Is Catholic University Going Koch?
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Dec 23, 2013 at 07:41:23 AM EST
Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, DC recently set off a firestorm when it announced it has accepted a $1 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation. The Washington Post reported, "The grant to Catholic will enable the university's new School of Business and Economics to recruit and hire four visiting scholars to conduct research on `principled entrepreneurship.'"

But CUA has also been the unofficial home base for Catholic advocacy of Distributive Justice in the United States  since the early 20th century.  Distributive Justice's greatest clerical proponent, Msgr. John A. Ryan, was a towering fixture at the University at the time.  All this has left advocates of Distributive Justice concerned that the Koch cash is really a Trojan Horse for Catholic Right libertarianism.

According to statement released by CUA, the Koch Foundation grant (in conjunction with a $500,000 grant from the Busch Family Foundation) will be used to "to recruit and hire three visiting scholars from academia and one visiting scholar-practitioner from the business world."

The Washington Post reported, that fifty prominent Catholic educators have protested to the University, stating in a letter that the gift sends `a confusing message'" and "that the brothers' `anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing' of a school created by U.S. bishops."

Religion News Service reported, "The letter was signed by 50 priests, social justice advocates, theologians and other academics, including several faculty at CUA in Washington."  But the University is unmoved, so far.

The Washington Post further reported, "The university's public affairs office issued a strongly worded defense..." as well as, "In an interview...[Dean of CUA's School of Business & Economics, Dr. Andrew] Abela said Catholic teaching on economics is general -- "at the level of principle" -- and is "neither left nor right." There is a great deal of debate, he said, about how to carry out papal writings when it comes to the economy." (More on Dr. Abela below)

But the University really should consider the following from the Koch Foundation member profile in the Spring 2008 issue of Philanthropy magazine:

The Koch Foundation has set ambitious goals. It wants nothing less than to effect social change: to strengthen free-market values, to limit the growth of government, and to protect property rights. Achieving those goals requires training a new generation of leaders. "What we're hoping for are new programs, new institutions. But there's a real talent shortage. We need new blood and new ideas," says [Koch Foundation pres. Rich] Fink. "We're trying to attract bright, ambitious, new people-people who aren't wedded to old approaches-into the nonprofit sector."

And then there is the description of the foundation's Koch Associates program:

In the classes, Associates read and discuss some of the seminal writers on free-market economics, such as Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. They also hear from industry and nonprofit leaders who have applied the principles of MBM to their work. The hope is that Associates will take the ideas and apply them to the institutions they are working in. (Italics added)

Why is this important, especially Charles Koch's adherence to the economic principles of Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises?

The answer is that neither Hayek nor von Mises accepted the principles of Distributive Justice. Indeed, it was Hayek who declared, "the results of the individual's efforts are necessarily unpredictable, and the question of whether the resulting distribution of incomes is just or unjust has no meaning."

As writer Angus Sibley haspointed out this belief runs directly counter to Catholic ethics:

Catholic teaching flatly repudiates all that nonsense. Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum, §45) spoke of "a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner", and he strongly commended (#49) workers' associations, of which "the most important of all are workingmen's unions." John Paul II (Centesimus Annus, §20) observed that "unions... are indeed a mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people."

One thing the University ought to consider is the intent of the donor. The Koch Family Foundation gives to higher education for the purpose of advancing the libertarian agenda. This includes gifts to laissez-faire-leaning schools such as the University of Chicago and George Mason University (specifically, to the libertarian think tank located there, the Mercatus Center). Similarly, when grants are made to institutions with religious overtones, they are to those that advocate libertarian-style economics, for example; the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

But then, it is unlikely that CUA is unaware of all this. Dr. Abela's biography page describes him as a "winner of the 2009 Novak Award, a $10,000 prize given by the Acton Institute for `significant contributions to the study of the relationship between religion and economic liberty.'"

And criticism of Acton Institute president, Fr. Robert Sirico's views on economics are well known.  Catholic distributionist writer Thomas Storck noted how difficult it is to square his libertarian economic philosophy with the teachings of his faith:

It is far from clear how Fr. Sirico and other Catholic libertarians can justify their attempt to reconcile Catholic tradition with classical liberalism. Do they really believe that the Church's social teaching and tradition can change so easily as to make obsolete centuries of the papal magisterium? Are they really unaware that such notable Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century who turned their attention to economics, as G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Christopher Dawson and many others, were critics of capitalism? I cannot answer these questions. But what we can know is that the Acton Institute's promotion of [classical, libertarian] liberalism is not something that can be embraced by an orthodox Catholic.

And I might add, American Catholicism's Msgr. John A. Ryan.

The legacy of Msgr. Ryan looms large over the Koch grant to CUA. As a publishing professor, Ryan taught at the school from 1915 until 1939, where he developed his teachings on distributive justice.  To this day, the university is charged with the possession and maintenance of his archives.  Unlike Charles Koch, Hayek or Fr. Sirico, the just distribution of profit as reflected in a living wage meant a great deal to Msgr. Ryan.

Five years ago I wrote: "There is an important corollary here that is integral to the Church's capacity to advance fundamental notions of distributive justice, one fully understood by Ryan. When only those of superfluous wealth have the ability to shape policy within historic religious institutions, eventually their economic self-interest will have a corrupting effect; religious organizations lose their independence and their ability to offer social criticism, and their history and theologies are rewritten for them."

What I wrote about the Church applies even more to CUA. Will they honor and advance the legacy of Msgr. Ryan? Or will they take the Charles Koch Foundation money and risk the appearance, if not the fact of turning to Fr. Sirico and those who disassemble on Catholic economic teachings?

They are no different than the secular universities who jump at the opportunity to get funding even if it is to propagate an anti-social agenda. I saw a "Going Galt" bumper sticker at church last week, and I can think of nothing that will disintegrate society and civilization greater than the pursuit of undiluted self-interest at the expense of everyone else.

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