Discussions about Catholic social justice are often characterized by proof texting. Depending on the political inclinations of the commentator he might highlight a quote here or a statement there and pretend to offer a comprehensive outlook.

The proof texting becomes even more incoherent with the insistence of some to absolutize the prudential.  Interestingly, reasonable discourse is often stifled through appeals of authority by people who are so often critical of Church authority in other areas of Catholic teaching. If recent popes, or conferences of bishops, have spoken in a given way on, say, a living wage, their views on the matter are detached of their prudential nature and given the flavor of dogma. Consistency over time or historical context is forfeited as “the popes have spoken.”

Dissent from the now absolutized prudential opinion becomes intolerable, an offense against “social teaching.” It is as if a general principle of Catholic social justice admits only one set of specific commitments, only a narrow substantive interpretation and it is not the one affirmed by “them.” No legitimate diversity of opinion is allowed by gatekeepers of leftist understandings of social justice. And I say leftist because that is exactly what is filtered in their eisegesis, a politics of the left with a veneer of religiosity.

For example, one becomes a racist if one disagrees with the policy of affirmative action because the bishops have at times spoken supportably of that policy. In the minds of some, one cannot be in agreement with the 1979 pastoral letter Brothers and Sisters to All’s affirmation that ‘racism is a sin”[1] if one is not also in agreement today with the same pastoral prudential views on structural racism or with their rather thin justification of racism using economic statistics. A fruitful critical discussion of specifics becomes a negation of general principles.

The viewpoint equates to the proposition that affirmations on economics, sociology, politics and policy are exempt from intellectual evaluation leading to a diversity of opinions if these opinions are contrary to the politics of some. There might be a toleration of a diversity of leftist views but never outside that paradigm. Just recently I experienced this narrowly construed politics under the guise of social justice after I called for Catholic ministry institutions to surrender Federal funding. Such view is deemed inconsistent with Catholicism simply because it does not sit well with the politics of the intelligentsia often standing while keeping the gates.

No, churchmen, even popes, are not granted exemption from struggling with the same difficult issues of prudential applications of social teaching that you and I must struggle with. Catholics can stand side by side in affirming the same general principles while miles apart on how to go about making them alive.  And do not let anyone tell you differently!



[1] U.S. Catholic Bishops, Brothers and Sisters to All: A Pastoral Letter on the Sin of Racism (Washington, D.C.: USCCB, 1979).