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USCCB Social Justice Appointment and Archbishop Chaput’s Interview: Liberating Catholic Social Teaching
September 20th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
How I have longed to see Catholic Social Thought liberated so that it can be offered to our Nation in this her great hour of need. As my dear mother was so fond of saying “Raise the Flag”, it finally seems to be happening.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) – The announcement that Jonathan J. Reyes, Ph.D. will serve as the new Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sent joy into many hearts. Even though I do not personally know Dr. Reyes, I was numbered among them.
He served as the CEO of Catholic Charities and Community Services of the Archdiocese of Denver since 2009. His record of properly applying the real Social Teaching of the Catholic Church was evident. His founding of Christ in the City, work with Regina Caeli Catholic Counseling Services and Lighthouse Women’s Care Center and the Guadalupe Community Assistance Center, all make clear he “walks the talk”. His service to the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) confirms that he lives the mission of the New Evangelization.
His time in the Catholic Academy, including both his service at Christendom College and his co-founding and subsequent leadership of the Augustine Institute, speak volumes. Both institutions are clearly faithful to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and produce wonderful “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5) for service to the Church and the world into which she is sent in this new missionary age. This man is a treasure at just the right time for the US Catholic Church.
On the day I read of this important appointment, I also read Archbishop Chaput ‘s wide ranging interview with John Allen of the National Catholic Register. Of course, anyone who reads me regularly knows of my high regard for the Archbishop. He is a courageous champion in an hour of cowardice. We need as many like him as we can get.
The interview has received a lot of press coverage. It can be read in its entirety here. However, allow me to excerpt one part below:
“(John Allen) We’re speaking on the night Barack Obama is delivering his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Let me ask flat-out: Do you believe a Catholic in good faith can vote for Obama?
“(Archbishop 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.
“(John Allen) What about the wing of the church that says a party that supports the Ryan budget also ought to cause concern?
“(Archbishop 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.
“(John Allen) – That said, do you find the Ryan budget troubling?
“(Archbishop Chaput) – 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. I think a vigorous debate about the issues, rather than the personalities, is the way through this problem. 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.”
Wow! How I have longed to see Catholic Social Thought liberated so that it can be offered to our Nation in this her great hour of need. As my dear mother was so fond of saying “Raise the Flag”, it finally seems to be happening.
It is time to take the truths and principles offered in Catholic Social Teaching out of the rarified academic debates in which they do little practical good and offer them as yeast for the quickly collapsing loaf of American culture. I hope this appointment, along with the comments from Bishops like Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Chaput signal that the liberation of Catholic Social Thought is underway.
It is time to wrest these principles from the camp of some on the political left who have wrongly used them as proof-texts for their social engineering efforts. It is time to offer them to any on the right who have failed to place the human person at the center of all considerations in their dalliance with libertarianism. Both left and right teeter on the brink of losing an authentic humanism which affirms the primacy of the person, the family and the common good.
The truths and principles offered by Catholic social teaching are neither left nor right. They are truly human and critical for our efforts to build a truly just and human society together. The application of the principles can also require the exercise of prudential judgment.
For example, as Archbishop Chaput noted, agree or disagree with Paul Ryan’s exercise of his prudential judgment – and his proposed legislative solutions to the current fiscal crisis- he does exactly what a Catholic in public service should do with the Social Doctrine of the Church.
The Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church confronts what Pope Benedict properly called the “Dictatorship of Relativism” even before he assumed the Papal office. It insists there are unchangeable truths which are revealed by the Natural Law, can be known through the exercise of reason and should inform the social order in every just society.
At the foundation of these truths is the dignity of every human person at every age and stage. To be Pro-Life is NOT to be “single issue” in your political positions; it is about having a world view. It is the dignity of the human person which requires a respect for every human life whether that life be in the first home of the womb, a wheelchair, a jail cell, a hospital room, a hospice, a senior center or a soup kitchen.
Another one of these truths is that marriage is between one man and one woman, intended for life, and ordered toward the bearing and raising of children in the family. Marriage is not some social construct which can be redefined by courts or legislatures. It is the foundation for family and family is the first society, first church, first school, first economy, first government and first mediating institution. The first community which humanizes and civilizes all of us is the family.
Another is that all human persons created in the Image of God are created for relationship and called to human community. We can never fully experience human flourishing outside of social relationships. These relationships are perfective of our human person because we are by nature – and grace – made for these relationships. Catholic Social Thought does not begin with the individual but with the family. The social doctrine affirms our obligation in solidarity to one another. We are our brother/sister’s keeper.
The social doctrine rejects a notion of “freedom” which begins and ends with the isolated, atomistic, person as the measure of its application. Authentic human freedom must be exercised within a moral constitution. We will only grow in freedom when we choose what is good and what is true. Otherwise “freedom” becomes a counterfeit and enslaves us, as individuals and as nations.
The social doctrine offers principles to help us order our economies. It does not propose any particular economic theory. It insists that every economic order be at the service of the human person, human freedom, human flourishing and the family. We are to give a love of preference to the poor, recognizing our solidarity with them. However, this call to solidarity is to be applied through the application of the principle of subsidiarity, rejecting all forms of dehumanizing collectivism, either of the left or the right.
The market economy has been affirmed in recent social teaching – when properly understood and morally structured. However, the Catholic Church stood against the materialism of the atheistic Marxist system and now properly cautions Nations which have adopted a form of liberal capitalism of the dangers of “economism” or materialism which promotes the use of persons as products and fails to recognize the value of being over acquiring.
The truths and principles contained within Catholic social doctrine are not merely “religious” positions, in the sense that only religious people need assent to them. They are revealed by the Natural Law and can be known through the exercise of reason. The truths are true for all people and for all time. The Church calls us to offer them as leaven to be worked into the loaf of human culture.
The appointment of Jonathan J. Reyes, Ph.D. to serve as the new Executive Director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Archbishop Chaput’s interview both give me hope that the Catholic Social Teaching is being liberated – just in the nick of time.