Catholic Social Justice

I read an open letter to the American bishops by Vincent Miller, Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture at the University of Dayton, that  is so timely and important I’ve included excerpts from it in this blog entry.  For the complete letter, go to the American magazine website.  Here goes:

“Every Catholic and every American citizen knows the church’s teaching on abortion and marriage. The same cannot be said for the rest of Catholic social teaching. This has consequences for both American public life and for the church.

Few Americans citizens or politicians, including Catholics, are aware of the church’s teaching that government is necessary to serve the common good; the importance of solidarity with all of the vulnerable, not just the ones we consider innocent or worthy; and, most importantly at this hour, the fact that subsidiarity cuts both ways, limiting government intervention and demanding it when necessary.

These Catholic teachings are under fire: Glen Beck warns millions of faithful listeners to run from any church that preaches social justice. Anti-immigrant extremists like Sherriff Joseph Arpaio are folk heroes (a textbook case of the Catholic definition of causing “scandal”). Tea Party denunciations of socialism and tyranny form public opinion on the legitimacy and scope of government. A new Republican majority in the house, led by a Catholic Speaker, plans to respond to the economic crisis by extending tax cuts for the rich and defunding health care reform—which means those portions that subsidize insurance for the working poor. These profound rejections of Catholic teaching and corrosion of the common good demand an effective episcopal response, yet too often, no response at all is given……

 Many bishops have cultivated a “prophetic” style of engagement on life issues and marriage. On these matters, they do not hesitate to confront policies and politicians at odds with the teaching of the Church. Politicians are named. Communion is denied. U.S.C.C.B. bulletin inserts and postcard campaigns are distributed.

Yet precious few bishops are willing to be as forceful on the rest of the church’s social doctrine. Callous lack of concern for the poor and unemployed; dismissals of the positive role of government in serving the common good; inflammatory scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, or the poor—none of these elicit a high-profile ecclesial challenge. …. The bishops are unwilling to directly confront policies and Catholic partisans who dissent on other points of social teaching.

The reality is that these aspects of Catholic teaching have been systematically sidelined by neoconservatives seeking to subordinate the church to their own program and by a mainstream media all too willing to accept conservative framing of religion. To break through this frame, to teach the Catholic fullness of the faith with effect, the bishops must be willing to be forthright and specific in their defense of all Catholic social doctrines. ….

Putting Catholic social teaching into practice is enormously complex. It demands both teaching and exhortation from the bishops and the hard work of lay experts and politicians. This is precisely the sort of grand “service to the truth which sets us free” that Benedict outlined as the church’s social mission in Caritas in Veritate. Truth demands attention to the dignity of the human person. It also demands honest and careful constructive policies to serve the common good in a time of crisis. The latter has withered under episcopal neglect….

Both the 2007 Barna study and Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s recently released American Grace find that young people who have come of age in the past two decades identify Christianity with the conservative side of the culture war and nothing more. A minority finds this appealing. The rest do not. This is one of the reasons that they are walking away from the church in numbers that exceed the declines of the sixties and seventies.

Our failure to communicate the fullness of the Catholic faith to this generation deprives many of the church heritage that resonates with their deepest moral and political convictions. It also deprives them of the reasons to stay that could help them cross the bridge to other teachings they find more difficult. It deprives those who do stay of full demands of the Catholic faith.”

A small postscript by 3MP- There’s a special kind of arrogance which can so possess a person that he/she is absolutely convinced anyone who opposes him/her in any way must be  opposed to God.  When such an arrogance possesses large numbers of people in its’ grip, someone usually gets hurt – generally, the most vulnerable.

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)

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