Charlie Bates

Villanova University was honored to have Senator Patrick Toomey address the graduating class of 2013 at commencement on May 19.  Though he is a Catholic, Senator Toomey unfortunately missed the opportunity to share how the Catholic ideals taught at Villanova have inspired him and might inspire the graduating Villanova Wildcats.   

As an economics major, I was intrigued that Senator Toomey’s address was essentially a treatise on laissez-faire economics. He promoted a significant faith in unbridled capitalism, though it was of a type that lacks any measurement of its ability to protect and promote human dignity. Capitalism must be judged carefully when, according the World Bank, one out of every three deaths worldwide is related to poverty.

The Catholic emphasis on human dignity teaches us that as every person is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, he or she is both entitled to the right to achieve his or her full potential and responsible to work toward that end. While “human dignity” is the term used in Catholic doctrine, it is clear that, as economist E.F. Schumacher pointed out, it is “shared by all the higher teachings of mankind.” It is the basic premise for nearly any ethical claim.

To be clear, I’m not here advocating an economic policy that could be considered more liberal; I am only pointing out that any economic policy is subject to ethical ideals. Whether it is Senator Toomey himself or graduating Villanova students, everyone of every faith is morally obligated to uphold human dignity.

The Senator’s authority to influence the lives of millions gives him a special opportunity and responsibility to do this. A clear example is that of poverty-focused foreign assistance — foreign aid not tied to military or political ends that has a clear focus on ending both short- and long-term violations of human dignity.

Mobilizing like-minded Catholics throughout the country, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the international relief and development agency of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has long protected human dignity by implementing programs among the world’s poorest.  In its advocacy campaigns, it seeks the preservation and strengthening of international disaster assistance, emergency and longer-term migration and refugee assistance, Title II food assistance, as well as funding for the Syrian refugee crisis. In addition, funding for global health concerns such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB and general maternal and child health/survival is indispensable. While it sounds like a lot of money, all poverty-focused foreign assistance represents less than one-half of one percent of the overall federal budget.

I support this based on the Catholic belief of human dignity, and I would urge Senator Toomey to do the same. Though he missed his chance to promote Catholic ideals to the Villanova class of 2013, I hope he takes them into account in his future voting decisions.


Bates is a senior economics major (class of 2014) at Villanova University, where he is also a Catholic Relief Services ambassador.