Is Catholic Social Justice Teaching Pro-Family?

Although having made peace with Catholic social justice teaching, it still seems to me that it provides at best an imperfect tool to making real world policy choices.

Certainly, there are some absolutes. Pro-life. Either the baby is dead or the baby isn”t. But as soon as one goes beyond that set of issues, trade-offs begin. These trade offs don’t necessarily undermine the principle. But made often enough and openly enough, the practical wisdom implied in the trade off becomes the new principle.

At least in those instances, the trade-off isn’t necessarily open and obvious. But sometimes it is. When Catholic social justice teaching trades off one principle, it undermines the devalued principle and ultimately the effectiveness and legitimacy of the public policy aspect of social justice enterprise.

A recent column that appeared in the Washington Post by Robert Samuelson made this point well.

Samuelson first pointed out a new USDA study of the costs of raising kids. As any parent will tell you, it’s expensive. Although there are many variables (upper income families spend more; families with fewer kids spend more per kid), it’s about $12,000 per kid and they get more expensive as they get older… and that doesn’t count college (see “Just Say No” –which will be the subject of another post).

Samuelson then writes:

Our society does not — despite rhetoric to the contrary — put much value on raising children. Present budget policies punish parents, who are taxed heavily to support the elderly. Meanwhile, tax breaks for children are modest. If deficit reduction aggravates these biases, more Americans may choose not to have children or to have fewer children.

As an economist, he then applies this to the economic realm. But what about Catholics? Can it be said that “despite rhetoric to the contrary” that the Catholic Church or, at least, Catholic Social Justice Teaching, does not put “much value on raising children.” As a matter of doctrine, the answer is certainly “no.” But what happens when a new, expensive social program is proposed — one that trades massive new taxes, massive new social controls (e.g., your diet and BMI), for the chimera of universally available material good “X” or service “Y.” What if the program imposed 8% payroll tax, promised that no one would lack funds in retirement, but at the price of weakening family ties between older and younger family members? Does the Church or Catholic Social Justice teaching ever hold up the self-sacrifice inherent in family life as a legitimate form of sacrifice? I think the Church as a whole does, but I fail to see it in Catholic Social Justice teaching.

There are several conclusions to draw, but I will close with, perhaps, the blandest one of all. The Bishops and the Catholic social thinkers need to integrate family life — the domestic church — into social teaching. The current reflexive attachment to any government program that asks us to bow down before it and it will give us every material things — after all, it will help some people — needs to be rethought so that we don’t undermine one good in our imperfect pursuit of another.

Samuelson column — higher cost of living necessarily decreases family ties; CST has a strong component of re-distribution as an aspect of charity – sometimes it’s forced into an inequality model, but seems to be mostly charity. The agent of re-distribution is the federal government. (theoretically, the individual redistributes part of his wealth and the FG is only the agent; but he also redistributes part of others’ wealth too).

CST – if this is a part of CST – encourages large families. Domestic church. vocation to hand on the faith and to model virtue. “Be fertile and multiply”

There’s a contradiction or tension here. Higher costs mean less ability from a prudential perspective to raise kids well and fulfill the domestic church’s vocation. So couples take a number of steps in response. Limiting family size. Also other intergenerational breakdown. No need to support my mom since she’s got medicare and social security etc. “Independence’ but it’s really a new form of dependence because those options inevitably close off others.

Demographic winter?