The “free market” and “social exclusion”: Cardinal Maradiaga’s “sloganeering”…


Catholic prelates are certainly entitled to their opinions but, when expressing those opinions, prelates should identify them as personal opinions. That’s especially true when Catholic prelates are speaking outside of their area of competence, as those opinions can be seized upon and promoted by others—and the mainstream media, in particular—as if they are official Church teaching.

Consider the example of Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, the Salesian Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, President of Caritas International, as well as Vatican spokesman with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Concerning the issue of Third World debt, Cardinal Maradiaga has written: “In this time the free market has produced one sector which is booming: social exclusion.”


Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga          Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras

In The Catholic HeraldPhillip Booth has written that this type of “sloganeering” is unbecoming a Catholic prelate. To wit: Booth identifies two substantive errors evidencing themselves in Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga’s opinion.

Error #1:The number of people living in absolute poverty

  • The past 6 years (the Cardinal’s point of reference) extended a 25-year period during which absolute poverty has declined more rapidly than at any previous time in human history. Unfortunately, that’s not happening in Honduras, which ranks as the 112 freest country in the world (out of 189) with 25% of its citizens living in absolute poverty.
  • Those who live at the margins are not suffering due to free markets. No, their poverty is due to cronyism, corruption, and the absence of the basic conditions for markets to function. In that regard, Honduras ranks 162 (out of 189) of the easiest places in the world to start a business.

In South and Central American countries, governments are excluding citizens from markets. Citizens are not being excluded by markets. But, according to the Cardinal, it’s the “rich countries”—especially Italy and Spain—where markets exclude people are at fault for this “social exclusion.”

Unfortunately, the Cardinal errs once again. As Booth correctly has noted, Spain and Italy are not hotbeds of free-market liberalism. Spain is the 22nd freest country in Europe and Italy is the 35th freest.

Error #2: The markets are unconstrained

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga has also overlooked how, in recent decades, governments have increasingly constrained markets. Again, Booth has rightly highlighted some inconvenient facts the Cardinal has conveniently overlooked:

  • Between 1950 and 2010, government spending on the part of most of the world’s largest economies increased 200% as a proportion of national income. Much of this spending went to entitlement programs, the cost for which requires increasing taxes—thus decreasing income—and cutting back in other discretionary programs.
  • The number of new laws and regulations passed and the proportion of people working for the government have also increased markedly over the past 20 years. This is true even of the financial sector.

Governments have been increasingly constraining markets, making it increasingly difficult for los pueblos to participate in free markets.

And that’s just the beginning of Booth’s well-founded critique of Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga’s opinion, because the Cardinal didn’t stop there. If people were to take the Cardinal seriously, Booth opines, nations like Britain would become more like Italy and Chile would become more like Honduras. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Spread the pain around for all to experience rather than eliminate the pain so no one experiences it…the latter seeming to be the case, contrary to the Cardinal’s problematic opinion.

Booth is correct: Communicating one’s highly debatable opinions as if they are truth “undermines the respect in which in which clergy are held when they talk about issues on which they are (or should be) expert and authoritative.”

When it comes to economic matters, it would much better if prelates invited Catholic economists to write and publish papers from an informed Catholic perspective. Then, let other experts have at those papers to vet their contents “speaking clearly with frankness and listening with humility,” much like Pope Francis desires for the Synod on the Family.




To read Phillip Booth’s article in the Catholic Herald, click on the following link:

To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, Omnibus, click on the following link:

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  1. These arrogant, self assured bishops should read “The Mystery Of Capital” by Hernando De Soto. The author goes into detail why capitalism works in some countries and not in others. Hint: it’s not allowed to work in some countries, because people are kept out of the markets by the conditions lifted in this article. Read this book, and become better educated than these two bishops who are blowing their own horns!

  2. “Catholic prelates are certainly entitled to their opinions but, when expressing those opinions, prelates should identify them as personal opinions. That’s especially true when Catholic prelates are speaking outside of their area of competence, as those opinions can be seized upon and promoted by others—and the mainstream media, in particular—as if they are official Church teaching.”
    I call them sight graces…things one sees in and out of visions, but Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras blowing his horn is one of the best.

  3. The church is aware that the bourgeois mentality and capitalism as a whole, with its materialist spirit, acutely contradict the Gospel.” Oh, that’s “sloganeering,” you say! No dear friends, that’s St. John Paul II.

  4. Every Christian knows that the Dickens’ “Scrooge” character is not the how one should act/live.

    However, if St. John Paul wrote such caricatures of free markets, personal responsibility, individual opportunity, economic growth and development, mass prosperity . . .

    The Gospel message is to love God above all things and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Sell all you own, take up your Cross, and follow Jesus. The Gospels do not teach hatred the bourgeois/rich; or to arm the peasants and take everything from the bourgeois: St. Augustine called that “mass brigandage.” You even need to pray for those who persecute you. There is nothing in the Good News about hating the bourgeois or anybody, or execrating a free-market economy that has proven itself to be the most effective (in human history) in supplying the needs and wants of the most possible people happy enough to live therein (as opposed to the Soviet and Chinese mass-nightmares – scores of millions deliberately starved and/or outright massacred).

  5. It is worth noting the suspicion with which the Ancients viewed “the bourgeois mentality,” an attitude well summarised by Montesquieu: “One has to put oneself into the spirit of the Greek city-states, especially those that had war as their chief object. All the gainful occupations and professions were regarded as unworthy of a free man. “Most of the arts,” says Xenophon, “weaken the body; those who practice them must sit in the shade or by the fire; they have time neither for their friends nor for the republic.” It was only with the corruption of certain democracies that artisans attained the status of citizens. This is what Aristotle teaches us, and he maintains that a good republic will never grant them civil rights… In short, all commerce was ignoble in the eyes of the Greeks. It would have required that a citizen render services to a slave, to a tenant, to a stranger, an idea repugnant to the spirit of Greek liberty. Hence, Plato wants the laws to punish any citizen who engages in commerce.”
    Many of the leaders of the French revolution were of the same opinion. “Trade ill becomes the true citizen, declared Saint-Just. “The hand of man was made only to till the soil and to bear arms.” Napoléon’s contempt for the bourgeoisie was proverbial.

  6. One would think that the good Cardinal’s statement is a non-sequitur. He is absolutely correct to point out ‘social exclusion’ as a real evil, but there are multiple non-economic causes, and every economic system or theory will also produce ‘social exclusion’. The social paradises of Cuba and Venezuela produce as much ‘social exclusion’ as anywhere else. His statement is acceptable only if directed to those of us who idolize free markets, and it is definitely not acceptable if it enables those who idolize the absence of free markets.

    PS, it would seem safe to write that most of us here admire free markets, but we don’t idolize them.

  7. I am so sick of religious and non-religious folks blindly attacking capitalism as an evil. Can we agree that the “isms” are just plain agnostic … and that it’s the behavior of the individuals participating in the “isms” that matter. Yes, I agree that capitialism brings about more just wealth than others. But bring it back to people’s behavior … remove it from the economic policies. We have loving and selfish people of wealth derived from free enterprise. We have sinful and some righteous people participating in socialistic governments.

  8. D Will wrote, “bring it back to people’s behavior … remove it from the economic policies.”

    But polices can accomplish a good deal. As G K Chesterton explains, “In Montenegro there are no millionaires–and therefore next to no Socialists. As to why there are no millionaires, it is a mystery, and best studied among the mysteries of the Middle Ages. By some of the dark ingenuities of that age of priestcraft a curious thing was discovered–that if you kill every usurer, every forestaller, every adulterater, every user of false weights, every fixer of false boundaries, every land-thief, every water-thief, you afterwards discover by a strange indirect miracle, or disconnected truth from heaven, that you have no millionaires.”

    Lacordaire, who restored the Dominican order in France after the Revolution, pointed out that, “Between the weak and the strong, between the rich and the poor, between the master and the servant, it is freedom which oppresses and the law which sets free.”

  9. Oh please MP-S, don’t quote GKC on economics! He might have been a great author, but like his buddy Belloc, he didn’t know squat about economics. They were believers in a fantasy called distributism. To see how goofy their economic ideas were, Read Tom Woods “The Church and The Market” and go to and read all their articles on it.

  10. I’m coming at it from the notion of changing the dialogue with idealistic liberals. We can address the policy discussions more easily — but the sound bites they play become defensive efforts.

  11. Cardinal Maradiaga is what Lenin would call a useful idiot – as far as economics are concerned. The fact that Pope Francis listens to him speaks volumes about Pope Francis.

    Honduras has 7.6 million people – less than metro Chicago. Singapore has 5.3 million crowded into a smaller area. Cardinal Maradiaga has no clue as to why the Singapore economy leaves Honduras in the dust. Honduras dwarfs Singapore in size and has more natural resources – and no clue as to how to develop them.

    Argentina, Canada and Poland have populations that are roughly equivalent. Poland’s estimated 2013 GDP exceeds Argentina’s 2014 estimated GDP (numbers from Wikipedia – take it or leave it). Poland has ruled itself for just 46 years since 1793 and was wrecked three times – in the Swedish Deluge of the mid 17th century, during World War I and the subsequent Polish Soviet War and World War II. Poland had communism shoved down its throat for 44 years,…..and Poland has SURPASSED Argentina in just 25 years, with a slightly smaller population (4 million less) and a much smaller land mass (one ninth the land mass of Argentina). Both have majority Catholic populations. How can this be?

    Yes, Poland received EU development funds. Call ’em delayed war reparations. Poland had those coming. Many Poles have emigrated to Germany, France and England for work and sent money home.

    What Poland hasn’t done is put a complete despotic idiot like Peron in power, inflate their currency to make it nearly worthless and then blame the United States and capitalism for all of their problems.

  12. I have spent time in Honduras & experienced their “capitalism” first hand. Some of the truest statements in the post above are:

    1. ” No, their poverty is due to cronyism, corruption, and the absence of the basic conditions for markets to function”

    2. ” in recent decades, governments have increasingly constrained markets”

    The Honduran govt is constantly playing games with their national markets–for example–they would ration milk, rice, & beans–just to drive the price up & the poor people would literally starve as a result. Prices would increase by as much as 300% due to gov’t tinkering in a very short period of time creating chaos. Our private, missionary hospital which had access to medicines from America would often have to loan the govt hospitals (socialized medicine) meds with agreements that the meds would be replaced. The Honduran govt medical system did not provide for the free flow of needed supplies and treatment of its citizens.

    Law enforcement was basically nonexistent or ineffective in large swaths of the country–that is besides the rampant corruption.

    The Honduran army impressed many young men into military service.

    Is this priest not aware that Honduras was a Communist country in the not too distant past?

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