitalsm, traditional Catholic worship and he believes that Jews don't need conversion. He is causing confusion. And everyone including you bends over backwards trying to prove he is Catholic.

Rev Dr John Trigilio said...

We are not obligated to 'like' any particular pope but we are morally bound to 'respect' and 'obey' him and as faithful Catholics we are to always LOVE him and pray for him. When he teaches infallibly, we must give an assent of faith lest we commit heresy. His jurisdictional (disciplinary) authority, while not infallible, be it liturgical or canonical, is supreme, universal, immediate and full. (CANON 331) Hence, even if one should disagree with the prudential judgments of any Roman Pontiff, we do not have the authority to disobey nor does respect allow us to attack him in public. Anything less is NOT to be Catholic.

bevc said...

If all the good oh-so Catholic men and women who hold forth on evil capitalism were half so intense in seeking to counter the Sexual Revolution, we would be blessed indeed. NOTHING, hear me, NOTHING in the past 45 years in the USA and the West has done more to hold women and children in poverty than the free love, come on babe we don't need a piece of paper, that kid doesn't need a dad, no-fault divorce SEXUAL REVOLT.

bevc said...

I wish the oh-so-good Catholic men and women who hold forth on capitalism or the free market would be even half so forceful in attempting to overthrow the Sexual Revolution. Nothing - hear me -- NOTHING has done more to impoverish both the soul and body in the USA and the West in the past 45 years as the Sexual Revolution and all its rotten fruits; shack-ups, starter marriages, serial divorces, out-of-wedlock kids, fatherless teens acting out violently and sexually.

Anonymous said...

It would be wise to read the show's transcript to get a better idea of what Rush was saying and the questions he posed
http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2013/11/27/it_s_sad_how_wrong_pope_francis_is_unless_it_s_a_deliberate_mistranslation_by_leftists

Anonymous said...

Fr. Trigilio is spot on. Do a WORD SEARCH in the ACTUAL DOCUMENT issued by Pope Francis and you will NOT find the word "capitalism" or even "capital" once. Yes, not once! But, what you WILL find is the term "unbridled CONSUMERISM", several times. Capitalism and consumerism are two very different things, of course: the former an economic model; the latter a human obsession with the possession and consumption of material goods- something that occurs within ALL economic models. Don't misrepresent what the Pope said. "Thou shalt not lie", remember?

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