Pope Francis debunks ‘trickle down’ economics, plutocracy, and the idolatry of money. Our Holy Father’s first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, is going to be challenging reading for Catholics on both the right and the left—two groups he wishes to bring together: melding ‘right to life’ concerns with the left’s advocacy of social justice. Pope Francis does not claim to be an economist, but he’s teaching from the perspective of a pastor; in his case, his parish is the universal Church! As one reads EG, one is struck that Francis is deeply imbued in the Gospel, which has shaped his consciousness. He is simply processing the world of the 21st century through the lens of the Gospel, rather than the other way around.
It’s within this Gospel context that Pope Francis specifically condemns “trickle down economics” (#54). This economic model, which George H.W. Bush once described as “voodoo economics,’ has been tried and found wanting when implemented by the Reagan and Bush (II) administrations which emphasized de-regulation of Big Business and tax cuts for the wealthy.
The latter has resulted in concentrations of wealth not seen in our country since the Gilded Age. The figures are staggering: 1% of the American population enjoys 10% of our nation’s wealth and the top 10% garner 40%. It’s no wonder that the lower and middle classes are floundering. Such disparities are predictably played out globally. In #56 Francis writes:
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories that assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of he prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
Continuing, the Holy Father, observes that “The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which has become the only rule.”
When the capitalist, free-market system becomes deified, self-absorption and insensitivity to the poor is a predictable outcome. Francis writes that “To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunting for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
Francis explicitly calls for a “financial reform.” What would that look like? See the next session
Spreading the wealth through fair taxation. In our deeply unequal world, concentrations of wealth have gone hand-in-glove with extreme poverty, a situation which Pope Francis denounces for its injustice. The latest Credit Suisse numbers put the world’s total personal wealth at $241 trillion, an all-time record. The world’s richest 1% currently holds 46% of these assets. The poorest half of global adults holds less than 1%.
What do these numbers mean? A new World Bank report offers some hints: about 1.2 billion people in the world today live on $1.25/day, a state of affairs that defines “extreme poverty.” Only 26% of these extremely poor have access to clean water, only 49% access to electricity.
What would it take to alleviate extreme poverty? Surprisingly, the solution is modest, provided an equitable taxation system was in place. World Bank researchers note that the world would need “approximately $169 billion/year to end extreme poverty.
Where would those monies come from? Today, 32 million adults have a net worth of over $1 million and collectively they hold nearly $100 trillion in personal wealth. This affluent cohort constitute 0.7% of the world’s population and holds 41% of the world’s wealth.
A graduated wealth tax that averaged 0.5% on all personal wealth over $1 million would raise about $500 billion annually, nearly triple the $169 billion needed to lift every person on the planet out of extreme poverty.
“Tax-the-rich” seems like a good solution, especially since the battered and shrinking middle class could not absorb more financial stress. Would taxing the wealthy 0.5% of their wealth really put a dent on their lifestyle? Hardly. Would such taxation end extreme poverty? Yes. From the perspective of the Gospel and our Catholic social justice tradition, the right judgment seems clear.
Subsidizing Fast-food. The false idol of free enterprise promulgates that market forces will somehow bring about what ought to be economically. So, if there is a concentration of wealth/income for the few and economic scarcity for the many, that’s just meant to be and government should just get out of the way. Unless, of course, Big Business is the recipient of government assistance.
The case of McDonald’s is a case in point. The fast-food giant showed a profit of $1.5 billion last summer. That’s a lot of hamburgers! How did they do that? If you peek behind the wizard’s curtain, you’ll find that McDonald’s secret power is the American taxpayer! How does that work? The corporation exploits its huge workforce by paying poverty wages and no benefits, then directs the workers to the food stamp office and other government-funded safety-net programs.
Neat trick, wouldn’t you say? A major chunk of McDonald’s doing business is simply shifted to the government’s books. In fact, the National Employment t Law Project reports that McDonald’s phenomenal $1.5 B quarter profit is bloated by an estimated $1.2 B that taxpayers will shell out to support this predatory wage-and-benefit policy for the fiscal year.
But the golden arches are not alone in the fast-food slight-of-hand. The conglomerate owner of KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell nicks us for $648 million to underwrite their poverty pay. Subway burrows into us for $436 M, Burger King (a British outfit) taps us for $356 M, sweet Wendy’s grabs more than $250 M, and Dunkin’ Donuts dips into taxpayer pockets for $274 M.
It all depends whose ox is being gored. Domino’s pizza, whose owner says he hates government spending on social programs, nonetheless, receives $126 M to subsidize his “free enterprise.”
Much is said about the “magic” of the marketplace and its autonomy, but as the facts reveal, magicians don’t do magic, they perform illusions.
No change for divorced, remarried Catholics. Amid speculation that the Catholic Church might make it easier for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, Archbishop Gerhard L. Muller (Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith) reaffirmed the Church’s teaching barring such persons from receiving Communion without an annulment from their first sacramental marriage. Muller did acknowledge that many Catholics’ first marriages might be invalid, and thus eligible for annulment, if spouses had bought into the prevailing cultural conception of marriage as a temporary agreement.
According to CARA (Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate) 12% of U.S. Catholics are currently divorced. Of those, 85% did not seek annulment. 8% who asked for one were not granted an annulment, whereas 7% who did were granted one.
76% of U.S. Catholic view divorce acceptable in some cases; 17% acceptable in all cases, and 7% not acceptable in any case.
Is Drone Warfare a War Crime? Once of the tenets of the Just War Ethic is that noncombatants cannot be directly targeted. With Americans becoming increasingly weary of having American soldiers killed in far off lands, the targeted killing of alleged terrorists that are imbedded in civilian populations (usually villages) has become central to President Barack Obama’s foreign policy and global war-making.
The problem is that it’s difficult to determine who is a terrorist and who is a civilian. If there is credible intelligence that a bad guys are residing in a village at a certain location, a drone can take them out. But, to do that, one has to kill innocent noncombatants, which are commodified to “collateral damage.”
Put simply, attacking civilians is a war crime. In an Amnesty International recent report reported that “Some laborers in a very impoverished village near the Afghanistan border got targeted. Eight died instantly in a tent; those who come to rescue to look for survivors are themselves targeted. In great detail, eyewitnesses, victims who survive, tell us about the terror, the panic, as drones hovered overhead.
There’s a very high threshold for proving war crimes. It’s ironic that President Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize has been such a zealous advocate for this targeted killing program which does not make a distinction between combatants and non-combatants.
Health Care and Support for Retired Priests. Only 24% of dioceses in the United States provide long-term care insurance for their priests. Since 1/3 of priests in a diocese are retired or semi-retired (the typical retirement age is 71,and the average age of semi-retired is 78), this is a huge burden for retiring priests, whose yearly stipends were modest to begin with. While 40% of dioceses provide residences for retired priests who are capable of independent living, more than 80% of retired and semi-retired priests are living on their own. In other words, after a life-time of priestly ministry, once retired, our priests are on their own.
Half of Americans Think Abortion is Morally Wrong. “Regardless of their views about the legality of abortion, most Americans think that having an abortion is a moral issue,” according to the results of a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. “
However, “the public is much less likely to see other issues involving human embryos—such as stem cell research or in vitro fertilization—as a matter of morality.”
Parishes Now Outnumber Active Diocesan Priests. Every parish needs at least one priest, but nearly 20% of parishes no longer has a resident pastor. In 17% of parishes a priest is a non-resident pastor or part of a team of priests administering the parish. In about 430 parishes, or 2.5% of the total, the bishop has entrusted the parish to a deacon or lay person under canon 517.2, but the person must still arrange for priests to be available for Masses and other Sacraments.
Best Way to Cultivate Priestly Vocations—WYD! While there may not be a causal relationship, recent CARA research shows that young men attending a World Youth Day are 4.5 times more likely than others to consider becoming a priest or a religious brother. 20% of newly ordained priests in 2013 say they participated in a WYD.
Students at Catholic Colleges Graduate Sooner. A recent report from the Association of Catholic Colleges, show that 48% of students who enter a Catholic college graduate within 4 years and 56% do so in six, can save money in the long run. The report notes that “the average cost of a year of education, after scholarships and grants, at a four-year, at a four-year public campus is $12,800 and at a four-year private institution is $22,670. Although the cost of a year of education after scholarship and grants at a Catholic campus is higher tan the typical four year public campus, students at Catholic colleges graduate faster and often save the cost of two years of education and begin earning sooner. For many students, this easily offsets the higher cost of the Catholic school.
What’s Up with Catholic High Schools? There are 1,198 U.S. Catholic high schools, which have the following characteristics:
• Most schools are owned or sponsored by the diocese or religious community. Of these, 70% are coeducational. 25% have maintained the same enrollment as it was five years ago. 30% have enjoyed an increase, whereas 47% have seen a decline.
• 70% of schools estimate that more than 90% of students who enroll at the entry-level remain through graduation. 55% of schools report that all entering seniors at the beginning of the school year will graduate in the Spring. 66% of schools report that 90% or more graduating students went on to a four-year college.
Regarding leadership, administration, and governance:
• 56% of schools operate under a president/principal model then a principal-only model (35%). Three in four schools have a lay person as the school leader. Lay men are twice as likely as lay women to be the school leader, but single-sex schools are usually be led by someone of the students’ gender.
• Half of the schools have had the same school leader for five years or fewer. 75% of school leaders come from an academic background in Catholic education. The diocese and the school board are most likely to hire the school leader.
Regarding Salaries and Benefits:
• 30% of schools have no religious or clergy working full-time at the school. Among those that do, 40% report that their religious or clergy are paid on the same salary scale as lay personnel.
• Nearly all schools (88%) have an official teacher salary schedule based on levels of education and years of experience. The average full-time lay teacher salary rangers from a low of $22,000 to a high of $88,838. The average benefit package is $13,219, typically including pension, social security, medical and life insurance.
• Nine in ten schools have an annual fund, and four in five say this is among the top three priorities for institutional advancement. The average total is $686,548. The average endowment was valued at $4,556,984 at the end of last year.
• The average tuition charge was $9,600 for grades 9-12 for the 2012-2013 school year. Most schools have increased their tuition from the previous year by 4%. Just over a third of the schools provide financial aid to all students who need it. On average more than half the schools meet 60% of defined student need for financial aid.
Catholic Schools Stats.
1960 1990 2013
Elementary schools 10,501 7,395 5,472
Secondary schools 2,392 1,234 1,213
Students in elementary sch. 4.4 M 2.0 M 1.4 M
Students in secondary sch. 880 K 606 K 586 K
Catholic colleges & univ. 268 228 226
Enrollment in colleges & univ. 329 K 619 K 795 K
Sources: National Catholic Educational Association statistics for selected years.
U.S. Now Has 45% of World’s Permanent Deacons.
CARA’s 7th annual survey on the state of the permanent diaconate in the U.S. found an estimated total of 18,500 living deacons, of whom 12,800 are in active service.
Number of Deacons:
• While the Chicago Cubs can’t get into the World Series, the Archdiocese of Chicago does have the largest number of permanent deacons at 656, followed by Galveston-Houston (456), Trenton (383), Los Angeles (344), and Hartford (300).
• Adjusting for Catholic population size, dioceses with the most favorable ratio of Catholics per permanent deacon include: Fairbanks (482/deacon), Lexington (647), Amarillo (773), and Rapid City (803).
Demographics Characteristics of Active Deacons.
• 93% are currently married, 4% are widowers, and 2% have never married. 94% are at least 50 years old. About 25% are in their 50s, 43% are in their 60s, and 25% are 70 or older.
• 778 are non-Hispanic whites, 15% are Hispanic, 3% are African-American, and 3% are Asian. 60% have at least a college degree and almost 10% have a graduate degree in a field related to religion or ministry.
Diocesan Formation Requirements.
• 85% require post-ordination formation of deacons—a median of 20 hours annually. 94% require an annual retreat of deacons.
• 78% have a plan for the placement and ministry of deacons. 88% have a minimum age for deacons. Almost half have a mandatory age for deacon retirement.
When Two Faiths Wed. Author Naomi Schaefer Riley in her new book, ‘Til Death Do Us Part (2013), reveals that 45% of all marriages in the U.S. are between people of different religious affiliations. She notes that “Interfaith marriage is a striking case study of the tension between American individualism and the search for community. …Interfaith marriages are more common among people who marry older, and Americans are waiting longer to marry.”
The book has some surprises that buck conventional wisdom. For one, while Catholics have the lowest divorce rate, those Catholics in interfaith marriages are no more likely to divorce than Catholics with a spouse of the same faith.
U.S. Divorce Rates by Selected Religious Affiliation of Spouses
Mainline Protestant-None (63% divorce rate)
Evangelical Protestant-None (61%)
Mainline Protestant-Mainline Protestant (42%)
Catholic-Evangelical Protestant (50%)
Evangelical Protestant-Evangelical Protestant (332%)
Catholic-Mainline Protestant (24%)
–compiled by Deacon Jim McFadden
Fair Oaks, CA