Thursday, June 05, 2014

The poor and structural sin

Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga (pictured) has emerged as one of Pope Francis’ top foils.  Defending the Pope against critics who say his social pronouncements show a naiveté and failure to grasp the finer points of free market theory, Rodríguez Maradiaga hits back that the market libertarians are the ones with the knowledge gap.  Those who criticize the pope do not know the rest of the world,” the cardinal told NCR.  In particular, says Rodríguez Maradiaga, they do not know the poor.  Because Francis hails from Latin America, the cardinal says, he knows how the other half lives.  For us, poverty is concrete people, concrete faces of people — people who suffer, people who are living in slums, people who are in prison, people who are deported, people who are in refugee camps,” he says.

Another Óscar—Archbishop Óscar A. Romero of El Salvador—saw a similar reality decades ago: “faces of landless peasants mistreated and killed by the forces of power, faces of laborers arbitrarily dismissed and without a living wage for their families, faces of the elderly, faces of outcasts, faces of slum dwellers, faces of poor children who from infancy begin to feel the cruel sting of social injustice,” Romero said.  He insisted that “our world in El Salvador is not an abstraction.”  Rather, “It is a world made up in the vast majority of poor and oppressed women and men.”

Being faced with this reality, argues Rodríguez Maradiaga, forces the true Christian to look not at economic theories, but at the faces of the poor.  Francis, who “has profound knowledge of the life of the poor says that elimination of the structural causes for poverty is a matter of urgency that can no longer be postponed,” the cardinal says: “The hungry or sick child of the poor cannot wait.”  C.f., Pope St. John Paul II, 1987 remarks to the Econ. Comm. for Lat. Am. (“The poor can not await! Their situation demands extraordinary measures, relief that cannot be postponed: imperative assistance.”).

In a 2002 speech, Rodríguez Maradiaga asserted that Archbishop Romero had responded to and felt called to react by the urgency of the reality of the poor: “his was not a conversion in the usual sense of the term, of turning from the wrong path onto the correct path,” Rodríguez Maradiaga said. “It was, rather, the constant seeking of the will of God that led him to face bravely the structural sin that was crushing the little ones of his dear country.”

In his Lent Message for 2014, Francis outlined the specific situation that Catholic Social Teaching calls out as the ‘structural’ sin at the root of an unjust social order.  When power, luxury and money become idols,” Francis said, “they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth.”  Building on that point, Archbishop Romero would go on to say that poverty was therefore a litmus for the presence of structural sin.  The existence of poverty as a lack of what is necessary is an indictment,” he said.  Accordingly, by immersing herself in the world of the poor, the Church gains “a clearer awareness of sin,” Romero said.

Romero expounded on the meaning of structural sin in his second pastoral letter, where he defined it as “those social, economic, cultural, and political structures that effectively drive the majority of our people onto the margins of society.”  In a sense, Romero argued, the Church's denunciations are not new: “Throughout the centuries the Church has, quite rightly, denounced sin,” including sin that corrupts the relationships among individuals.  “But she has begun to recall now something that, at the Church's beginning, was fundamental: social sin — the crystallization, in other words, of individuals' sins into permanent structures that keep sin in being, and make its force to be felt by the majority of the people.”

And “as the Church draws closer to people who are poor the Church understands that sin is serious,” he said.  Sin is what killed the Son of God and sin is what continues to kill the Children of God,” Romero said.  Accordingly, poverty offers a self-contained catechesis: “We see that basic truth of the Christian faith daily in the situation of our country,” Romero said.

Like Romero, “Francis analyzes the economy from the point of view of the poor which is in line with Jesus’s perspective,” said Rodríguez Maradiaga.  And “Francis recognizes in those unjust structures an illness of the system as such.”

No comments: