August 12, 2007

Render Unto Caesar Was Social Justice?

Pope Benedict will produce on a new doctrinal announcement that will declare tax evasion a social injustice. The focus, says the Times of London, comes from a budget crisis in Italy, where avoiding taxes has become as much of the culture as good food and flirting. Outside of Italy, Catholics might wonder when rendering unto Caesar went from unpleasant necessity to honored status:

Pope Benedict XVI is working on a doctrinal pronouncement that will condemn tax evasion as “socially unjust”, according to Vatican sources.

In his second encyclical – the most authoritative statement a pope can issue – the pontiff will denounce the use of “tax havens” and offshore bank accounts by wealthy individuals, since this reduces tax revenues for the benefit of society as a whole.

It will focus on humanity’s social and economic problems in an era of globalisation. Pope Benedict intends to argue for a world trade and economic system “regulated in such a way as to avoid further injustice and discrimination”, Ignazio Ingrao, a Vatican watcher, said yesterday.

The encyclical, drafted during his recent holiday in the mountains of northern Italy, takes its cue from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples), issued 40 years ago. In it the pontiff focused on “those peoples who are striving to escape from hunger, misery, endemic diseases and ignorance and are looking for a wider share in the benefits of civilisation”. He called on the West to promote an equitable world economic system based on social justice rather than profit.

Benedict should take a lesson from his predecessor, who came from an economic system that theoretically based itself of "social justice". John Paul II understood what happens in systems where the state manages of economic systems for their idea of social justice -- and no other management can be possible without the profit motive. Once profit gets removed from economic systems as a regulator for investment and control -- i.e., the one who invests and profits makes the decisions controlling the investment and use of the profit -- it takes an autocracy to decide the goals of investment for the purposes of social justice.

It didn't work out well in Poland for John Paul, nor in Soviet Russia and China, where millions died in famines thanks to ridiculous central agricultural planning. State-run economies always claim to champion social justice and equitable distribution. Even Robert Mugabe used those goals to seize productive farms from their owners and turn them into wastelands for "the people". Only free and mildly-regulated capitalist systems produce for the entire spectrum of people and raise standards of living.

And the tax evasion argument is simply absurd, especially in America, where the Catholic Church pays no taxes at all. Giving money to the state does not guarantee social justice, and in many cases funds efforts that the Church considers very unjust. In California, for example, taxes pay for embryonic stem-cell research. Is it social justice to pay more taxes than the law requires into that system?

Note that Benedict is not just talking about illegal tax evasion, either. He's also reportedly working on a scolding for businessmen who legally incorporate offshore to reduce their tax exposure. While that may deny their native country some measure of taxes, it also promotes business in these other countries that helps with their economies and likely their tax base as well, at least from employment.

Mostly, though, the equation of taxes with social justice offends at a more basic level. Christ understood that the temporal governments of his time did not offer social justice but ruled through force and threat of force to impose civil peace and offer basic services. We should not break laws to evade taxes, which is what Christ said. Turning governments into churches to which we must tithe for social justice seems more than a little off message.


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» Holy Socialism! from Nate Nelson
Ed Morrissey (Captain’s Quarters) is taking Pope Benedict XVI to task for penning an encyclical that is allegedly supportive of socialism. Morrissey writes: It didn’t work out well in Poland for John Paul, nor in Soviet Russia or China, whe... [Read More]

Comments (33)

Posted by Strick | August 12, 2007 9:35 AM

The one thing my time working with the tax accountants taught me was that tax avoidance is legal; tax evasion is not. There are legal ways to run businesses offshore that reduce your tax burden. Hiding income offshore isn't one of them.

Posted by Adjoran | August 12, 2007 10:07 AM

Methinks the Holy Father ought confine his encyclicals to matters upon which he is qualified to issue opinions.

The Throne of Saint Peter doesn't double as the Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Chicago, Benny!

Posted by Sue | August 12, 2007 10:09 AM

When Pope opens mouth and inserts both feet, it is easy to understand the message Christopher Hitchens sends in his latest book! Thank goodness I saw thru the nonsense 45 years ago and gave religion up. I have never regretted my decision.

Posted by RBMN | August 12, 2007 10:10 AM

I think Pope Benedict needs to find what's left of (European) Joe Ratzinger's socialist utopian tendencies, and perform a little exorcism. Just giving more money to a large secular government will make society's secularism stronger--not the Church.

Posted by bulbasaur | August 12, 2007 10:30 AM

There is a parallel to Just War Theory. A Christian is naturally repulsed by warfare, yet it is a fact of the real world. That someone thinks a war is wrong doesn't give them a license to fabricate and publish stories of war atrocities, or to leak war planning documents to leftist media outlets, or spit at soldiers. These have always been, and will always be profoundly unjust acts.

The phrase social justice has been hijacked and bastardized by the left to mean communism, but it still has a grown-up meaning in the Catholic Church. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, justice is giving each person his due. To evade taxes is literally an act of injustice, not because it offends communist aspirations of certain members of congress, as libs want you to believe, but because you are breaking an obligation to others. A person's utopian dream of a tax-free world is absolutely irrelevant to the concrete fact that here and now, in the real world, you have an obligation to pay your due.

When you purge the utopian leftist connotations of the phrase "social justice" papal documents make more sense.

Posted by John S | August 12, 2007 10:48 AM

First, his holiness has not actually issued the encyclical yet so that we do not know exactly what he will be saying. Second, the Catholic Church already teaches that governments ought to work for social justice. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (2431), "Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum." The Catechism goes on to say that governments must guarantee certain basic human rights and public services for economies to be fair.

All Benedict seems to be doing is specifying that governments are owed taxes to be able to do their jobs. For Captain Ed's critique to be well grounded would require that Benedict's claim that taxes be paid is the same as the claim that high taxes be paid. Benedict is not discussing the amount of taxes that governments should levy. He does seem, however, to be pointing out that governments are legitimate authorities that are owed taxes.

Posted by Bennett | August 12, 2007 11:03 AM

I'm not Catholic so I don't feel qualified to speak to whether or not this is a proper area for the Pope to weigh in on. Perhaps he would be better served to encourage more charitable giving rather than tax paying. Governments do a lot of different things with tax money. funding activities or needs that only peripherally relate to matters of "social justice" if at all. And governments can decide certain needs are more important than others, bridges take precedence over prisoner rehabilitation, for example. So I'm not sure how he gets from there (more tax revenues) to here (a more just society).

Private charities seem to do a much better job of addressing the so-called "social justice" issues. And not because they have a profit motive either, more because they have a calling I think. So I could probably live with some tax evasion if those same people were dumping a fair amount of money into charitable giving. It would be interesting to see that statistic. Although the Pope would probably think you should do both, pay taxes and donate to charity (the Church being no. 1 on that list probably).

Posted by philw | August 12, 2007 11:24 AM

Does anyone else see the 'Render unto Caesar' irony of the Pope issuing a doctrinal announcement on secular compliance? What's next, an encyclical on science and astronomy concerning the Big Bang?

Posted by JohnSal | August 12, 2007 12:26 PM

Somebody made an interesting comment earlier: "To evade taxes is literally an act of injustice... because you are breaking an obligation to others." That statement is skating on very, very thin ice. It implies, assuming equal voter participation rates, that if 51 percent of the voting age population paid no taxes and the remaining 49 percent were forced to pay for the operation of a theoretical USG administration which uses these funds to bribe non-taxpayers for votes, that to evade this tax regime is "unjust" or "immoral." Thus, there cannot be a tax system in which taxpayers are abused, with excessive levels or unproductive expenditures, in a manner which justifies evasion? Mmmm. The point at which evasion can be justified is certainly arguable. But a strong case can be made that we are fast approaching a decision point, particularly when Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security go belly up and the USG turns to even higher levels of taxation.

Posted by J.M. Heinrichs | August 12, 2007 12:33 PM

Ironically, the words "Big Bang" and "Cardinal Ratzinger" do appear in the same document, though unfortunately not an encyclical:

And your quoted item in full is: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's." Which has context, and irony.


Posted by unclesmrgol | August 12, 2007 12:39 PM


Ah, but it isn't secular compliance. The Pope is assuming (as the Captain points out) that governments are working for the good of their people. That governments might not work for the good of all of their people is the problem with the stated position here. In fact, as the Pope well knows, the state frequently works against those who are most weak and powerless. However, if we did live in a utopia where the government worked for the betterment of all, then not paying our fair share of taxes would indeed be sinful.

We Catholics are required to do good works wherever possible (hence the concept of the Sin of Omission -- failing to act when action is needed to abort sin). I live in California, and intend not to be here when the bill comes due for the embryonic stem cell research bonds mentioned by the Captain (which I voted against). While Jesus talked about rendering unto Ceasar, he also made it quite clear about rendering unto God as well.

Posted by Bill Whittaker | August 12, 2007 12:58 PM

I think we should wait to read the actual document,(if it ever appears ) before getting excited about this. The reporting about Catholic matters is generally pretty bad.

Posted by Rhymes With Right | August 12, 2007 1:00 PM

I'll take the whole article with a grain of salt, because it starts with an error.

An encyclical is NOT the most authoritative statement a pope can make.

An ex cathedra statement on faith and morals is -- and that has been done only twice in the last 150 years.

Posted by The Florida Masochist | August 12, 2007 1:14 PM

This isn't the only recent sign Pope Benedict is losing it. He gave an audience to anti-semitic Polish priest last week.

Don't forget his Muhammad remarks of 2006. Those couldn't do anything but inflame certain people.

I linked to this post(CQ considers my trackbacks spam)

Posted by Ben | August 12, 2007 2:26 PM

When a liberal quotes this "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" they're thinking:

Hooray! Jesus just appointed me Caesar and wrote me a blank check from everyone's bank account!

Posted by jaeger51 | August 12, 2007 3:34 PM

Definitely agree with's kind of a stretch to claim that it is a "moral responsibility" to pay taxes "for the benefit of society" when it boils down to being robbed by socialists to pay the freight for those who have decided to slack. These days, it's the grasshoppers using the govt. to take from the ant, rather than a society of equals sharing the burden. How about the "moral responsibility" of clearing your organization of pederasts? Oops! Did I say that out loud? Sorry!

Posted by Tom | August 12, 2007 4:58 PM

It's an interesting stance from someone with their own pocket state and pocket bank.

Posted by Rose | August 12, 2007 6:17 PM

Without going through all the Biblical foundation for it, it is a FACT that Jesus laid a SCRIPTURAL foundation that governments are in power through the disposition of God Himself, in order to punish those who are evil - not to punish the good.

The underlying foundation is 2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

Generally speaking, evil governments prevail when the people themselves have stopped doing right.

The weight of Judgement of what "doing right" entails is exclusively the province of God Himself alone.

Fact: humans are created by God to REQUIRE community for their very survival, much less for the ability to THRIVE.

NOT "SOCIALIST"-type "commune"-ism - that we have seen leads only to Death of the entire community, through oppression and depression, and total loss of Hope.

Nevertheless, all members of a community in good standing with that community, have obligations to others, and to the community at large, as well - and they all have certain obligations to eachother.

They will none of them thrive if any decide they have a RIGHT to do others harm, or to NOT DO OTHERS WELL, from a certain COVENANT standpoint.

These issues are best seen in small, and physically vulnerable communities with a serious physical enemy of some type - but they as surely exist even is nomething as huge and awesome as the collective body of America - which seems to many to be so huge and immuteable that NOTHING could hurt it, and therefore, to some, NO ONE NEED BEAR ANY SENSE OF OBLIGATION to the mass.

But it is never large enough to be invulnerable.

This is why so many historians keep bringing up the image of "THE ANCEINT ROMAN EMPIRE".

How can ANYONE imagine that something that is an entirely HUMAN composition could POSSEIBLY be invulnerable - regardless of the amount of sheer mass?

No, we in America do NOT have obligations to REPRESSIVE AND OPPRESSIVE TAXES WHICH WE DID NOT SUPPORT - and we are fully authorized at any time, in America, according to OUR Constitution, to get such things STRUCK DOWN, by legal means.

And 75% of what our government does SHOULD BE struck down - but LEGALLY! Generally just because THE GOVERNMENT ENTITITES JUST USURPED CERTAIN POWERS - and WE REMAINED SILENT.
And in such matters, generally speaking, SILENCE OF THE VOTERS IS A CEDING OF RIGHTS AND AUTHORITY.

OUR RIGHTS to not be oppressed by our Government do not empower individuals to thwart the Law - they do make it ENCUMBENT UPON US TO JOIN TOGETHER TO STRIKE DOWN UNRIGHTEOUSENESS IN OUR GOVERNMENT - which belongs to us, AND NOT US TO IT!

This is NOT a confederation of ANARCHISTS.

But the bottom line is, that of all nations on earth, if America is being UNRIGHTEOUSLY taxed, WE ALLOWED IT AND ARE NOT PREVENTING IT, and until we stand up for ourselves, we are subject to the penalties of the Law when we fall into direct disobedience of the powers we ourselves INSTALLED.

We do NOT need to RIOT against a DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT to take the reins back in our own hands.

Posted by Rose | August 12, 2007 6:38 PM


But for the Pope to call it SOCIAL INJUSTICE for Christians to make any stand of conscience in governments which see themselves as OWNING its "SUBJECTS" - all Jesus was saying is, why should you die and be executed as a THIEF by the government that God put over you?

Jesus Himself never violated any Roman Law.
But Jesus as His Father's Agent, has REMOVED many governments from office, including The Hard Way.

The coin of the realm was Ceasar's coin - his gold was used to strike his image on his coin. He had a rightful claim upon that.

Many Catholic priests in other nations have taught that Jesus' CRUCIFICTION is equivalent to INSURRECTION against DICTATORS.
THAT is not true, and we don't know what that might have to do with the Pope's position.

What we have here is a common Catholic failing of ADDING TO OR TAKING FROM the SCRIPTURE, and thus muddying the waters and confusing the issues.

One of the most aggregious instances is back centuries ago, when they found themselves inundated at higher levels with graft and embezzlement, etc, commonly attributed to NEPOTISM.
The church's solution wasn't a thorough housecleaning - it was a change in policy - they took Paul's small personal admonition that having a wife COULD BE AN ENCUMBRANCE to ministry in the Church, and MADE IT A HARD LAW - forbidding the Priests from marrying - leading in turn to adultery, and child molestation, etc, being institutionalized in the Catholic structure.

BECAUSE THEY ADDED TO THE WORD OF GOD what was clearly NOT intended. And to cover that, they then instituted a refusal to allow TRANSLATIONS of the Bible, forbid lay people to READ the Bible, in an attempt to control Believer's personal knowledge - limiting their ability to QUESTION their "SUPERIORS", forcing them to take the word of a MAN for what the WORD OF GOD SAID IN WRITING, instead of dispursing the written word WIDELY and removing all doubt of what is right and wrong.
Funny, they claimed it was wrong to translate the Bible from the ancient and dead Latin language - when the Latin language was NOT the original language of the Scriptures, itself!

Posted by Dry Viking | August 12, 2007 6:42 PM

Christ never said that the Roman government should take care of the poor. He said, we (the Church) should do it. Taxes are for protection, roads etc which is what the Romans provided.
He also, never took money or allegiance from anyone. He wanted them to give it. He didn't force people like socialism does, He expected them to do it freely on their own as a part of the church. Pope Benedict is way off message here.

Posted by Bender | August 12, 2007 7:40 PM

Why, when you folks believe absolutely NOTHING that the MSM says about other things, all of the sudden give credence to things that they report about the Catholic Church and the Vatican in particular?

Like everything else, the MSM routinely gets it wrong when it reports on the Church.

Most likely, what has been reported will be little more than a footnote, and even then it will be entirely reasonable and compelling when seen in context.

Posted by MissJean | August 12, 2007 8:44 PM

I will wait for the actual document to be published. I imagine he's talking about tax EVASION, which is rampant among Italians with the means to set up false IDs, hidden accounts, off-the-books businesses, etc. My uncle used to do business in Italy and said that he met more than one man who lived in a mansion yet had very little income. ;)

Posted by ggeisel | August 12, 2007 9:02 PM

I think your anti-Catholicism may be playing into your interpretation of events that have not even happened.

Let's assume that tax EVASION, which is breaking the law by not paying taxes, is what the Pontiff will address, and that tax AVOIDANCE, which is not immoral, is NOT what the Pontiff will address.

Sheesh. Between your anti-Catholicism and sucking up to John McCain, this site is becoming REALLY annoying.

Posted by Captain Ed | August 12, 2007 9:17 PM

I'm Catholic.

Posted by MissJean | August 12, 2007 9:23 PM

But Captain, so are John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi. I'm teasing - please don't cybersmack me. ;)

Posted by Brian Day | August 12, 2007 9:56 PM

Catholic blogger Mark Shea has a saying: Deduct 50 IQ points whenever the MSM talks about the Church.

Wait until the document is actually published. And read it in Latin. :-)
English translations of Church documents are notoriously poor, so a least wait until version 2.0 before reading.

Posted by unclesmrgol | August 12, 2007 11:24 PM


Please describe circumstances in which Catholic teaching takes away from the Scripture. I'm really interested in this, as I believe that Catholic teaching enables proper interpretation of Scripture.

We do have a parallel to Scripture called tradition. All churches do -- ours are just a lot older (after all, we are the first and largest of the churches extant today). Did Jesus talk about bishops, presbyters, the papacy, or any other earthly authority? How close does the Church come to meeting His words? When and why was the Council of Nicea held? What do you think of the Creed?

Posted by Cornellian | August 13, 2007 1:36 AM

We do have a parallel to Scripture called tradition. All churches do -- ours are just a lot older (after all, we are the first and largest of the churches extant today). Did Jesus talk about bishops, presbyters, the papacy, or any other earthly authority? How close does the Church come to meeting His words? When and why was the Council of Nicea held? What do you think of the Creed?

Just to quibble, I think the Orthodox might contest your assertion that the Catholic Church was the first of the churches extant today. Heck, the Copts could too, but it's debatable whether they still count as extant.

Personally, I doubt Jesus intended the Christian Church to be a dictatorship of the Vatican, but I guess that's why I'm not a Catholic.

Posted by Artie Curtis | August 13, 2007 7:29 AM

This sounds like something our socialist democrats would come up with.
Dont be surprised they dont latch onto it.

Posted by CausticConservative | August 13, 2007 7:39 AM

What's the problem? Tax evasion IS socially unjust. I may not like the rules, but I always try to follow them. My efforts should be aimed at changing the taxation rules in my favor as opposed to ignoring them. THis is not a statement from PB as to the virtue of high taxation or anything else, simply a plea to people to follow the proper channels to get what they want.

Posted by fred | August 13, 2007 11:24 AM

"Turning governments into churches to which we must tithe for social justice seems more than a little off message."
The church runs on a tithe of 10 percent. If that is the total the government wanted life would be good.

Posted by TMLutas | August 13, 2007 6:38 PM

"Should we pay the tax?" is a strictly biblical question with a biblical answer, "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's. On the face of it, an injunction to pay the tax. But who is Caesar in the case of the Italian Republic? That's what Italy's prime minister seems to have forgotten. I would have no problem with an encyclical that denounced tax evaders, so long as the dishonest politicians who obviously tax Italians too much are similarly chastised for disobeying Caesar and setting the tax rates at a level that Caesar obviously doesn't want. The dishonesty of Italian tax policy which needs Church condemnation starts with the laws that the legislature of Italy passes.

Somehow, the guy who wrote Deus Caritas Est has suddenly become so senile that he's going to dance to the tune of Romano Prodi? I don't think so. His job is to make Romano Prodi dance to Christ's tune. The Vatican, through rumor, "publishes" a thousand documents for every actual one that is emitted. The final doc is *never exactly* what the rumormongers say it is going to be. The recent Motu Proprio on the Tridentine, for example was not only widely misunderstood by most jews before it was published but is still misunderstood by many after it was published because they did not have the theological background to understand the organic changes done to the 1962 version of the Tridentine. A similar injunction about being properly grounded in Catholic theology would apply here.

And being a cradle Catholic or even a convert in the US is no guarantee that you know what the is going on. I belong to a small part of the Catholic Church, formally a sui iuris Church (Romanian Byzantine Catholic) that is not latin rite catholic. The amount of misunderstanding and even casual venom I've gotten from ordinary US Catholics would be shocking if you didn't know the history.

So non-Catholics just calm down and wait for the actual document. And Catholics, for our Lord's sake *PAY ATTENTION* this kind of stuff happens all the time. It's only rumor until it comes out so don't get yourself too worked up about it.

Posted by rrk | August 14, 2007 3:03 PM

So the Times of London dishes up a kind of Page Six tip from a "Vatican source" on some upcoming papal document and the story itself is treated as a "doctrinal pronouncement", sending bats suddenly and furiously to flight. Talk about fitting a story to preconceived notions (complete with pederastic reference)!

We're talking a lot of filtration here for a fledgling papal document to make it through intact: 1.) the Times of London (I mean, you have to at least chuckle on its selection as a Vatican tip sheet), and 2.) the "Vatican source" (keep in mind John XXIII's response when asked how many people work in the Vatican: "Oh, no more than half").

Let's right ourselves for a moment. Given the Pope's first encyclical "God is Love", which the reporters at the Times may have overlooked what with deadlines, it's unlikely the current spin will bear out. I'm guessing Benedict will supply his own context, so we won't have to.

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