Socialism and Catholicism

I read recently an article by Trent Horn and Catherine Pakaluk (Jan 16, 2020) 'Can a Catholic Be a Socialist? with the conclusion ‘not only are Catholics not obligated to be socialists, they—we—cannot be socialists’. I respectfully disagree with this conclusion, as it depends on what it means to be a Socialist and many good Catholics, myself excluded, would claim to be Socialist.

Christian Socialism claims to be based on the teaching of Jesus and we read in the Bible ‘The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common (NAB, Acts 4:32).

Condemnations of Socialism from those in the US often seem to Europeans to be based on politics, not religion.

The arguments between capitalism and socialism often are influenced by the differences between Catholics and Protestants, where Catholics tend towards community, fellowship and the unity of the faithful while Protestants tend towards individualism, the self and personal commitment to God.

American is based on Protestant/Calvinistic/Puritan individualism.

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!


Pure socialism and pure capitalism are both against Church teaching.

A Catholic can support socialism’s wanting to help the poor, for example, but socialism essentially tries to state that ownership of things is forbidden to everybody and that the state should own everything.

Some people are called to give up owning things and some things should be owned by the state, but socialism defaults to ‘everything should be owned by the state and nobody can own anything themselves’.

This is against Church teaching and is a worrying proposal.


Aha! I knew it all along!

Seriously, all “isms” carry the risk of violating basic human dignity. The Church specifically opposes collectivism, of which socialism is a part. Have a catechism? A read of paragraph 1885 might be illuminating.

1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.

Note: This does in no way let capitalism off the hook. Each and every capitalist has the duty to fellow man or woman. Socialism does not fix this - it tends to be a transitional form of governing that ultimately destroys human dignity. How many recent (i.e. 20th century) examples do we need?


+1. As to western civilization, the EU and UK in particular, socialism did neither build not maintain those entities. In truth, collectivism is a symptom of the downfall of western civilization, i.e. broken human nature. What comes after is very sobering to ponder.


A true catholic economy would take a third way. Neither unrestrained capitalism nor socialism.




Yes, but some American conservatives want us to think this means the Church also condemns social democracy, as seen in most of Europe, which is sometimes conflated with socialism/communism. The Church does not condemn social democracy…and I imagine most bishops actually support one form of it or another.


You won’t see me defend America’s political/economic structure.

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Nothing of this earth is defensible. The proper question is: Which is least objectionable? Which allows for the greatest charity?


Replace “capitalist” with “person” and this will make even more sense. There is nothing particularly special about someone who earns income from invested capital(as opposed to land or labour) that singles them out for an obligation to help the poor.


Doesn’t that basically make you a manichean? (Material things = evil)

At the time these condemnations were issued, the term “socialism” had a specific meaning. Over time the meaning of that word has changed so much that the condemnations no longer apply. The best reference for contemporary teaching on Socialism is found in the modern Catechism, CCC 2425. In that section the Church rejects “the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism”. In that same section the Church also rejects " in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor.” It is not socialism itself that is rejected, but rather the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated with it. So if you have something that someone wants to call “socialism” but it does not clearly exhibit totalitarian or atheistic ideologies, the Church has nothing to say on the matter. One example that comes to mine is Social Security as practiced in the US. Some have called this socialism. But as it is clearly not atheistic or totalitarian, it is not rejected by the Church. Similarly capitalism is not rejected by the Church, unless it is practiced in such a way that exhibits individualism and the primacy of the marketplace over human labor. It is notable that the Church sees fit to reject certain practices of socialism and capitalism in the same paragraph.


That’s the economic libertarian wing of conservatism. To hold that the state has no duty to help those in need is to be condemned as much as it’s opposite which holds that the state should be in control of everything. One question for libertarians is if they are ever in need of economic state assistance will they still adhere to their libertarian ideology.

Thoughts are immaterial.

Anyway, this thread, as with most all others, has degenerated into a meaningless debate. I’m out.

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I have also often thought that there are elements of socialism that seem more Christian than capitalism, certainly the ruthless capitalism we see now, were in order for some to capitalise fully, others have to be fleeced, cheated, used etc.

I think the danger comes when the state wants to basically play the role of the trusted decision maker. You give us your wealth and we will use it wisely. Yeah, or how about you let me use what I have wisely?

Whenever I have dabbled with the idea that perhaps a socialist society would be better, I have had it smacked out of me by good friends. I would say ‘what about poor and struggling people? We need a government who can help them and if our taxes go to help them, that’s good’. But they wouldn’t agree, eventually convincing me that there are plenty of good organisations, churches, charities etc. who help. We can also help of our own free will. We don’t need a government to take our money in the name of helping those who need it.

The other issue is that socialism has also unfortunately, for one reason or another, been linked with communism and by extension, atheism. Socialist run societies, or countries, tend not to be the most religious ones. I do believe that you can have elements of socialism though. For instance, I think the creation of an NHS in the UK is a good thing.

Socialism never helps the poor bro.


Many scholars claim that the setup in which the Apostles lived was a socialist cell.

There have been theologians who claimed monarchy was the best form of government and others claim strict capitalism is best. Remember that democratic socialism is not socialism or communism. Follow God.

Dear Noel,

I think whilst socialist intentions are good. It comes down to where authority lies. Does it lie with the state or is god first and the authorities second. Because otherwise you are treating the authorities like gods.

Also, the first community whilst containing no possessions of its own, was a group of free individuals coming together. It wasn’t a political program to lobby the Caesar to remove private property and assign bureaucrats to manage the lives of its citizens.

I do agree that Catholicism is more community minded though. Community is essential, free formed associations managed organically.

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What about communitarism (okay I know that sounds rather similar but doesn’t Catholic Social Teaching emphasis the connections we as individuals have in society like “intermediary bodies” or emphasis the units in society like parishes, families and non profits)? :slight_smile:

In regards to subsidarity, don’t those supporting it (of a certain flavor) overlook the part where higher level assistance is warranted when the lower levels lack capacity to address said issues? In respect to the rise of “Socalism” or more socialist/collectivistic thinking, how would you respond that its rise is due to the economic challenges of the current age like how economic challenges back then pushed people to socialism or even communism? What if the pendulum’s gone too far the other way or more specifically, the provision of basic needs (like health care and the cost of rent) seems rather difficult?

This type of talk doesn’t aggravate your health or well being sir, does it?

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