More than a Relic?

The Bishops’ Economic Pastoral Turns 25

Twenty-five years ago the United States bishops issued their last comprehensive commentary on the moral dimensions of the American political economy. The anniversary of their pastoral message Economic Justice for All arrives during the nation’s most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, at a time when Americans yearn for a positive vision of an economy that can support struggling families, restrain private greed, and provide resources for enriching the common life.

How the American episcopacy addressed a similar yearning a quarter-century ago, only to turn in a very different, more sectarian direction afterward, is a story worth retelling. It begins in November 1980, when the U.S. bishops, meeting in Washington, D.C., adopted a pastoral message on the subject of Marxist communism. Such a letter had been requested by bishops worried that some church leaders, concerned about the threat of nuclear weapons, or in sympathy with the poor in Latin America, were ignoring the evils of communism. The letter, drafted by Yale University philosopher Louis Dupré, avoided politics and offered a clear, nuanced, and convincing philosophic argument against the Marxist view of the nature and destiny of mankind. In 1980 it was “morning in America,” and some bishops were worried about the drift of public policy as President-elect Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter. When the vote on...

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About the Author

David J. O’Brien is University Professor of Faith and Culture at the University of Dayton.