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Transatlantic Blog

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Catholic spokeswoman?

The day after she bested a 10-term congressman by 16 points in a Democratic Party primary, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made an unlikely literary debut: She published an article in a Jesuit magazine burnishing her Catholic bona fides. The story, titled, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on her Catholic faith and the urgency of a criminal justice reform,” appeared in America last Wednesday.

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) member’s blog offers a personal reflection about an incarcerated relative, cites U.S. incarceration statistics as proof that “our criminal justice system could very well benefit from a rite of penance of its own,” and concludes that America should be “a society that forgives and rehabilitates” criminals.

She asks:

What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration? Is it punishment? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness? For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.

Although not the focus of this article, of course it is anything but clear that her proposed reforms (e.g., rolling back anti-drug laws and eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing) lie at the heart of Catholic social teaching, much less the Catholic faith.

Nor is it clear that she properly conveys her Church’s teachings on the matter. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the magistrate’s “primary” duty is “to redress the disorder caused by the offense.” The state does this by imposing “penalties commensurate with the gravity of the crime,” and that punishment should be “voluntarily accepted by the offender” to take on “the value of expiation.” Only after this should state-imposed justice exercise its “medicinal scope” and “contribute” to the prisoner’s rehabilitation, “as far as possible.” (It is unclear if the penalty retains its medicinal value if the offender’s congressman rejects it with an intersectional rebuttal that ascribes every prison sentence to the ravages of Eurocentric, heteronormative capitalism.)

Ocasio-Cortez’s views on judicial issues only tangentially touch the Catholic faith. However, she finds herself in fundamental opposition to the Roman Catholic Church's most definitive teachings on religious liberty, economics, and anthropology.

Perhaps the most flagrant example is the fact that, as one blogger noted, the candidate “apparently disagrees with her church … on abortion and marriage.”

The debate between Christians and socialists represents two diverging futures for the human race – only one of which facilitates its health and flourishing.

Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez calls for the newly nationalized health care sector to grant “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion … for all people, regardless of income.” This is a politician’s way of calling for publicly funded, unlimited abortion-on-demand – as, for instance, is practiced by Canada’s collectivized health care system. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written that politician advocating this position is in an “objective situation of sin” for which an unrepentant Catholic should be “denied the Eucharist.”

Ocasio-Cortez also supports the ever-diversifying “LGBTQIA+” movement by endorsing the “Equality Act,” which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Doing so, as Heritage Foundation scholar Ryan T. Anderson explains, would “endanger religious liberty and freedom of speech” (as well as “expand state interference in labor markets, potentially discouraging job creation”).

That is to say, judging from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political positions, one may conclude the dogma does not live loudly in her.

However, one of her defining characteristics alone could have made this clear: her advocacy of “democratic socialism.”

“Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms,” wrote Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno. “[N]o one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist.”

The misunderstanding of how economics works is deeper than a dispute over dull textbook definitions – demand curves, price indices, and other terms that make people’s eyes glaze over. At its heart, the debate between Christians and socialists represents two diverging futures for the human race – only one of which facilitates its health and flourishing.

Just how far apart are the socialist and Christian views of the matter? The New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America – to which Ocasio-Cortez belongs and which actively campaigned on her behalf – took to Twitter to make a few immodest proposals on Saturday. Among them were demands to “abolish profit,” “abolish prisons,” and “abolish borders.”

🌹 Abolish profit
🌹 Abolish prisons
🌹 Abolish cash bail
🌹 Abolish borders#AbolishICE pic.twitter.com/TCFIZqzJrU

— New York City DSA 🌹 (@nycDSA) June 29, 2018

The call to abolish profits flows naturally from the socialist view of economics. “Capitalism,” according to the DSA, “aims to generate profit, and this requires the exploitation of labor, the destruction of the planet, and the immiseration of the vast majority of people.” In the Democratic Socialist’s view, all profits are exploitative, because all value is added by labor.

On the other hand, The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, in its section on the Seventh Commandment (“Thou shalt not steal”):

2432 Those responsible for business enterprises … have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits. Profits are necessary, however. They make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and they guarantee employment. (Emphasis added.)

“Unemployment,” the Catechism continues, “almost always wounds its victim's dignity” and “entails many risks for his family.”

The Christian view holds that profits fuel private business growth, produce more of the goods necessary for our survival, and assure that a business may continue to furnish workers with life-sustaining pay and opportunities to exercise their God-given talents.

A faith-based publication ought not gloss over such substantial rifts between the socialist’s and the Catholic Christian’s worldview in its rush to publish the political celebrity of the moment.

(Photo credit: Jesse Korman. This photo has been cropped and modified. CC BY-SA 4.0.)


Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.