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The bishops & the pawns.

In most of the capitalist West, and particularly in Reagan's America, the concept of economic democracy has been detached from the tradition of political freedom. Leaders of government and the major political parties have written off the demands of the lower orders for equity in deference to the demands of the higher ones for profits. To rationalize that brutal choice, politicans invoke economic theory; philosophers call on natural law; and theologians discern divine ordination. But now, at the moment of triumph for the lords of inequality, a powerful voice is rising to oppose the oppressive consensus.

The call comes from a committee of American Roman Catholic bishops who see class divisions deepening at home, and racial and regional inequalities widening throughout the world. They are frankly critical of a free-market system that destroys the "balance between individual initiatives and the common good," that sacrifices the social community to entrepreneurial greed.

The bishops' pleas derive from religious compassion and from the new social activism of liberation theology. Because of the former, their statement can be taken as an expression of concern without specific political consequences (which explains President Reagan's endorsement). Because of the latter, it will be bitterly attacked as Marxist heresy that threatens the long and rewarding relationship between the Roman Catholic and the corporate capitalist hierarchies.

What the bishops' document does not say, however, may be more important than what it does. It offers no strategy for change, beyond an appeal to compassion and concern. Economic equality will not be granted out of the goodness of any hierarch's heart. It will take struggle and conflict, and that is as likely to upset the rigid structure of the church as it is the masters of the marketplace.

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Title Annotation:American Roman Catholic bishops statement on economic democracy
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Nov 24, 1984
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