Last week’s news that presidential candidate and self-described socialist Bernie Sanders would be attending a Vatican conference on economic and social issues was a bombshell for a number of reasons, revealing not only incredible political tone-deafness from Church officials but also a highly partisan reading of Catholic social teaching.
Never mind that Sanders is in the middle of a heated campaign, with the New York Democratic primary scheduled for April 19, just days after the Vatican conference. Never mind that Sanders was the only candidate of either party invited, despite the patently false claims to the contrary by Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy hosting the event. Never mind even that Sanders is the only non-Christian candidate in the race and vocally disagrees with the Catholic Church on hugely important issues such as the taking of innocent life (by favoring abortion) and marriage (which he thinks has no meaning other than what people want it to mean).
What’s perhaps most mind boggling about Sanders’s participation is that it takes place at a conference commemorating Pope St. John Paul’s 1991 encyclical Centismus Annus, which was published to mark the 100th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, the first encyclical of modern Catholic social teaching.
At a very superficial first glance, and as Sanders himself has claimed, the Catholic Church would seem to support the candidate’s passionate quest for greater income equality and social harmony. Yet even his own supporters are blissfully unaware of what socialism is, and the nefarious means, as defined by the Italian theorist Antonio Grasmci, needed to achieve such objectives: the negation of private property, the traditional family and organized religion, especially Christianity. While socialists rarely mention these obstacles anymore, their overcoming remains necessary to achieve the socialist vision of a completely egalitarian society.
In fact, socialists are no longer explicitly opposed to private property, the family, and religion because they have found a much easier way to accomplish their goals: the administrative state. They have discovered that you can tax and regulate property to such an extent that no one has the liberty to do as he or she pleases with it, unless we’re talking about piercings, tattoos, and sexual preferences. They have learned that no-fault divorce, contraception, and abortion go a long way to destroying the marital bond, and that religious beliefs that cannot accommodate such “progress” can be re-classified as “hate speech.” As the Marxists used to say, it is no accident that the Catholic Church represents the enemy.
It was in order to combat the socialist vision of society that Leo XIII argued so strongly in favor of private property and against the notion of perpetual class conflict that continues to be peddled by socialists such as Sanders. “To remedy these wrongs the socialists, working on the poor man’s envy of the rich, are striving to do away with private property,” Leo wrote. “But their contentions are so clearly powerless to end the controversy that were they carried into effect the working man himself would be among the first to suffer. They are, moreover, emphatically unjust, for they would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community.” (Rerum Novarum, n. 4)
A century later, Pope St. John Paul II was equally critical:
Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil. […] According to Rerum Novarum and the whole social doctrine of the Church, the social nature of man is not completely fulfilled in the State, but is realized in various intermediary groups, beginning with the family and including economic, social, political and cultural groups which stem from human nature itself and have their own autonomy, always with a view to the common good. (Centesimus Annus, n. 13)
Chances are low that Sanders’s views will be challenged by the Pontifical Academy meeting, which is made up almost entirely of fellow leftists from around the world, thus revealing what academics mean by “diversity.” Not to worry, though. If the Bern can find the time, he’s welcome to our Acton commemoration of Rerum Novarum on Wednesday, April 20, also in Rome.