The Editors
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Catholics may wonder sometimes about the pertinence of Catholic social teaching to our fast-changing public life. Yet President Obama talked freely a several weeks ago with Catholic journalists about the formative influence of Catholic social teaching on his moral development, citing it particularly as “a moral compass” on matters of distribution (see Signs of the Times). At the center of that teaching is the notion of the common good, which Blessed John XXIII was the first to define as the full human development of every person. Now Pope Benedict XVI, in his first social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (On Human Development in Charity and Truth), released on July 7, has written: “To take a stand for the common good” involves care for and participation in “that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the polis...” (No. 7).

In the United States today, however, our institutional arrangements seem to be failing the common good, surrendering to individual, partisan and class interests. On Capitol Hill, in state houses and in board rooms across the country all the pointers read: decline—failure to move ahead because we cannot come together. At a time that calls for shared sacrifice and an increased measure of fairness, too many leaders are pursuing their own interests to the detriment of the common good.

In New York State, a split in the Senate, precipitated by Republicans and a single grand-standing Democratic renegade, has deadlocked state government, causing scores of bills to expire for lack of action. In California, the voters rejected Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed plan to reduce the state’s $41 billion deficit by $21 billion; and the Legislature, perpetuating decades of dysfunction, is incapable of passing a budget. As of this month, California is paying its vendors in i.o.u.’s.

On Capitol Hill, where there is some appearance of action, legislation is so muddied by deals for special interests that observers question whether any of the legislation—whether on banking reform, health care or climate change—will result in any significant change. In their flight from serious regulation, banking interests are resisting the Obama administration’s latest proposal for a new agency to protect consumers in the financial markets. Coal, power and agricultural interests obtained special provisions in the Cap-and-Trade energy bill. So many pollution licenses have been given away in advance, it is reported, that as few as 10 percent of licenses remain to be openly traded. As one columnist has written, “political pragmatism” is succeeding in assembling majorities in favor of bills that will pass the test of “policy pragmatism”—that is, policies that will work.

The Me Decade of the 1970s has not ended. Even the Great Recession has not killed it. Though polls show that taxpayers are willing to pay more to provide universal coverage in health care or to reduce global warming, when they face actual proposals to raise taxes to balance budgets or solve fundamental problems, they and their lawmakers vote no. As in the recent past, the wealthy are the most resistant. Bankers rushed to pay back their government loans so that government could not set limits on executive compensation intended to retain the too-smart-for-the-world’s-good whiz kids who brought us the global economic crisis.

The political system, too, is corrupted in the profound sense that it not only cannot resist special interests but allows itself to be ruled by them. In hearings, Congressmen and Senators hold their theaters of crisis, and play their roles as righteous defenders of the underdog. They scold automakers for flying to Washington on private jets and question loan executives for taking fat bonuses as their companies were about to tank. But despite the change of administrations, one-party control of Congress and the world economic crisis, it is business as usual. Legislation is written to please the interests, while lawmakers “spin” to the voters that they are making fundamental reforms. Advocates for the common good, like proponents of single-payer health care, are not given a serious hearing. Only special interests need apply.

In his new encyclical, Pope Benedict reminds us of the function and purpose of our public and social institutions. “To desire the common good,” he writes, “and strive for it is a requirement of justice and charity..... The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them” (No. 8). Today all Americans, but especially those in elected and appointed office and those in key positions in the private sector, need to ask themselves how effective their decisions are in bringing about the integral human development of every person that is the common good.

Comments

Robert C. | 7/21/2009 - 11:11am
Very Good Editorial.
It makes me think; I wonder if, in light of "Caritas in Veritate", the American bishops will now instruct their priests to stop administering communion to all politicians who do not vote for the social proposals of President Obama?
They would if they were consistent!  But then they would have no communicants.
D8NDomer
frankgino | 7/18/2009 - 11:41pm
God Bless the Jesuit editors!
This sounds more like the Jesuits that educated me on Social Justice over 50 years ago.
Social Justice, the Magisterium and Unity of the church were primary objectives, and were all considered for the common good.
 
Frank G.
 
E.Patrick Mosman | 7/17/2009 - 3:54pm
For the record the sources for the following declaration " Though polls show that taxpayers are willing to pay more to provide universal coverage in health care or to reduce global warming," should have been cited as the latest Rasmussen Poll, July 13th, found 49% of those polled oppose the Obama health care plan while 46% favor it.
http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/business/healthcare/july_2009/49_oppose_health_care_reform_plan_46_favor_it
When it comes to energy the Rasmussen poll, July 1, 2009, found "56% Don’t Want To Pay More To Fight Global Warming"
http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/56_don_t_want_to_pay_more_to_fight_global_warming 
The Rasmussen Poll is one of the most highly respected and least biased so perhaps more research on the various polls is required before editorializing in support of very controversial and complicated issues.
What is the Church's and the editors' definition of "common good" from the 'economic' point of view if 50 percent of wage earners already provide 97 percent of the income tax receipts to the USA Treasury" What is the definition of 'common good' if approximately 50 percent of wage earners pay no federal income tax and most already receive welfare payments disguised as tax credits for 'unearned income,' for children, and in the form of SSI, food stamps, housing support and a host of other federal, state and local government programs available only to the needy. Is it the role of government to be the essential and probably soon the only source of Charity as the Obama administration plans to reduce the tax credits for charitable contributions for those who provide the most: mosthttp://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/the-war-on-philanthropy-15190
When does confiscatory tax rates in the guise of 'for the common good' on already stressed wage earners become a challenge to the ability of religious and non-government charitable organizations to carry out their own charitable functions?
 It appears that Catholic Church does not even recognize that Obama plans to reduce or eliminate religious organizations and non-government groups, from their historic roles and replace them with socialistic government run programs.
The health care program advocated by Obama and pushed by the democrats promotes the culture of death at the beginning of life by supporting goverenment paid abortions without limits, (NB Obama also voted against providing medical attention to a child born alive after a botched abortion attempt,) and at the end of life as Obama has publicly declared that elderly patients should be denied the best life saving care and essentially prescribed "take two aspirin and  prepare to meet your Maker.
While Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI may recognize the need for states to have some role in charitable acts for the common good, however, for those who claim that Jesus was a big-government socialist provider with regard to helping those in need and reducing individuals personal responsibility to "Love the Neighbor' and replacing it with government programs is a misreading of His message. Jesus Christ made the point "to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" with no guidelines as to how the Romans were to spend the tax monies.
"For you will have the poor always with you" Matthew 26.11 and nowhere in the New
Testament does Jesus Christ lay the responsibility for caring for the poor, the sick the hungry or thirsty, the homeless or any oppressed people on any governmental body. He did not cite King Herod, the priests of the temple, the local mayor or the Roman powers as the source of Charity. He made it an individual responsibility time after time in His sermons, in His parables and in His own acts. The Good Samaritan was not an example of "Love thy neighbor" because he stopped at the nearest inn and asked that a 911 call be made but because he acted, providing aid, comfort and financial assistance to his neighbor. Jesus Christ's teachings may be used to support charitable acts by states, however, they would not support programs that demean, denigrate or harms the individual's rights and have no regard for human life at all ages.
Michael Cremin | 7/16/2009 - 8:31pm
"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members." ~ Mahatma Ghandi
While we dicker on about taxes, costs, economic efficiency, Michael Jackson's legacy, liberty, socialism, nationalized health care, cap and trade, and Judge Sotomayor, children in America-as I type these words-are going hungry, have no access to doctors, and are homeless. Right now.
What is our ultimate concern? To what are we loyal? America? Capitalism? Self-interest? Or to God, and God's precious-the poor?
john vercellone | 7/16/2009 - 8:14pm
in the PREAMBLE OF THE USA CONSTITUTION THE RIGHT OF GOVERNMENT TO TAX IS FOR A FEW REASONS,ONE IS FOR FUNDING FOR NATIONAL DEFENCE ANOTHER WHICH PROBALLY IS CONFUSED AS BEING THE SUPPORT THE PUBLIC WELFARE BUT IS ACTUALLY AND CLEARLY WRITTEN THE RIGHT TO TAX TO FUND 'THE BENEFIT OF THE GENERAL WELFARE" I.E. LOW UNEMPLOYMENT,SAFE STREETS,CLEAN ENVIRONMENT,BASIC SHELTER,SAFETY  FROM EPIDEMICS,THERE IS ABOUT 6-10 MORE..IN SUMMARY THE GOCT SHOULD TAX TO FUND THESE BENEFITS.HOWEVRE IT IS READILY APPARENT THAT IS NOT WHAT THE USA GOVT HAS DONE WITH ITS TAX REVENUES AT ALL.I DONT KNOW IF THEREFORE BY THIS ARGUMENT IN THE CONSTITUTIONAL PREAMBLE WHETHER THE GOVT CAN BE LABELED AS UNCONSITUTIONAL....ROMAN CATHOLICISM CAN ONLY SURVIVE IN A NON TOTALITARIAN OR MONARCHY ENVIRONMENT,DE FACTO NAZI GERMANY,COMMUNUST SOVIET UNION,COMMUNIST CHINA ,MIDDLE EAST MONARCHIES,IMPERIAL JAPAN ETC
E.Patrick Mosman | 7/16/2009 - 1:05pm
What is the Church's and the editors' definition of "common good" from the 'economic' point of view if 50 percent of wage earners already provide 97 percent of the income tax receipts to the USA Treasury" What is the definition of 'common good' if approximately 50 percent of wage earners pay no federal income tax and most already receive welfare payments disguised as tax credits for 'unearned income,' for children, and in the form of SSI, food stamps, housing support and a host of other federal, state and local government programs available only to the needy. Is it the role of government to be the essential and probably soon the only source of Charity as the Obama administration plans to reduce the tax credits for charitable contributions for those who provide the most: mosthttp://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/the-war-on-philanthropy-15190
When does confiscatory tax rates in the guise of 'for the common good' on already stressed wage earners become a challenge to the ability of religious and non-government charitable organizations to carry out their own charitable functions?
 It appears that Catholic Church does not even recognize that Obama plans to reduce or eliminate religious organizations and non-government groups, from their historic roles and replace them with socialistic government run programs.
The health care program advocated by Obama and pushed by the democrats promotes the culture of death at the beginning of life by supporting goverenment paid abortions without limits, (NB Obama also voted against providing medical attention to a child born alive after a botched abortion attempt,) and at the end of life as Obama has publicly declared that elderly patients should be denied the best life saving care and essentially prescribed "take two aspirin and  prepare to meet your Maker.
While Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI may recognize the need for states to have some role in charitable acts for the common good, however, for those who claim that Jesus was a big-government socialist provider with regard to helping those in need and reducing individuals personal responsibility to "Love the Neighbor' and replacing it with government programs is a misreading of His message. Jesus Christ made the point "to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" with no guidelines as to how the Romans were to spend the tax monies.
"For you will have the poor always with you" Matthew 26.11 and nowhere in the New
Testament does Jesus Christ lay the responsibility for caring for the poor, the sick the hungry or thirsty, the homeless or any oppressed people on any governmental body. He did not cite King Herod, the priests of the temple, the local mayor or the Roman powers as the source of Charity. He made it an individual responsibility time after time in His sermons, in His parables and in His own acts. The Good Samaritan was not an example of "Love thy neighbor" because he stopped at the nearest inn and asked that a 911 call be made but because he acted, providing aid, comfort and financial assistance to his neighbor. Jesus Christ's teachings may be used to support charitable acts by states, however, they would not support programs that demean, denigrate or harms the individual's rights and have no regard for human life at all ages.
Aileen | 7/16/2009 - 8:51am
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For too long our country has endorsed the notion of health care being a commodity to be purchased like a yacht or vacation house,  if you can afford it.   However, lack of ability to afford a yacht will not result in one's premature death.   The rate of infant and early childhood mortality in our country exceeds that of other industrialized nations.   Access to health care for Americans ranks 37th in the world... next to Costa Rica.   Yet we spend more than other nations who have universal health care for all citizens... because of our inflated capitalistic costs.  
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The profiteering has allowed corporations to grow obscenely wealthy by keeping people chronically sick and in need of pharmaceuticals to survive,  cherry-picking who can be insured,  forcing the working poor into emergency departments as a last resort,  and further driving up costs in the deregulated scheme of capitalism.  It is not a cost-effective system.   Everyone pays for this... but some will pay with their lives.   This is nothing less than a form of culturally sanctioned genocide for the poorest and weakest.   As a medical professional I've witnessed this up close in the reality of human lives.
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Capitalism feeds upon the weakest in order for the strongest to profit.   In order for some to be big winners,  others must be the losers.   Some must do the menial jobs which pay the least.   Without basic safety nets in place,  it is intrinsically inhumane and distinctly NOT pro-life.  One catastrophic illness can take even those who feel financially secure into financial ruin.
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On a smaller scale in a different scenario, a recent news report shows how this works.   Corporate lobby groups actually pay what they call "line sitters" to arrive early in the halls of Congress to hold a place in line for the limited seating in congressional hearings.   The line-sitters are often desperate unemployed and  homeless people who are paid a bare minimum for a few hours of "work".  
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Ironically, the lobby for whom they hold a place, is often advocating and pressuring members of Congress to legislate in ways that actually harm the welfare of the line-sitters themselves... for example, health care reform and community social services funding.   Often those who advocate for the vulnerable cannot get the limited seating since they cannot afford to pay line-sitters.   Capitalism tends to be predatory.
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As Catholics, we can't have it both ways.   We are forced to see the whole cloth of being pro-life.   Otherwise we undo our entire theology, and become unwitting hypocrites of personal convenience and economic ideology.
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Letha C. Chamberlain | 7/16/2009 - 5:04am
It seems to this humble and uneducated soul, who never studied economics nor the the beliefs of the "Christians" who inhabit the economic environments of this modern world... that all anyone is talking about here is theory... basic and unadulterated theory, since no one has seen anything like what we are going through at the moment, nor in the past, nor ever will again.  We do, however, learn lessons from history, and since so few know anything about that, or even seem to remember that (or why aren't we taking the example of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who successfully transformed a crisis so great back in the 1930's which should be help to us now... but is being ignored out of a queer bull-headedness, and deep mistrust of an individual economist who has been proven "right" time and time again-when the rest have failed.)  Oh, the folly of it!  We simply deserve the outcome that seems so sure and certain at this time and looks to be right 'round the bend.  We worry about health care?  For heaven's sake-some of us are more concerned about food in our mouths, and water to drink!  Who are you with your utopian ideas in this scourged land?  thank you
j verc | 7/15/2009 - 7:55pm
trillion dollar annual deficits for many years to come is the prediction of many economists.this of course will add more debt to america which will be softened by increased foreign ownership,oh by the way the largest segment of foriegn ownership over 85per cent of it will be from non Christian world.a true capitalist nation would pay its debts and not pile them up as the usa has been doing for no emergency reason since the end ofthe gulf war..growing poverty,violent crime,divorce,illigitamacy,unemployment,pollution and bankrupting medical costs has been the american scene,has the govt borrowing been utilzed to rectify these problems it cannot be because they have been present for decades..thee usa is centrally planned plutocracy and might have actually be a totalitaran state with its oligarchs..for PRESIDENT REAGAN SUPPORTERS I RECALL A PRESS CONFERNECE I N HIS FIRST TERM HE STATED"AMERICA HAS A UNIQUE POP CULTURE IN THE WORLD BUT THAT DOES NOT MAKE IT WITHOUT ERROR"""..GOT IT
Edison Woods | 7/15/2009 - 7:52pm
It is plain that Common Good has a long way to go before it becomes more than a mere catch phrase for the news media and others to hang their political agenda on. For the moment all we have is Pork Berrel legislation as usual.
Christopher Mulcahy | 7/15/2009 - 3:15pm
How can "single payer healthcare" be considered by a Christian intellectual?  Have we not seen the consequence of government monopoly anywhere? Everywhere? We have seen examples in abundance-otherwise intellegent Russians couldn't keep shoelaces in stock in stores.  Our Medicare steals from the private system and crows about it-and despite it all is unfunded at a level that would provide a corporate executive with a room at Leavenworth.  Every lonely widow with a subscription to Prevention magazine will be in line for medical consultation.  I haven't got my sunspots checked yet-the doctor charges $50-but I will when you are paying for it.
There is no secret here.  Hundreds if not thousands of economics dissertations lay it out.  Unfortunately,  the church is poorly schooled in that discipline, and even contributes to the problem by amplifying the erroneous belief that individuals have a right to free or nearly free health care.  I must confess that I was shocked, in my youth, to find I didn't have a right to free sheets and towels when I first occupied a dorm room.  I got over it.  The American people, with the help, not hindrance, of the Church, must get over it.  Only a capitalist system has worked to create wealth.  If we want a quality health care system, it must harness the attention of all of us.
Dennis Cusick | 7/15/2009 - 9:20am
Very good article, but why is it that while the pope makes valid obsevation of our government our American bishops can not set an example be agreeing on tha new translation of our litergiry?
Petrus | 7/14/2009 - 6:28pm
Courteous words.....any "words" seem suitable to Obama. His speech at Notre Dame was just words. There is no dialog concerning the sanctity of life at the beginning or the end.
Given the speed of current legislation, there is no "transparency"either for the citizens. By permitting congressional earmarks, Obama is just another politician. Plan and simple, it is a sin to have spent close to a trillion dollars and not be accountable. That money could have been directed to the common good rather than the good of a few in the fraternity of corruption on capitol hill. 
Ray Moser | 7/13/2009 - 3:24pm
Required reading for all citizens of the U.S. and our representatives. If there is no common truth, then both party's can hide under the cover of post modern philosophical gibberish. Dueling ideological carricatures are no substitute for the good of the whole society. As a nation that claims a religious core, one must ask, "Where is the consideration of a loving God in this modern mess?

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