From Principle to Policy

The Option for the Poor in Christian Theology
Edited by Daniel G. Groody
University of Notre Dame Press, $35, 328 pp.

United States Welfare Policy
A Catholic Response
Thomas J. Massaro, SJ
Georgetown University Press, $26.95, 257 pp.


Two fears can make Catholics wary of faith-based arguments about economic policy. First is the fact that policy questions turn on the exercise of prudential judgment rather than bright-line moral absolutes. It is easy to draw lines in the abortion debate based on the church’s teaching; it is significantly more difficult to draw such lines when the debate concerns the most effective way to address poverty. Bishops may deny Communion to a prochoice politician, but can one imagine them doing the same to an economist? Second, in light of this uncertainty, efforts to connect the church’s teaching to specific economic policies are often viewed more as partisan posturing than faithful discipleship, exacerbating a fear that too much noise about the political here-and-now may drown out the gospel’s proclamation of a world to come. This charge beset mainline Protestants who emphasized the “Social Gospel” in the late nineteenth century, and some members of the Catholic hierarchy revived it in their skeptical engagement with liberation theologians, whom they accused of...

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About the Author

Robert K. Vischer, a frequent contributor, is professor of law at the University of St. Thomas and the author of Conscience and the Common Good: Reclaiming the Space Between Person and State (Cambridge University Press).