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Question for Thomas Woods: Is the Pope a Catholic?

The following material was previously posted here:

This page was taken down some time after we posted our article on The “Catholic” Arm of Libertarianism, though we cannot prove a cause-and-effect relationship. We will leave that to our readers…

Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately for some people), we made a copy of the content of this page. Here it is:

We are just asking Dr. Woods to clarify his Catholic defense of von Mises and Austrian Economics beyond, “Instead of a Reply…read my book.”

The issues are not as clear cut and settled as Woods would like everyone to believe. Certain elements of Austrian Economic teaching are indeed indefensible with respect to Catholic Theology.

Specifically, Austrian theory teaches that usury, the charging of interest on loans, is a natural phenomenon that flows from Time-Preference Theory.  Roman Church doctrine on the other hand declares usury to be a mortal sin.

It takes a considerable amount of contorted rhetoric to bridge this gap — whole books worth.

Before going farther, we should first clarify with a disclaimer. There has always been great affection and overt promotion in the John Birch Society for Ludwig von Mises and the Austrian School of Economics. The combination is a far better antidote than Milton Friedman and the Monetarists to the sham teachings of Keynesian economists. Likewise, there has always been a fair share of devout Catholics in The John Birch Society.  We are a big happy family for the most part.

We have to be careful though to avoid cult like or straw man responses when our positions are honestly challenged.

In his recent posting at, Instead of a Reply, Woods directs his followers and antagonists to refer to the books he has already written in an effort to harmonize the tenets of Austrian economics with Catholic teaching. Foremost among his suggestions is, The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy.

In The Church and the Market, Woods does admirably cover most of the key points under contention in economics and morality — except for the issue of usury. He is not silent on this important concept and how it comports with Catholic theology, but the manner he has chosen to address it tells us that this is where the big Austrian skeleton is stored in his closet.

Usury is no obscure archaic issue overwhelmed by the last few hundred years of economic activity. The charging of interest on loans is the underlying operational feature in the mountain of credit default swaps and derivatives trading that threatens the entire financial system of the Western world. Most likely, the inability to meet even the interest payments on our debts — service our debts — will be the point where all hell breaks loose. The day of reckoning is coming fast for a system built on writing up fiat (man-made) loan contracts with built in interest payments to trade and live off of.

I have a personally signed copy of The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy that I picked up in a von Mises Institute seminar in Greenville, South Carolina which was sponsored by a long ago staff member of The John Birch Society. I attended the meeting as both self-taught student of economics and the John Birch Society staff coordinator for the state of South Carolina. The inscription, to the party I asked it to be dedicated to reads,

Starting on page 109 of his book is Wood’s discussion on usury. He notes that, “Scriptural support for a complete ban on interest is surprisingly thin.” He then moves on to support his positions with references from The Catholic Encyclopedia,  (Hardly a primary source of Church doctrine.) He takes a few pages to step nimbly around St. Thomas, an otherwise insurmountable obstacle in a justification for usury, and then notes that the Jesuit theologian Leonard Lessius (1554-1623) “played a significant role in eroding the interest prohibition.”

The big problem for Dr. Woods is that a Catholic who defends usury is no different than a Catholic who defends abortion.  It’s as the Roman statesman Cato the Elder is claimed to have rhetorically responded to the issue, “What is usury?…What is Murder?”

The creation and promotion of the pseudo-science of economics has not changed that assessment.

Woods opens his piece Instead of a Reply by challenging his unaccredited antagonist to produce supporters, “more Catholic than the Habsburgs and Kuehnelt-Leddihn.

We respond, “Is the Pope a Catholic?”

We hope that meets Dr. Woods criterion for providing a reply.

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