The Catholic Review reports that Catholics across the country noted in a recent survey that they want the Church to focus more on "social justice." They note:
In interviews during September, a majority of Catholics told pollsters that they would prefer it if the church would focus its public policy statements "more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor, even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion and the right to life." Sixty percent of Catholics concurred with that statement.
It is hard to put into words how frustrating it is to read such a statement. I've been putting together a series of presentations on the Church's Social Teaching (social justice) trying to correct such misconceptions, and so to read these results from a national survey is just another reminder of how far we have to go. I guess the Titanic, when going in the wrong direction, takes a long time to turn around.
This survey further illustrates that for most Catholics "social justice" is JUST care for the sick and the poor. The Church's ACTUAL teaching on the subject is that "issues like abortion and the right to life" ARE social justice too!! Care for the poor, care for the vulnerable and elderly and homeless is inextricably and intrinsically tied to the right to life, abortion, contraception, religious freedom, etc. Not only are they linked,but the Church's teaching on "social justice" is CRYSTAL CLEAR on the idea that "abortion and the right to life" is MORE important than any other issue, INCLUDING care for the poor. Is the Church saying care for the poor is not important? NO!!! What the Church is saying is that when the right to life is not respected, it is WRONG to place more emphasis on some other issue. Listening to Catholics say "we need less preaching on abortion and right to life stuff, and more preaching on (fill in the blank)" is like watching people standing in the middle of a room that is on fire talking about how they need to vacuum the room more.
No one, looking back on it, would say "I wish the German bishops during the Third Reich would have preached more about the poor and less about the dignity of the person." There is a hierarchy to the values that we ought to have as Catholics and we must shout this from the mountaintop because it doesn't seem to be sinking in!
I think what people mean when they say they want the Church to "focus more on social justice" is that they want a neutered, non-political, toothless hippy Church of Jesus Christ that ONLY cares for the poor and doesn't speak up about any injustice besides economic injustice. Well, folks, that wasn't who Jesus was, that isn't who authentic Catholics were in the past, and that is not what authentic Catholics will EVER be. A person who actually has read the Church's social teaching will know that a Catholic fights against ALL injustice - economic injustice, religious persecution, the stripping of religious freedom, the ripping apart of embryos, abortion, infanticide, etc.
The other revolting part of that statement is that people would decide for themselves what they ought to be hearing from the pulpit. That sounds a lot like a lot of the people in the Old Testament who, when a prophet showed up, had already determined for themselves what the prophet OUGHT to be saying before he arrived. That's a completely backward understanding of what a prophet is. What kind of prophet would a bishop be if he said, "let's take a survey of the people and find out what they would like me to teach and preach about"?
Given most people's understanding of Catholic Social Teaching, in order to help Catholics realize what the Church ACTUALLY says on social teaching, we have "miles to go before we sleep."