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More Catholic than the Bishops?

July 13, 2010, 6:10 pm | Posted by John Gehring

Deal Hudson, the editor of InsideCatholic.com and George W. Bush’s former Catholic outreach advisor, specializes in slicing and dicing Catholic social teaching to serve his partisan agenda.

Earlier this year, he called for a Catholic Tea Party movement. In this scenario, “real” Catholics – Hudson demeans those who disagree with him as “fake” Catholics – should challenge the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a big-government style bureaucracy Hudson and other arch-conservative Catholics believe has drifted to the political left over the last three decades. This logic may seem bizarre given the bishops’ high-profile opposition to abortion, gay marriage, President Obama’s commencement address at Notre Dame and, most recently, the final version of health care reform. But welcome to the Catholic right subculture, where the only explanation for the USCCB’s focus on poverty, nuclear weapons, immigration and climate change is that a lay staff of liberals has hijacked the conference and distracted bishops from their true priorities.

Now Hudson is using the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity” to do political cheerleading for New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie. In a column earlier this week, he praises the Christie administration for reigning in spending and touts his administration’s plans to privatize many state functions. He argues that Christie’s agenda of limited government and free-market solutions reflect the essence of subsidiarity, which prioritizes local institutions and smaller agencies over a centralized authority. “Gov. Christie represents a pro-life, pro-family Catholic politician drawing upon the principle of subsidiarity to make budgetary and policy choices that look to the private sector, not the federal government, for solutions to pressing problems,” Hudson writes.

As Vox Nova points out, touting the notion that “subsidiarity” is a blanket Catholic endorsement of anti-government sentiment and free-market fundamentalism is a favorite tactic of many Catholic conservatives. It’s also a profound misreading of Catholic teaching, which highlights the essential role of government and the perils of economic systems that put profits before human dignity. Ever since Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical on capital and labor, the Catholic Church has advanced a positive vision of government serving the common good. In 1919, U.S. Catholic bishops recruited Monsignor John A. Ryan, a priest whose analysis of social inequality was widely read in the decades following World War I, to write their Program for Social Reconstruction. The program called for what at the time were radical measures: minimum wages, public housing for workers, labor participation in management decisions, and insurance for the elderly and unemployed. Many of these ideas helped inspire Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Just last summer, Pope Benedict XVI released a timely encyclical responding to the global economic crisis that offered a sober critique of unfettered capitalism that left some Catholic conservatives scrambling to downplay passages that take a skeptical view of unregulated markets. Indeed, the Pope goes where many U.S. politicians fear to tread in his call for a more just distribution of wealth and robust protections for workers against the whims of market excesses. If the Pope were running for political office in the U.S., you can imagine Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck slamming him as a socialist.

Hudson has every right to be a fan of Gov. Christie. Neither political party is aligned perfectly with Catholic teaching. But it would be easier to take Hudson seriously as a commentator if he didn’t dress up his Republican cheerleading in Catholic clothing.

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