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Catholic bishop should mind what he says

Scotland’s most senior Roman Catholic, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has accused the prime minister of acting immorally by favouring the rich ahead of ordinary citizens affected by the recession.The Cardinal also denounced David Cameron’s opposition to a “Robin Hood tax” on financial institutions.

I do not have a problem with the first sentence. But when a Catholic bishop is criticising the government for not supporting a financial services tax, he is venturing into an area in which he has no competence to comment.

The only formal statement on taxation within Catholic Social Teaching is in Rerum Novarum, published in 1891, which states merely that governments should not over-tax. Catholic teaching has a broader remit, of course, in its commitment to justice, which includes economic justice, but the question that then arises is how a financial service tax is congruent with principles of economic justice? We would expect a Catholic bishop to endorse LVT on that basis, ie that the surface of the planet is the gift of God to the entire human race, a point that has indeed been made in Catholic Social Teaching. A bishop might also be expected to refer to the scriptural and Catholic church teachings on usury, a practice which lies at the bottom of the present financial crisis. But on that, I have heard not a word in public from any Catholic church prelate.

The sad thing about all this is that Catholic church teaching has much of relevance to the condition of the contemporary political economy. It seems as if those responsible are unaware of this. But then the same is evident in the majority of Catholic churches, where the standard of the liturgy is poor, and far removed from the intentions set out in the relevant documents. It is as though, having gone to great deal of trouble to produce this high quality material, it is quietly forgotten.