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Friday, May 9, 2014

Let the Conservative Frenzy Feeding Upon Pope Francis Begin Again - Updates

Here is an article by the AP, highlighting some of the recent comments by Pope Francis, and taking them out of context.

The first thing taken out of context are the two words quoted in the headline: POPE DEMANDS 'LEGITIMATE REDISTRIBUTION' OF WEALTH.

First of all, the Pope did not "demand" anything. Shame on Nicole Winfield, the reporter, and her AP editors. SHAME.

I would like to point out that the Pope's comments are in an address to folks at the UN. As such, these comments have very little doctrinal or disciplinary authority. Popes almost never make "demands" on these occasions, and Popes rarely make "demands" of secular organizations in any case.

Secondly, the Pope did NOT mention a redistribution of "wealth." Shame also on DRUDGE also for doing the same thing. Look, putting the word "wealth" into the Pope's mouth in this context is simply SPIN and not reporting. Why not say "economic benefits" - the Pope's actual words? Because those words are not as sensational. DRUDGE. Really.

Breitbart parrots the AP language. Way to go Breitbart. I can't say "shame" because this is what your organization is really about - not truth, but making your enemies look bad. You're using liberal political tactics to promote so-called conservative policies. As of 10:30 AM EDT, the comments are living up to true Breitbart form. A couple of people try to point out that the AP story is misleading, and they get slammed. Outlets like Breitbart are driving Catholics like me away.

So, the Pope's words were a "legitimate redistribution of economic benefits." There is a difference. Of course the very enlightened and educated and unbigoted and fair and even tempered folks who like to throw fits at places like Breitbart.com would disagree and call me a democrat-loving Marxist for pointing out the difference. But who cares? There IS a difference, and denying it is a denial of reality.

"Redistribution of wealth" means taking money from those who have it and giving it to those who do not. Rob or at least coercively extort from the rich to give to the poor. The Pope did NOT say that. "Economic benefits" can mean so much more than "wealth," and may not even mean "money." It can mean using tax money to, I don't know, run libraries, community centers, health clinics, and museums; provide low interest loans to get housing, cars, and such; and all sorts of things that poor people cannot actually afford in their present state, which if they could, would elevate all of society.  The State could sponsor organizations like Habitat for Humanity, which rehabilitates housing for poor people. And organizations that go to poor countries to educate children, train adults, and improve people's lives.

The resources for such things do not always trickle down - if they did, then the Pope wouldn't be encouraging the State to step in.

People who gain wealth tend to want to keep it for themselves, because gaining it is what they set out to do. There is an inherent resistance to "trickle-down" in greed-based economies. There is. Of course, rich people do spend money, and in that sense it trickles down to some degree. But rich people generally tend to occupy themselves with turning their wealth into more and greater wealth, which does not really trickle down so much. Look, if you had income of $10 million, would you simply SPEND or give away $9.8 million and save the rest for retirement? No, you'd invest, like, 9 million of it, protecting it from trickle-down, and spend the rest on lavish living. Maybe give some way for tax purposes or something.

The AP story does eventually quote more of the statement in question, but again it is out of context. The Pope was careful to frame the statement with the story of Zaccheus, whom the Pope notes acted freely in caring for the poor. The Pope pointed out, "The account of Jesus and Zacchaeus teaches us that above and beyond economic and social systems and theories, there will always be a need to promote generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others." (I added the bold.)

The Pope then says, "Jesus does not ask Zacchaeus to change jobs nor does he condemn his financial activity; he simply inspires him to put everything, freely yet immediately and indisputably, at the service of others."

So, I must ask the AP, if JESUS does not make DEMANDS of Zaccheus, how on earth do you interpret the Pope's comments, which he frames in mentioning this fact, as a demand? Seriously!

Promoting the "generous, effective and practical openness to the needs of others" is hardly a demand.

I think what's really missing is an examination of the word "legitimate." What might the Pope mean by his encouragement of "legitimate" redistribution of "economic benefits"? Hmmmm.

We have lost the capacity to think clearly and rationally.


John Moody at Fox has bared his teeth. He has the audacity as to tell the Pope his job and that he has exceeded his authority. Hypocrite. Moody exceeds his authority and expertise by doing so. He also proposes that the Catholic church, unlike other religions, should pay taxes. His superficiality officially makes him someone not to take seriously - about anything.

Meanwhile, at Breitbart, the story has thankfully moved down toward the bottom of their page. But in 13 hours, the number of comments has swelled by a factor of over 30 (standing at over 3000), and most of them are vitriolic bigotry.

Conservative News Service (cnsnews.com) reposts the AP story with Ms Winfield's by-line, but at least they change "demand" in the headline to "urges," which is definitely closer to the Pope's intent.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

That viral abortion video

I get discouraged with this blog and go months without posting anything. It's not that there's nothing to say, it's just that people do not know how to reason ethically, and it shows. And it's rather disheartening pointing it out all the time. It is sad work watching the decline of civilization into barbarity.

If you read the reactions to the Supreme Court's decision on prayers to open town council meetings, you can see that people wallow in wanting law to create what justice means because the law isn't in favor of their opinions, but do so from the standpoint of a sense of injustice regarding what the law does say. So, law cannot create justice, but they want it to.

No, the law should reflect justice, which is higher to and superior to any human law. Because justice is God's law. Anyone who denies that God exists and claims that there is a "justice" higher than positive laws is speaking with a forked tongue. If God does not exist, then all we have are positive laws, and then might makes right.

But I digress.

Here's a Fox News story about the woman who made a video of herself undergoing an abortion. The article says she did it to help de-stigmatize abortion.

A million abortions a year in this country - between one quarter and one third of US women have had one - powerful politicians trumptet abortion as the cornerstone of women's rights - Planned Parenthood has the power to bully charitable organizations into supporting them - and abortion is stigmatized? Ugh. It is part of the establishment. Women who want abortions are a protected class. And this woman speaks as though they're victims.

But this is what bothers me. She said, "I don't feel like a bad person. I don't feel sad. I feel in awe of the fact that I can make a baby. I can make a life." Let that sink in a minute. She can make a life. That's why she needed an abortion, after all! She made a life, and she's in awe of her own power!

It's a life that she made. I guess if she made it, she can unmake it, too: "I knew what I was going to do was right, because it was right for me, and no one else."

"Right for me."

OK, and if it's "right for me" to attempt to stop you in getting one, through legal means, of course, how would you "feel" about that? Would I be interfering with your rights to "feel" de-stigmatized?

Honestly, this moral relativism is really for the people with the narrowest minds.

She appeals to a sense of justice and ethics and rightness that is above the stigma of abortion - based on the fact that getting one was "right for me and no one else."

One day, we will decide that any human life that has been made can be unmade by anyone else, provided one has a good enough reason to unmake it. That is, murder will not be defined as the intentional inflicted death of an innocent person, but redefined as killing someone without sufficient cause. Murder defenses would cease to be about proving whodunit, although proof of innocence may be a viable defense, and would be more about proving the sufficiency (or lack thereof) of the reason for killing. "Sure I did it, but I have a good reason."

Just like this woman. She got an abortion and "feels" good about it, because she had a good reason. She thought it through, convinced herself it was a good idea, and did it. Of course, in abortion, determining the sufficiency of the reason is solely up to the woman.

It's just a matter of time. We are probing the edges of the new definition of murder with euthanasia and so-called ethicists floating the idea of infanticide. It's only a matter of time.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Christie's problems - further thoughts vs Obama

Christie is accused of - horrors! - being political! And using his power to punish political rivals - not that some mayor of Fort Lee, NJ, is any kind of real rival. Note that I am not defending Christie, but he is a politician, and it is fairly traditional in human history to use one's political power in such ways. It's not good - but it's not really unexpected. Would that our politicians were all decent, ethical people.

Yet, compare what he did to the way Obama has used the IRS. We are talking about the virtually all-powerful money collecting arm of the US government, on which depends the financial solvency of the nation and the collection of TRILLIONS of dollars.

The IRS has systematically targeted political rivals and organizations that are at odds with the Obama administration.

This has gone one for YEARS, lots of Obama's political rivals have suffered, it involves politics at the highest levels and political punishments of the most insidious kind.

Christie's state officials closed a lane of the George Washington Bridge.

Let me tell you, I commuted from NJ to NY for virtually the entire Clinton administration and for part of Obama's. Whenever either of those guys was in NY, traffic got snarled. Every time. It didn't matter where in NY they were or if they used the Hudson River crossings or even when.

Also, NJ representives in Washington are "auditing" the Christie administration and their use of federal money after hurricane Sandy. The timing is noteworthy. Is not Democrat Representative Frank Pallone engaging in activities that could be called political punishment? Don't kid yourself - they moan about how terrible Christie is for punishing political rivals and engange in that very activity themselves in retaliation. Maybe it's justice in a certain sense - but I would say it's kind of like playground justice and not anything becoming our civil "leaders."

Oh, and let's not forget that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, former Obama Chief of Staff, banned any new Chick-Fil-A stores from opening in his fifedom. That's not a political reprisal?

This is all modern ethics in action. It's not bioethics per se. But it reflects the state of our society's capacity for ethical thinking.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Obama vs Christie, or Benghazi vs the GW Bridge

I am only a lukewarm fan of Gov. Christie, and I speak as a resident of the governor's state. What I mean is, I am not going to defend the guy with any kind of vigor if he gets himself into trouble. In fact, I'm actually somewhat relieved that heir-apparent Hillary Clinton may have to face someone else in 2016.

I do find it strange, though, that lane closures and snarled traffic - I hear there may have been a death related to it on account of traffic delaying emergency medical services - as a political punishment is causing him so much difficulty. And this after he basically ensured NJ would vote for Obama after hurricane Sandy - not that NJ would have voted otherwise, but I believe it would have been way closer. This scandal may END his political career!

Within days of this news coming out, the Federal Prosecutor (read: Obama lackey - or perhaps a Hillary lackey!) has launched an investigation. Heads are beginning to roll already, with Christie firing the staff member behind the lane closures.

In constrast, our consulate in Benghazi - legally the equivalent of US territory - was attacked and burned and our citizens killed, with evidence suggesting the knowledge and intentional inaction by our State Department and perhaps even our president. He paraded the Ambassador to the UN - as if that's the person who would know - to float the bogus story that it was due to a ridiculous video that was "insulting" to Islam. At any rate, the response by our government was to do virtually NOTHING.

Our nation gets attacked, people are murdered by our enemies, there's a clear cover-up, and Obama gets re-elected.

Then, when Gen. Petraeus is set to testify, he suddenly gets embroiled in a sex scandal and for personal reasons cannot testify.

Then, when Sec. Clinton is set to testify, she suddenly "falls" and "hits her head" right behind one of her ears - fairly severely it seems, almost as if someone hit her with a blunt instrument - and has to delay her testimony. And then she gives the party line.

And now, a year and a half later, there still hasn't been any kind of real investigation into these affairs.

And Obama's career hasn't ended.

Bad traffic versus an attack on our territory. No way does someone who punishes a local politician deserve to become president! But, allow a hostile force to attack our country? Sure! Elect the guy!

It's interesting. I may just be a little paranoid by nature, but I believe what we are witnessing is a classic example of "discredit your rivals by accusing them of the exact thing you're doing." Politically punish your rivals by accusing them of the dishonorable act of punishing their political rivals. Use Nazi tactics to accuse them of being Nazis. Bully them through accusing them of bullying others.

We as a nation have lost our ability to think clearly and ethically.

If Christie is guilty, then shame on him, and his career should probably end. But what of Obama? Where's our nation's ethical compass with regard to him?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Gifts for Atheists?

At Fox News, William Lane Craig has an article titled, "A Christmas Gift for Atheists: Five Reasons Why God Exists." While as a Catholic theologian I agree with Mr Craig's reasoning, I disagree with him that these arguments will well received by atheists.

Let me summarize his arguments.

The first reason is, "God is the best explanation of the origin of the universe." This argument relates well to St Thomas' famous First Cause, Prime Mover, and Necessary Agent arguments. A universe full of things and motion that do not need to exist of themselves, and indeed cannot, suggests that there is a transcendent, all powerful Creator. Science cannot offer a better explanation. Prominent and brilliant atheists will respond, "Yet." That is, science cannot offer a better explanation yet. And such atheists already propose a kind of circularity of time and space that they believe circumvents the need for a First Cause (a la Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time).

The second reason is, "God provides the best reason for the fine-tuning of the universe," which relates to St Thomas' Fifth Way, pertaining to the governance of the universe. In addition to harmony, St Thomas adds that things both sentient and non-living act towards ends that are reasonable, as if there were some intelligent participant in the events of the universe. Atheists poo-poo this and reduce it to obedience to physical laws and evolution.

The third is, "God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties," which I basically agree with. Without God, there is no objective morality possible - it all reduces to subjective goals and judgments of "good." I have argued this many times; just search "atheism" or "atheist" on this blog to see. To a certain extent, this third reason relates to St Thomas' Fourth Way, that of the gradation of things - we see goodness in everything, but there must be something that is perfectly good, goodness itself, in which all good things participate in some way. But the atheist could say that there doesn't have to be an objective moral order or an objective perfect good, as long as we have laws and we all try to get along. And therein, for me, lies the problem. Because "law" is malleable by those in power, and so it becomes a matter of might making right and tyranny. Atheism ends in tyranny - or at best, anarchy.

The fourth reason is, "God provides the best explanation of the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection." While I agree with this statement, I don't think I'd find it especially compelling if I were an atheist. After all, only if the apostles had a firm conviction of the resurrection of Jesus would they do what they did - no one invites persecution and poverty, torture and death, unless one holds firmly as true the thing that is ticking people off. But the atheist could say, "Maybe they were just insane." It's convenient and it also explains the facts, and since they hold as a premise that God does not exist, it is the only explanation that actually fits the facts.

The fifth reason is, "God can be personally known and experienced." Yes, but unless an atheist personally experiences God, he will not give any credence to those who claim to have personally experienced God. And if he does personally experience God, he is likely to attribute some other cause to the experience, something that could be explained by science, if science had the right instruments and knowledge to figure it out.

So although I agree with Mr. Craig and hope and pray he has good results with this approach, I think it may not really work as well as he believes it may. After all, atheists have been dealing with St Thomas' Five Ways for about 800 years now, and Mr. Craig doesn't really advance the argument in a compelling way.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

More on the economic - and ethical - consistency between Francis and his predecssors

It turns out I was right - here's something from Ethica Politica that quotes Benedict XVI, writing while he was Cardinal prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

Nothing particularly new here. I missed it because it wasn't a papal document while he was pope, and so it didn't show up in my search of the Vatican website for "capitalism."

The writings of Cardinal Ratzinger appeared as a 1985 symposium titled, Church and Economy in Dialogue. It features other cardinals and a speech by John Paul II to the symposium participants.

You can find it here: http://ordosocialis.de/pdf/lroos/K%20u%20W%20in%20Dialog/dialoenga4neu.pdf

It is worth reading by anyone who wants clarity as to whether the Church supports any particular economic theory. In short: Without the participants in an economy acting morally - with virtue and ethical standards that consider the big picture of "we're all human beings and we're all in this together" - ANY economic system will be fraught with injustice and exploitation.

And that is the common thread of magisterial texts on the subject, and with which Pope Francis is very much in line.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pope Francis vs His Predecessors on Capitalism, Part 2

So yesterday we saw that ever since the birth of capitalism, the Popes and also the bishops (in the documents of Vatican II), have not ceased to point out the deficiencies of that economic philosophy. We heard from Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum - which is a long document only tiny parts of which were presented. There is much in there of relevance, cited by succeeding popes. We also heard from Pius XI, John XXIII, Vatican II, and Paul VI. Unbridled capitalism was understood as liberalism, not conservativism, and seen as the equally defective but opposite error as marxism/communism/socialism.

Now let us hear from John Paul II. 1991 was the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, and the occasion of him writing an encyclical on the topic, Centesimus Annus. Referring to Rerum Novarum, John Paul II writes:
[9]... A workman's wages should be sufficient to enable him to support himself, his wife and his children. "If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice". [The quote is from Rerum Novarum n.131.]
Would that these words, written at a time when what has been called "unbridled capitalism" was pressing forward, should not have to be repeated today with the same severity. Unfortunately, even today one finds instances of contracts between employers and employees which lack reference to the most elementary justice regarding the employment of children or women, working hours, the hygienic condition of the work-place and fair pay; and this is the case despite the International Declarations and Conventions on the subject and the internal laws of States. The Pope attributed to the "public authority" the "strict duty" of providing properly for the welfare of the workers, because a failure to do so violates justice; indeed, he did not hesitate to speak of "distributive justice".
John Paul II, the victim and enemy of Soviet Bloc communism, sounds a little Marxist himself in endorsing and reapplying this 100-year-old observations of one of his predecessors, doesn't he? Well, it would be a liberal error to say that if he criticizes capitalism, he must be a commie.
[33]... Many other people, while not completely marginalized, live in situations in which the struggle for a bare minimum is uppermost. These are situations in which the rules of the earliest period of capitalism still flourish in conditions of "ruthlessness" in no way inferior to the darkest moments of the first phase of industrialization. In other cases the land is still the central element in the economic process, but those who cultivate it are excluded from ownership and are reduced to a state of quasi-servitude. In these cases, it is still possible today, as in the days of Rerum novarum, to speak of inhuman exploitation. In spite of the great changes which have taken place in the more advanced societies, the human inadequacies of capitalism and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing. In fact, for the poor, to the lack of material goods has been added a lack of knowledge and training which prevents them from escaping their state of humiliating subjection.
[35]...In this sense, it is right to speak of a struggle against an economic system, if the latter is understood as a method of upholding the absolute predominance of capital, the possession of the means of production and of the land, in contrast to the free and personal nature of human work. In the struggle against such a system, what is being proposed as an alternative is not the socialist system, which in fact turns out to be State capitalism, but rather a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation. [STATE CAPITALISM. You know, the people on the very top of the global economic food chain are capitalists. State capitalism is simply economic forces controlling the government, or vice-versa, but it amounts to the same. How many harsh capitalistic organizations - corporations - are run internally like communist dictatorships? An awful lot. What if every major industry in the US was privately held, but all held by one corporation and it dominated the government, what would the country be like? Probably a lot like Soviet communism. And consider that the US government is totally dependent upon the capitalistic Federal Reserve - you think the Fed cares if the government is socialist or not? Does it run on principles of free enterprise or on what is ultimately in its own best interest? Socialism is just "state capitalism" - a brilliant observation.] Such a society [the society of free work, etc., mentioned just before] is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.
The Church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well. [So the Church is not Marxist or against free enterprise.] When a firm makes a profit, this means that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied. But profitability is not the only indicator of a firm's condition. It is possible for the financial accounts to be in order, and yet for the people — who make up the firm's most valuable asset — to be humiliated and their dignity offended. Besides being morally inadmissible, this will eventually have negative repercussions on the firm's economic efficiency. In fact, the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavouring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society. Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business.
We have seen that it is unacceptable to say that the defeat of so-called "Real Socialism" leaves capitalism as the only model of economic organization. It is necessary to break down the barriers and monopolies which leave so many countries on the margins of development, and to provide all individuals and nations with the basic conditions which will enable them to share in development. This goal calls for programmed and responsible efforts on the part of the entire international community. Stronger nations must offer weaker ones opportunities for taking their place in international life, and the latter must learn how to use these opportunities by making the necessary efforts and sacrifices and by ensuring political and economic stability, the certainty of better prospects for the future, the improvement of workers' skills, and the training of competent business leaders who are conscious of their responsibilities. ...
[39]... All of this can be summed up by repeating once more that economic freedom is only one element of human freedom. When it becomes autonomous, when man is seen more as a producer or consumer of goods than as a subject who produces and consumes in order to live, then economic freedom loses its necessary relationship to the human person and ends up by alienating and oppressing him.
40. It is the task of the State to provide for the defence and preservation of common goods such as the natural and human environments, which cannot be safeguarded simply by market forces. Just as in the time of primitive capitalism the State had the duty of defending the basic rights of workers, so now, with the new capitalism, the State and all of society have the duty of defending those collective goods which, among others, constitute the essential framework for the legitimate pursuit of personal goals on the part of each individual.
Here we find a new limit on the market: there are collective and qualitative needs which cannot be satisfied by market mechanisms. There are important human needs which escape its logic. There are goods which by their very nature cannot and must not be bought or sold. Certainly the mechanisms of the market offer secure advantages: they help to utilize resources better; they promote the exchange of products; above all they give central place to the person's desires and preferences, which, in a contract, meet the desires and preferences of another person. Nevertheless, these mechanisms carry the risk of an "idolatry" of the market, an idolatry which ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities.
That's enough from Centesimus Annus. John Paul II makes his point pretty clearly. Economic activity must be at the service of authentic human goods, of which economic freedom - that is, the ability to engage in free enterprise - is only one, and not necessarily the most important. The profit motive has advantages - but it also has pitfalls that are dangerous. In being subordinate to other important goals of enterprise - that is to say, authentic human goods that can limit profitability - the desire for profits often sees these authentic human goods as unjust hindrances.

In Sollicitude Rei Socialis of 1987, he said, "The Church's social doctrine is not a "third way" between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another: rather, it constitutes a category of its own. Nor is it an ideology, but rather the accurate formulation of the results of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in the light of faith and of the Church's tradition. Its main aim is to interpret these realities, determining their conformity with or divergence from the lines of the Gospel teaching on man and his vocation, a vocation which is at once earthly and transcendent; its aim is thus to guide Christian behavior."

So, the Church looks at the Gospel, the authentic anthropology that situates man at the center of God's creation as His image, but a fallen image and prone to sin, and applies these to what she sees around her. Sin can affect economic activities and philosophies and whole systems. Capitalism and socialism both suffer from the effects of sin. The solution is not a third "economic system" but a moral, virtuous approach to human freedom in economic matters. This presupposes moral, virtuous persons as players in free economic activities. If economies and governments are to be just and virtuous, the people must be, too. Atheism - be it Ayn Rand capitalism or Marxist communism - cannot ensure anything but tyranny of those in power and exploitation of those without it.

You can find similar expressions of JP-II's thought in 1991's Laborem Exercens (sec.7; written for the 90th anniversary of Rerum Novarum); and in his address to the participants in the colloquium "Capitalism and Ethics" in 1992. He probably addresses the topic without using the term "capitalism" on many other occasions, but I searched for this particular term at the Vatican website.

Now let us turn to Benedict XVI. The Pope Emeritus has not addressed the term "capitalism" directly in a major doctrinal or pastoral document. He does say briefly the same sort of things as JP-II in a message for the World Day of Peace on January 1 of this year, in the midst of dealing with financial and banking troubles at the Vatican: "In effect, our times, marked by globalization with its positive and negative aspects, as well as the continuation of violent conflicts and threats of war, demand a new, shared commitment in pursuit of the common good and the development of all men, and of the whole man. It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism."

You can also find a very interesting paragraph that mentions a "reckless capitalism" in the context of a "technological Prometheanism" and an "atheistic anthropology" in an address to the participants in the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

So now has Pope Francis, as The Atlantic seems to think, identified a "new enemy" of the Church in capitalism? Francis definitely has a more emphatic style, he speaks more from and to the heart as opposed to the head, and I think he could use some help picking the right words. But it is clear that the substance is very much in line with the Church's perennial critique of capitalism.