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Does Catholic Social Justice Equal Big Government?

October 3, AD2017

march for lifeThe political left and secularists have hijacked the term “social justice”. Ask anyone and they will describe social justice in terms of wealth distribution and expanding the role of government in the name of justice. This might sound ideal. Who would not want to be for spreading the wealth? But for the last few decades, the political left’s definition of social justice has been a catchphrase for increasing government power over the lives of individuals in the name of justice and equality.

This definition and the left’s plan to implement it by government force does not increase justice. It decreases it because the rise of government power will destroy the family, society and the Catholic Church.

But what does the Catholic Church say about the state’s role in social justice?

Dignity of Man

An important aspect of Catholic Social Justice teaching is the “transcendent dignity of man.” This means that each life is sacred, and God is present in each person. The bible says that “God created mankind in his image” (Genesis 1:26-31). “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb (Psalms 139:13-16)”. Jesus showed us how to treat people with respect and dignity in his interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:1-42.

Catholics take very seriously that each person is to be treated decently, humanely and justly.  Because each person we encounter is an interaction with God.

But in our current state of affairs, government programs usurp the role of the Church in the name of the new definition of social justice.  The government does not uphold the “dignity of man”  because these government programs do not respect life and do not treat each life as precious. Examples abound such as, federal funding to Planned Parenthood, pro-euthanasia laws, and forced participation in programs that are contrary to the teachings of Christ.

Individuals are turned into cogs for the government not as instruments of God’s plan.

The Church Teaches Restraint

The Catholic Church does not command the government to take over the individual’s responsibility for charity. On the contrary, the Church teaches that the government should be restrained. Because it is the individual that has to be active in helping their fellow man, not a society under coercion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1931):

Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.” No legislation could by itself do away with the fears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness which obstruct the establishment of truly fraternal societies. Such behavior will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a ‘neighbor,’ a brother.

The Church understands that the government cannot force and legislate people to be charitable. Only through Christian charity can people help each other.

Voluntary Associations

The Catechism (CCC 1882) goes on to say:

To promote the participation of the greatest number in the life of a society, the creation of voluntary associations and institutions must be encouraged “on both national and international levels, which relate to economic and social goals, to cultural and recreational activities, to sport, to various professions, and to political affairs.”

The key word in the paragraph above is voluntary. God gave us free will not just to live out our lives but to help and to love each other.

Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (CCC 1883)

The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. (CCC 1885)

The Church understands that limited government is best for a free people to practice charity and respect life. Charity freely given by people is vastly superior to the welfare state. The funds voluntarily donated will be used more likely to causes that support life, the individual and promote justice.

The Profit Motive

What about profit? The Church understands the role of profit and how it benefits society. We cannot survive without it, and with it “they make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and they guarantee employment (CCC 2432)“. But the Church also understands that every practice should not be reduced to the pursuit of profit.

And let it be reinforced that the Church, “Has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies in modern times with “communism” or “socialism” (CCC 2425)“. The left’s definition of social justice preaches socialism. It expands the role of government. It forces people by violence to be “charitable”. Once force is used it takes away the dignity of the person.

Not a Choice

The Church’s Social Justice teaching is not a political left or right choice. It is a way to bring God’s love to the unfortunate. The teachings remind Catholics that each human being is precious and deserves respect and dignity. The political left’s definition of social justice is contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching. Because it enlarges the role of government and demeans the dignity of man.

Catholics should be not be swayed by the promise of money or large programs controlled from the government in the name of Social Justice.  Because once money is taken, it’s a pack with the devil.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Sean Morrisroe is husband to a wonderful woman and father of to an 11-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter. He served 10 years in the US Marine Corps as an infantryman and in his post Marine Corps career has worked at investment banks, business valuations firms and public companies focusing on mergers & acquisitions. Sean graduated from UC Irvine with a BA in History, attended the London School of Economics and received a certificate in Finance from UCLA.

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  • Pueblo Southwest

    Bureaucracy always tend to perpetuate itself no matter the institution. The Church preaches subsidiarity but seems to always look to government to solve problems. Even Catholic Charities receives almost 70% of its funding from government for its programs. One exception to this looking to government are the chapters of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in many parishes. They are run by the laity and are quite effective at dealing with poverty on a person to person level. There is probably a lesson somewhere here.

  • Except for issues like abortion and contraception, Catholic social justice always feels leftist.

  • Sean

    SJ is nothing other than big government if you listen to this pope and his lieutenants. The bishop of Rome is quite comfortable with big government and has no problem at all if it happens to be a Marxist big government.
    The cards are all on the table and the mask has been removed. Bet on it.

  • Pueblo Southwest

    From a purely pragmatic observation, it can be said that in many instances of social programs and action, effectiveness is inversely proportionate to the level of government involvement. As a retired federal employee, I can personally attest to the truth of that proposition. I have seen local governments address needs and emergencies more quickly and efficiently than many federal programs of the same nature. It is not a matter of the competence of the worker but the natural inertia and complexity of implementation the higher up the chain one goes. One need only look at such agencies as the EPA, Agriculture Dept (more employees than farmers) and the myriad of health and welfare departments that spend more time on administration than function. It is most unfortunate that many of our Church worthies have bought into the “big is better” idea. It doesn’t work and they lose credibility in the process.

    • Thank you for the ‘inside’ look at federal-level efforts. I see the situation as a pretty good reason to practice subsidiarity – – – letting folks as close to an issue as possible deal with the issue.

      My experience has been that individuals at all levels seem reasonably willing and able to help.

      A big difference between a neighborhood group and a national government entity is how many levels of administration and management we deal with.

      Also to what extent the rules for the group or entity try to deal efficiently with a local issue – – – or satisfy various committees, legal staff, and others that each action is precisely defined to deal with every circumstance. The same way. For folks dealing with different circumstances, with different resources, and different practical limitations. Like I said, subsidiarity makes sense.

  • Yes! And thank you for the Catechism references and links. That’s an excellent resource.

    I became increasingly disappointed in how folks running my country’s government were implementing their notion of social justice. I had learned about the idea in my youth, back in the ’60s, and it seemed to make sense. Certainly more sense than what much of I saw in the status quo.

    Decades later, I became a Catholic. Some time after that, I learned that the Catholic Church said social justice is a good idea, *And* defined social justice in a way that made sense: not demanding the ‘free to agree with me’ ethic I was more familiar with.

    I still thought social justice, as it had been presented to me in my youth, made sense. I was very pleased to see it defined in a way that seemed reasonable. My opinions hadn’t been quite what the Church says, but changing/correcting my views wasn’t difficult in this case.

    I’ve talked/written about the ‘makes sense’ version a few times, including this from last year: “Amos and Social Justice” http://brendans-island.com/catholic-citizen/amos-and-social-justice/ .

  • Guy McClung

    Sean-Semper FI! from an old Army infantryman to a marine! I think you are spot on. Also, unfortunately in the USA [if I am still allowed to say here “USA, USA, USA”], there is a huge overlap between the political left, the Democrats Party of Death and more than many prelates, pastors, priests and laity with power, influence, and sway in the Church. These folks are not like Democrats, they are Democrats. Yes-I know and do not deny that there are Republicans of death, but they have not come out and declared that their entire party is a death party. I hope these prelates, etc. read and heed your words. Guy McClung, Texas

  • texasknight

    Those that promote taking property (e.g., money) from some and giving it to others are guilty of theft. They are guilty of defrauding workers of their just wages, a sin that cries out to Heaven for vengeance (Deut 24:14-15; Jas 5:4).

  • captcrisis

    Congress has let CHIP expire. The bishops decry this. In their letter to Congress, the USCCB said, “We have encouraged Congress to strengthen, expand and improve the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).” According to you, this is not in line with Catholic social teaching.

    • Micha_Elyi

      Once upon a time our bishops in the United States cozyed up to Caesar and begged Caesar to shower largesse upon the People in the form of a health care scheme. How shocked and dismayed when Caesar turned on them and in the guise of health care began financing temples to Moloch all across the land.

      Moral of the story, avoid the near occasion of sin known as Big Government.

      By the way, have any of those bishops publicly repented of their demand that Big Government take over the health care industry in the US?

  • JTLiuzza

    “Who would not want to be for spreading the wealth?”

    Me.

    If you support confiscatory taxation (theft) and “redistribution” (induced dependency on other’s labor and quid pro quo: other people’s money for votes) then you are unquestionably part of the problem.

    • Micha_Elyi

      Yes. Cozying up to Caesar (government) is a near occasion of sin.

    • Guy McClung

      Mich E- And then it IS a sin if you cozy enough.

      Look from Bishop to Democrat, and then from Democrat to Priest, and from Priest to Democrat and from Democrat to Bishop. And keep in mind the Democrat RETA policy of black genocide. RETA = racial eugenic targeted abortion.

      “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig; and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” George Orwell; Last sentence – Animal Farm

      Guy McClung, Texas

  • YoikesAndAway

    The whole issue with SJ, church or government, is whose name is it done under. Does SJ done under the name of government give glory to God? Giving God the credit for the action, motivation, as well as why it is a SJ seems to have been lost or forgotten. Secular social justice, aka government, is not attributed to God specifically or at all and is therefore man made or self glorification. Is it not God who determines what is good and what is not, what is kindness, compassion, mercy, justice? To some extent, humanity has usurped/supplanted the real fact that everything this world considers good (with the exception of societal definitions in the last 10-20 yrs) is from God, but we no longer give Him the honor, thanks or glory for revealing that goodness to us. Without the direct connection to God and His teaching to us about right and wrong, good and evil (which is what SJ is suppose to be) all SJ is no longer social justice and as we have all seen in the past few years has become twisted and lacks real truths. Today’s social justice is nothing more than anarchy and a deep desire to dominate not on higher truths, but because of humanistic theories and ideologies.