In a May 22 opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal, "The Pope's Case for Virtuous Capitalism," Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York criticized the media for giving the impression that "the only thing on the pope's mind was government redistribution of property, as if he were denouncing capitalism and endorsing some form of socialism."
They overlook, the cardinal argues, "the principal focus of Pope Francis' economic teaching -- that economic and social activity must be based on the virtues of compassion and generosity."
Cardinal Dolan believes that "the spread of the free market has undoubtedly led to a tremendous increase in overall wealth and well-being around the world," but he also agrees that "far too many people live in poverty and have few opportunities to achieve prosperity." ...
In short, he argues that the capitalism criticized by the pope is not the kind of capitalism practiced in the United States. "For many in developing or newly industrialized countries, what passes as capitalism is an exploitative racket for the benefit of the few powerful and wealthy."
Of course, many would argue that the kind of capitalism increasingly practiced in the United States is crony capitalism in which government restrictions on markets enables the government to pick and choose winners and losers. And, as examples running from Halliburton to Solyndra demonstrate, it's a bipartisan endeavor.
All of which leads me to concur wholeheartedly with this observation by Reese (channeling Dolan):
The proper response to the problems of the free market is "not to reject economic liberty in favor of government control," he writes. "The church has consistently rejected coercive systems of socialism and collectivism, because they violate inherent human rights to economic freedom and private property."
Unfortunately, as Reese notes, Cardinal Dolan's column "did not sit well with theologians who specialize in Catholic social teaching."
They strongly disagree with Dolan's equating the American economic system with "virtuous capitalism." Pope Francis was talking about American capitalism, the theologians say.
As always, of course, the problem is that "theologians who specialize in Catholic social teaching" simply don't understand American capitalism or even basic economics. As preeminent scholar Michael Novak sagely observed in Toward a Theology of the Corporation, theologians tend to be poorly trained in economics and inexperienced with the business world. They “are likely to inherit either a pre-capitalist or a frankly socialist set of ideals about political economy.” (59) Consequently, theologians “are more likely to err in this territory than in most others.” (12)
A persistent error “in this territory” is the tendency towards what Milton Friedman called “the collectivist moral strain” in Catholic social thought. Milton Friedman, Good Ends, Bad Means, in The Catholic Challenge to the American Economy: Reflections on the U.S. Bishops' Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy 99 (Thomas M. Gannon ed. 1987). Indeed, it is fair to assert that some documents in the social teaching more closely resemble “the platforms of European social democratic parties” than Biblical exegesis. Robert Benne, The Bishops’ Letter—A Protestant Reading, in The Catholic Challenge to the American Economy: Reflections on the U.S. Bishops' Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy 76, 79 (Thomas M. Gannon ed. 1987).
Fortunately, I suspect Cardinal Dolan will end up having more influence on the Pope than random catholic theologians embedded in left-liberal dogma.