Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
July 17, 2000
Social teaching undermined
St. Francis of Assisi is reputed to have once said, "Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words." It is a simple striking statement of the need to practise what one preaches. For all of us (except Jesus and Mary), our actions at least occasionally violate our high-minded rhetoric.
Still, there is a substantial difference between occasional violations of the moral law and a way of life that over a period of years habitually endangers the common good. The first type of discretion can be relatively easy to forgive; the second is more than a discretion. When it is a high-profile Christian leader whose actions are, over an extended time, at variance with his words then we face a public scandal.
For more than three decades, Victoria's Bishop Remi de Roo was perceived to be the Canadian Catholic Church's leading spokesman on social justice. Recent revelations have shown that during much of that time De Roo was investing his diocese's money on racehorses and real estate speculation. The diocese is now near bankruptcy and is dependent on the faithful to bail it out of a financial mess.
A three-member commission has called De Roo's actions and disregard for established financial procedures "beyond belief." The diocese kept no financial records of these investments and for 15 years failed to submit its records to an outside audit. It also made major investments without consulting diocesan consultors and the Vatican as required under Church law.
The bishop's consistent disregard of even minimal checks and balances is now costing the Church dearly, both in terms of money and credibility. The commission said it will take generations to restore the good name of the Victoria Diocese.
But what of the good name of Catholic social teaching? These investments came to public light because they were such a dismal failure. If the bishop had played by the rules and also hit the jackpot while investing in racehorses and flipping properties, would everything be OK? Certainly not.
De Roo was the architect of the Canadian bishops' 1983 statement, Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis. In it, the bishops spoke of the need for a preferential option for the poor and a priority of labour over capital. They wrote: "The goal of serving the human needs of all people in our society must take precedence over the maximization of profits and growth."
How hollow those words must now sound to the Catholics of the Victoria Diocese who are paying the price for their bishop's efforts to maximize profits while providing nothing of value to the economy. The hard-earned money of the faithful, freely given to the Church for the building up of the kingdom of God, has been lost through an effort to gain morally questionable profits. Shortly after the bishop had criticized the economic priorities of the nation, he was employing equally shameful priorities in the running of his diocese.
So, what are we to believe: De Roo's words or his actions? Is Catholic social teaching to be abandoned when one enters the "real world" of making ends meet?
We have never needed Catholic social teaching more than we do today. Many issues identified by the bishops 17 years ago are even more prevalent now despite our current prosperity. We are faced with proposals for a flat-rate income tax, a much smaller social safety net, further privatization of health care and an even-more favourable business climate at the expense of meeting the needs of the poor. Many of our leaders and potential leaders believe in a preferential option for the rich.
It's not the task of Catholic social teaching to develop detailed economic policies for the nation. But it can help to chart the moral direction Canada ought to pursue. Meeting the needs of the most vulnerable ought to be a country's highest priority. It's a sad day when the credibility of these excellent teachings is undermined by one who says one thing and persists in doing another.
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