SOCIAL JUSTICE. The Catholic Church coined the term “social justice” in the mid-1800’s as part of a systematic effort to apply traditional Catholic doctrine to address the new problems raised by the Industrial Revolution, and to counter the evil proposals advanced by Marx and other socialists, i.e., “the left.” This effort reached official “doctrinal” status when Pope Leo XIII issued his encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, and almost every Pope since then has weighed in to further clarify and to apply the doctrine to their own times.
Unfortunately, the doctrine has often been misunderstood, and even hijacked by the ideologies it was meant to counter, so much so that now many good Catholics identify the term with secular leftist principles. Even so, those same “good Catholics” would readily support the actual Catholic doctrine and apply it in real life. So, for example, these Catholics would have no problem with the doctrine the we must care for the poor, and would support programs that effectively and efficiently assist the truly needy, assuming it had no significant negative moral side-effects.
At least two key difficulties arise. The first is rather straightforward, arising when ideologues replace the unchanging principles of Catholic “social doctrine” with their own immoral ideological principles; e.g., redefining “marriage.” The second is more subtle, arising when the unchanging (Catholic) principles must be applied by individuals to the particular situations of their times by the use of prudential judgment. This can lead to different proposed solutions to the same problem, each being morally valid but not necessarily equally successful; e.g., one person might try to address poverty by giving a man a fish, another might try by teaching a man to fish.
SOCIAL JUSTICE IN THE COMING ELECTION. Three key principles that form the basic foundation of Catholic social doctrine are the right to life, the dignity of the family, and freedom of religion and conscience. In the last month two bishops spoke out on the effect of these principles on the coming election. Allow me to quote from them at length:
Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Diocese of Springfield, Illinois (Catholic Times, September 23, 2012):
“Much attention was given at the Democratic National Convention held recently in Charlotte, N.C., …In 1992 Presidential candidate Bill Clinton famously said that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” That was the party’s official position until 2008. Apparently “rare” is so last century that it had to be dropped, because now the Democratic Party Platform says that abortion should be “safe and legal.” Moreover the Democratic Party Platform supports the right to abortion “regardless of the ability to pay.” Well, there are only three ways for that to happen: either taxpayers will be required to fund abortion, or insurance companies will be required to pay for them (as they are now required to pay for contraception), or hospitals will be forced to perform them for free.
“Moreover, the Democratic Party Platform also supports same-sex marriage, recognizes that “gay rights are human rights,” and calls for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law signed by President Clinton in 1996 that defined marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.
“…There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils. My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding “political” and didn’t say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins…
“So what about the Republicans? I have read the Republican Party Platform and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin…. One might argue for different methods in the platform to address the needs of the poor, to feed the hungry and to solve the challenges of immigration, but these are prudential judgments about the most effective means of achieving morally desirable ends, not intrinsic evils…
“Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”
Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia (National Catholic Reporter, “Chaput in Philly swims against ‘nostalgia and red ink,’” Sept. 14, 2012, interview with John L Allen Jr.).
“Reporter: …Let me ask flat-out: Do you believe a Catholic in good faith can vote for Obama?
“AB Chaput: I can only speak in terms of my own personal views. I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion. I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m registered as an independent, because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.
“Reporter: What about the wing of the church that says a party that supports the Ryan budget also ought to cause concern?
“AB Chaput: Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period. There’s just no doubt about it. That has to be a foundational concern of Catholics and of all Christians. But Jesus didn’t say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I can’t make as a Catholic. … You can’t say that somebody’s not Christian because they want to limit taxation. Again, I’m speaking only for myself, but I think that’s a legitimate position. It may not be the correct one, but it’s certainly a legitimate Catholic position; and to say that it’s somehow intrinsically evil like abortion doesn’t make any sense at all.
“The Ryan budget isn’t the budget I would write. I think he’s trying to deal with the same issue in the government I’m dealing with here locally, which is spending more than we bring in. I admire the courage of anyone who’s actually trying to solve the problems rather than paper over them…It’s immoral for us to continue to spend money we don’t have. I think that those persons who don’t want to deal with the issue are, in some ways, doing wrong by putting it off for their own political protection or the protection of their party.”
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Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles