"Catholic and I Also Consider Myself a Socialist"

Sent: Saturday, April 13, 2002
Subject: Christianity and Socialism

Hi Father Bloom,

I am Catholic and I also consider myself a socialist. Of course, I get insulted for being one or the other - but what a lot of people don't see is how I could possibly be both. For some reason, a lot of people tend to think that being religious makes people politically conservative.

This assumption is wherein my problem lies. I’ve been pondering this a lot, and I’ve come to the solid conclusion that all of Christianity should condemn capitalism. It is a system that serves one purpose – to rake in as much dough as possible. It is fueled by greed, selfishness, exploitation, avarice and materialism.

Yet, the so called “religious right” (of course the majority of that being protestant and fundamentalist) are some of the biggest proponents of the system. They’ll condemn something like the Teletubbies, but they’ll encourage health care plans that exclude the poor. They’ll speak out against abortion, yet they’ll speak until they’re blue in the face about the advantages of the death penalty.

Why do we not hear about the “religious left” if there is such a thing? If there is, sign me up – and if there isn’t, I’ll start it! Everything the Church teaches leads me to believe that socialism is not only the best political system, but also what God would want. Of course, when I say this, people get scared. Americans were raised to identify with words such as “communism” and “socialism” as the ultimate evils. When I tell people that there has never been a true socialist or communist country and that nations like the U.S.S.R., China, Cuba, and et cetera are all “state capitalist” countries, I get blown off. Socialism calls for not only the greatest amount of freedom (of press, of religion, of speech – you name it!), the purest form of democracy (no longer will politics be controlled by corporations), but it will also eliminate hunger, suffering, and materialism.

I’m sorry, I don’t mean for this to be a pro-socialist diatribe or anything...I’m just curious as to what you think, as I value your opinion from reading your homilies and answers. Am I way off or are people just scared that I could be right?

Thanks in advance,

Tony Sciascia

P.S. I can't but help being reminded of the famous quote by Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camara: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."


Dear Tony,

You are a brave soul. As far as I know, a Christian can be a socialist. Heck, a few years back some of my friends thought you had to be socialist to be a good catholic!

I'm not much of an economic or political theorist, but I would have a few questions. First, I assume you do not mean socialism in the sense of the state owning everything. Am I correct? The Catholic Church has consistently taught the right of private property as an essential element of human freedom.

Second are you a socialist or a "distributist"? A distributist is someone who works for the widest possible distribution of property. On a personal level it means giving away as much of ones own goods as possible. Not to brag, but I give away 60-70% of my income. (Of course, it's a lot easier for me since I have a pension & medical plan - and no children.) Beyond that a distributist would work to get others to do the same. (Again, easier for me, since that is part of my job description as a parish priest.) The tricky part is what role the state should play in redistribution.

Do you really want a centrally controlled economy? I suppose it would work if you had the right people in charge. But where has that happened? I lived seven years in a country where the government tried to manage things centrally and the results were pretty miserable.

I agree with you that capitalism is fueled by greed, selfishness, etc. But does it not also require greedy people to at least deliver something other people want?

I think Dom Helder Camara is asking the right question. But it seems to me the answer is that the best thing we can do for another person is to help remove bureaucratic obstacles which prevent them from getting a education, home, job, etc. When people are freed from red tape, they can create wealth and opportunities for themselves and others. Case in point: I have folks in my congregation who ten years ago were "campesinos," who now have their own small business. Not that the U.S. is perfect, but we do have a way of giving people opportunities they do not get in more heavily bureaucratized countries.

Tony, I am not saying this to downplay your very real concern about corporations controlling politics - and other excesses of our system. The pope has had a lot to say about that. Have you read some of his writings?

God bless,

Fr. Bloom

P.S. Thanks for the kind word about the homilies. I hope the above will not make you think I am some kind of crypto-Republican...

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