Whenever a Church dignitary is about to pontificate (as it were) on matters political or economic, I wince before the first word is even uttered. And when I realise that he plans to elucidate such issues in the light of Catholic doctrine, the wince becomes a grimace of pain.
The other day Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, turned pain into agony. His Excellency praised Communist China for being “extraordinary” in “best implementing the social doctrine of the Church.”
This statement betokens cosmic ignorance not only of quotidian matters, which is par for the course, but even of the aforementioned social doctrine, which isn’t.
The bishop believes the communist butchers amply justify such accolades: “You do not have shantytowns, you do not have drugs, young people do not take drugs”. What they do have is a “positive national conscience”.
I don’t know how widely he has travelled in China, but I do know that I haven’t travelled there at all. Hence I shan’t dispute the claim about shanty towns, although I doubt it on general principle. But His Excellency is absolutely right about drugs.
When Mao took over in 1949, there were 70 million junkies in China. Mao recognised that as a problem and threatened to execute anyone taking drugs. With communists, such promises never remain empty for long.
After whole armies of addicts were shot, the rest were miraculously cured, thus giving the lie to the claim that addiction is a disease. No legitimate disease I can think of, such as cancer, arthritis or emphysema, can be cured by a threat. A cancer patient can’t decide to stop having his condition, but a drug addict apparently can.
Thankful as we should all be to Mao for clarifying this sticking point and dealing with this pandemic problem, some of us, though evidently not the bishop, may object to his methods.
Sticklers for theological fine points may even doubt that mass executions conform to Catholic social teaching. They can, however, undeniably go a long way towards shaping a “positive national conscience”, especially if used widely and indiscriminately.
The bishop also admires China because there “the economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States…”
Yes, it’s indeed awful when the economy dominates politics. There’s only one thing worse than that: it’s when politics dominates the economy – as is the case in all communist countries, China included.
World domination is the political aim of all communist regimes, but their means may differ. Comrades Stalin and Mao preferred military conquest involving nuclear weapons if necessary. Xi Jinping relies on the carrot of economic expansion, keeping the military stick behind his back for the time being. His politics still dominates the economy, but in a subtler way.
If His Excellence doesn’t know much about such things, as he obviously doesn’t, only two reasonable options exist. One, he should learn; two, he should shut up. Mouthing bilge isn’t a reasonable option.
What else? Oh yes, the Paris Climate Accord, which the US has left, but China is upholding. “In that,” declared the prelate, “it is assuming a moral leadership that others have abandoned.”
First, equating a dubious project based on little scientific evidence with morality is definitely ridiculous and, in a Catholic priest, possibly even heretical. But leaving this aside, one wonders how deeply His Excellence has studied this subject.
Even though the US, led by that notorious Antichrist Trump, has thumbed its nose at the Paris Accord, it has been steadily reducing its CO2 outputs. On the other hand China, led by the saintly Xi, is far and away the worst polluter in the world, responsible for about a third of all CO2 emissions – and fast increasing their volume.
Sure enough, the communists do support the Accord verbally. But don’t actions speak louder than words? Or perhaps the good bishop is more Augustinian than Thomist in that he believes in predestination impervious to good works.
What is proselytism if not teaching truth to the uninitiated? In that spirit, the bishop spruced up his message with a dollop of didacticism: “What people don’t realise is that the central value in China is work, work, work. There’s no other way, fundamentally it is like St Paul said: he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat.”
Well, at least His Excellence is familiar with scriptural sources, if nothing else. If he also knew something about China, other than what communist propagandists told him, he’d know that the reverse of the Pauline adage doesn’t work there.
Millions of people who “work, work, work” don’t eat, eat, eat. A small bowl of rice, possibly with some fish heads, is still the mainstay of daily diet for many hard workers there. The situation has improved slightly from Mao’s time, but it’s still abysmal.
And, if the bishop had studied the history of communism, he’d know that St Paul’s quote was mockingly used in Russia by overseers of hard-labour camps, where millions died of starvation. Even though I doubt the Chinese butchers refer to Scripture much, I’m sure they often convey the same idea in the same spirit.
I’d welcome a chance to query the good bishop on such points of Catholic social teaching as subsidiarity and the right to life.
The former involves devolving power to the lowest sensible level. Ecclesiastically, this means empowering parish priests to do their work without much meddling from the Vatican. Politically, this means the small non-intrusive state.
Christianity in China is pretty much underground, so ecclesiastical subsidiarity doesn’t apply. And politically, China’s omnipotent central state ruling by diktat has little to do with subsidiarity.
I’d also ask how China’s one-child policy, only now being slightly relaxed, fits into the Catholic concept of right to life – especially since it involves mandatory culling of millions of foetuses, mostly female.
All told, perhaps it’s premature to nominate Xi for beatification, with the subsequent canonisation fast-tracked. But Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo may disagree.