The Clergy and the Economy
To what extent do you believe that the clergy may intervene in temporal matters, like politics and economics?
Well, I don’t believe a person loses his right to pronounce on matters of importance just because he’s an ordained priest. Why should he?
Don't you believe it entails exercising moral authority to influence the consciences of Catholics in matters over which there is freedom of choice?
There is freedom of choice, and persons ought to exercise it. Look, take the case of the North American Bishops letter on the economy; they did not try to oblige the faithful to accept everything they said. They tried only to persuade them that their point of view was correct.
So the bishops granted that North American Catholics are free to disagree with what they expressed in that letter?
Those bishops said they welcomed a debate. Is there something wrong with that?
Do you believe that, by publishing this letter, they enjoy a special moral authority that they laity do not have?
No. In this instance there was no such pretension. Although I disagreed with much of this letter’s content, I believe it to be a model of the way bishops ought to comport themselves, that is, trying to persuade people of the merits of their position. At no moment did they say, “anyone who disagrees is outside of the Church.” In summary, I believe that the clergy have the same right as anyone else to speak out. They ask that others listen, but not necessarily agree with them about everything. Now, I also believe that it is certain that the clergy have generally not taken enough notice of what economics teaches. It is important, however, that the North American bishops seek to persuade and not oblige. As Catholics we ought to listen with special attention to what they have to say.
Do you believe that the Church ought to exercise a preferential option for the poor?
Yes. I believe that we ought always to have a special consideration for the weakest and least fortunate members of our society.
How should the preferential option be expressed?
This is an empirical question. If we want to eliminate illness, whom do we call upon? Doctors. If we want to eliminate poverty, we ought to consult economists.
What do you think about what is called the economics of solidarity?
I’m not sure what they want to say. Certainly in the market economy there is solidarity between employers and workers, for example, because there exists a community of interests. The real conflict is among different employers and among different workers. The Marxist myth of worker solidarity is nonsense, because the workers hate each other, and the same goes for the capitalists. If you want to buy a house, you do not have a conflict of interest with the seller: your enemies are others who want to buy. With the seller you have a common objective, which is to arrive at a contract.
What is the relation between ethics and economics?
There cannot be a conflict between ethics and economics, because ethics is prescriptive and economics is descriptive. Economics shows you the probable effects of certain policies, while ethics teaches what ought to be done.
Would you like the Pope and the bishops to support capitalism openly?
Well, if they are going to support capitalism or something else, I would prefer that they support capitalism, but ideally they shouldn’t support either one. People who go to Mass on Sundays should be able to leave their political ideas outside.
When you say that the objectives of the preferential option for the poor are realized better under a free and competitive market economy, are you speaking as a priest or as an economist?
As an economist.
End of Interview. For Part 1, go here.