A Church with Blades Drawn!

My column at First Things today talks about the ongoing tension between Catholic “Right and Left”, and the conceit behind it:

There exists an undeniable tension between left-leaning “social justice” Catholics and the right-leaning “pro-life” side; they share a conceit of primacy—one side sees itself as more compassionate; the other as more obedient. I personally know “social justice” Catholics who will pretend pro-lifers care nothing for the poor. And I certainly know pro-lifers who think the “social justice” side pays only reluctant lip-service to church teachings on abortion and euthanasia.

That we do not wholly respect each other is inarguable; I credit “nun on the bus” Sister Simone Campbell for speaking with refreshing honesty when she said, “I have allowed a very narrow perspective on what is life . . . I don’t want to be thought of as in [the pro-life] camp. Because of my pride, as opposed to my faith.”

I wait in joyful hope for the day a pro-lifer can admit that, while she cares deeply for the plight of the poor, she just can’t stand the idea of being associated with that “kumbaya hippie remnant.”

Our unwillingness to charitably credit each other with being truly concerned about both “life” and “justice” issues—to see them as shared burdens differentiated only by their weight of emphasis and theoretical “solutions”—is tearing us apart.

Contemplating this past Sunday’s gospel reading could, I think, help mend our rifts.

You can read the rest, here

Deacons Greg’s homily this past weekend struck a similar chord:

…there can be other things that get in the way of following Christ. Other things we possess. Maybe it’s a fear of change, an inability to trust or to love. Maybe it’s a stubborn attachment to a particular sin.

Maybe it’s something rooted in fear, or insecurity, or our own resistance to change.

How hard it is for us sometimes to give up those things, to let them go.
So often, the things we possess aren’t things at all.
And often, we don’t possess them. They possess us.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Briana

    Isn’t being pro-life also social justice? There’s a t-shirt out-Social Justice Begins in the Womb. It’s not either or.

  • AL

    Why is there a box to leave comments but no link to the comments that have been left?

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    I don’t have blades drawn against social justice Catholics. We just disagree on the best approach to helping the poor. I do respect them. Most government programs aren’t even for the poor, but for middle class Americans. Funding people who can support themselves is not social justice, unless social justice means redistribution. Where I have blades drawn are for pro-abortion Catholics. That is beyond the pale.

  • TerryC

    As long as we continue to let the left set the talking points we have no chance of proclaiming the Truth. It is not the “social-justice” side and the “pro-life” side. There is the side who believes in socialism and disregards Church teaching, and the orthodox side. You take abortion out of the discussion (though the right to life is the most fundamental right) and you are still left with a group who support practices which are at variance with Catholic social teaching.
    True social justice is about the right of all people to food, shelter and human dignity. Not the right to cell phones, big screen TV’s and free contraception. It is about access to the pursuit of happiness, not about results. About access to education, not about awards for everyone.
    Charity is a personal responsibility. It is not charity to take money from those who work for it to give to those who don’t. It is not even social justice, since social justice concerns things that everyone has a right to irregardless of their choices. Charity often concerns helping people in spite of their choices.
    The Church says that answers to Social Justice are matters of prudential judgment. That basically means that I can choose to help the poor by giving directly or by joining others in a collective Church or lay organization to help the poor. That is a matter of prudential judgment. The government has a role. It’s role is to ensure that individuals or government agencies do not promote injustice, such as by altering the playing field to pick winners and losers based on arbitrary factors. It’s role is not to act in a way that causes dependency or is an insult to human dignity.
    At bottom the fact is that the policies of using government to redistribute wealth is an affront to the human dignity of those it is suppose to be helping. It makes them dependent on the government and after almost half a century of implementation has not improved society, but made it worse.
    As long as we continue to allow the left to frame this subject as a discussion between two equally valid world views, rather than as a conflict between Truth as given by the Church and the opposing view which is not truth, we will be at a disadvantage.
    Do I respect “social justice” crowd? I respect the fact that they are created in the image and likeness of God. I do not respect their inconsistent theology and philosophy. Nor do I respect their lack of sociological and historical knowledge which clearly indicates the fallacy of their theories.

  • LadyBird

    Do we not have a final authority on matters of Faith and Morals? I don’t understand “the blades are drawn.” You either follow the Magesterium, pray that they change, or opt out of the Church. We don’t get to vote and you do not change the Catholic Church from grassroots movements. It is not a democracy.

    When nuns get on a bus funded by George Soros an international billionaire, to campaign for the President who supports late term abortion and the HHS mandate, they are not speaking for the Church. Their dissent is political. However, if they are not happy with the teachings of the Catholic Church, world-wide there are over 250,000 Christian denominations all created from some form of dissent. The nuns are free to join one of these or create their own. Who says they don’t have “choice?”
    It’s not a matter of “Our unwillingness to charitably credit each other with being truly concerned about both “life” and “justice” issues.” I believe we should respect others’ opinions. However, in matters of faith and morals our individual opinions are subjugated to the church’s teachings. So I don’t pass judgement on the nuns or other people who disagree with the Church’s position. I wish priests were allowed to marry and I wish that divorce was allowed but until the Magesterium changes their position on this, and I want to remain Catholic, I will abide.

  • bill bannon

    Terry C.,
    Only 4.1% of the U.S. is on total welfare. But 40% of the child births in the U.S. are covered by medicaid because some states with Fed partnership cover those pregnant women who are 160% of the Federal Poverty level and some states like N.Y. cover low paid workers up to 200% of the Federal poverty level…around $31K for a single female in a high rent state. A poster at Elizabeth’s First Things article notes that Walmart workers on average receive $420K per store per year in food stamp and other governmental help. Therefore alleged free market capitalism in America is sometimes being subsidized by forms of welfare which allow Walmart to pay low
    wages but charge you only $2.48 for a half gallon of Silk chocolate soy milk while A&P charges
    you $4.48. So governmental help to low paid workers is not only helping low paid workers but it is also profiting Walmart and it is profiting affluent people who buy at Walmart and it is hurting A&P who apparently pay their help more of a living wage than nearer a minimum wage.
    I don’t know what the solution is. Does capitalism need a higher minimum wage for large corporations at least so that their people simply don’t think of needing food stamps? Part of this poverty reality is the divorce rate which the US assured by allowing it historically and then making it easier later with no fault divorce. But in general the free market isn’t solving certain things because sometimes the free market will pay a wage that it can get away with in the context of known government benefits to those within a certain percent of the Federal Poverty

  • Frank

    I for one was very willing not to be a one issue voter and voted Democratic candidates when I thought they had a better plan or in most cases against he other who had a worse plan. But I have seen that agenda is exactly that. Make thoughtful people who wish to see the government act on behalf of the less fornuate or unable to fend for themselve feel as if they are fallling for the singe issue dupe. It worked and it works especially in contests where our choices are mostly about who to vote against. I realized this within the last 10 years. I am a one issue voter because I feel I helped and abetted unbridled abortion, post birth abortion, euthanasia and the rest of the culture of death agenda. I feel really bad. I do what I can to support NGO, charities to make the difference in others lives. I know the government has ultimate power here to make lasting and beneficial change but I am hung up. I voted that way most of my voting life, 30 years. Now I see what I got and it is not at all what I wanted. The ends don’t justify the means. Summa Theologica Vol 3 Part II

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Something to consider:

    Every tyranny that emerged during the 20th Century claimed to be helping somebody: the poor, the workers, the proletariat, victims of the “Hun”, victims of the Versailles Treaty, victims of the evil colonial era, etc., etc., etc. They all started out with good intentions. Remember what the road to you-know-where is paved with?

    And, as a corollary, there was always an “Enemy”, who was attacking the allegedly helpless victims of the world:The Rich, the Capitalists, the Jews (always a popular scapegoat), narrow minded Christians (another popular scapegoat), the Kulaks, the 1%, Republicans, Conservatives, rednecks, counter-revolutionaries, “People who don’t pay their fair share of taxes!”, Kulaks, etc., etc., etc.

    History has shown us how all that worked out. Let’s not go down that road again. And let’s not let spiritual pride—feeling good about our own virtue—deceive us into supporting things that don’t, in the long run, help the poor (or anybody else), at all. Let’s also remember that envy, and avarice, like greed, are sins, and that working ourselves up into Orwellian rages over those who allegedly oppress the poor, is also a sin. (The victims of the Gulag and the concentration camps can tell you all about that.)

  • Ted Seeber

    I get pounded by both sides when I insist that you can’t be pro-life and leave a man to freeze to death on a cold sidewalk, and you can’t be for the poor if you tell a pregnant mother that you will only feed her four children in your soup kitchen if she kills the fifth.

  • Ted Seeber

    Manny wrote: “Funding people who can support themselves is not social justice, unless social justice means redistribution. ”

    Read Rerum Novarum, and then tell me what Social Justice means.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    None of the pro-life Christians, Jews, Hindus or other religious people I know would leave a man to freeze to death on a sidewalk.

    As for telling a mother she has to kill her children, in order to escape poverty—this is actually a leftover from the 19th Century (a lot of our supposedly “Modern” thinking actually dates from the Woodrow Wilson era, and a bit before), and the theory of Eugenics (considered legitimate science, back then), which believed the unfit were not only a drag on society, but an actual menace (see my earlier post about needing enemies), and “Useless Eaters”, who would destroy white, Western society, if they were allowed to proliferate.

    This point of view was widely accepted by the progressives of that time, who considred the Church, and most “Old Fashioned” Christians their enemies, since they clung to the supposedly outmoded belief that all human life was sacred, and they insisted on “immorally” caring for the poor, rather than doing the “right” thing, and letting them die, so all the fine, fit and eugenically upright wouldn’t be burdened with them.

    (Just a bit of historical geekery, this fine Tuesday afternoon! Also, surf the internet about Margaret Sanger, sometime! She was a real, um. . . little cupcake! /sarc.)

  • http://wwwseattlehelpers.org Matt Ulrich

    We now have a 2 issue stance for voting–Abortion and homosexual marriage, and thanks
    to Bishop John Paprocki from Springfield, for writing about that in his catholic newspaper,
    for all of his Diocese to see. If you recall according to “Faithful Citizenship” the Bishops
    way of informing conscience they said we should not be 1 issue voters, but should
    consider all of a candidates views (hogwash). Thanks to Bishop Paprocki we have to
    consider at least 2 issues and that is what we are looking at in the state of Washington.
    My practicing Catholic friends please look at the democractic platform of promoting
    abortion and that they do, and their support for homosexual marriage and tell me that
    doesn’t go against our Catholic faith. The closing statement by the faithful Bishop from
    Springfield says it all, ” I am not telling you who to vote for or against, but I am saying
    that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a
    candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely
    sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul
    in serious jeopardy ” .
    Matt Ulrich, Helper’s of God’s Precious Infants, Seattle chapter

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Ted, does Rerum Novarum really say that you should give money to support people who are already well able to support themselves?

    Wouldn’t it be better to give that money to actual poor people, who need it?

    And, given redistribution’s dismal history, isn’t it time we dropped it as a way of helping the poor, and tried something different? After all, hasn’t insanity been defined as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results?

  • Will

    Federal welfare law allows a person to receive cash assistance (TANF or Temporary Aid to Needy Families, formerly ADC) for five years maximum lifetime. Many states have lower limits. Is a really bad when Medicaid (which has specific rules and requirements) pays for the birth of a child or any other medical bill?

  • Nicky

    One of the few times I have been disappointed with your perspective. It seems shallow for the deep thinker and writer that I have learned to respect. I have benefited from your “teaching”. But…did not Pope John Paul send his flock a “letter” in 2004 that instructed us on the sanctity of life when considering our “vote”? If I remember correctly it answered how we should view this tension.

  • Linda

    I believe that social justice and pro-life ideas are of the same coin. They also require action on my part, am I willing to share my wealth with those who need a home, food, job, education, and medication or am I just going to talk about it or put a few dollars in the “poor box”. I pray that I have the courage to roll up my sleeves and be of service and deliver hope and reality. Am I willing to journey with a woman who is pregnant for what ever reason and feels there is no other answer to abort the life within her. Do I have the strength to pray with her for forgiveness, to stay with her when she hands her baby into the hands of a stranger, to feed her body and her soul??? We all have hard questions to answer, but it takes our hands, our feet, our words, our dollars, our time to speak and work for those whose voice is weaken and see no hope…one mouth, one illness, one heart at a time. Today I will take action.

  • Ted Seeber

    “Ted, does Rerum Novarum really say that you should give money to support people who are already well able to support themselves?”

    No, but it does say that in most capitalist systems the owners are guilty of the intrinsic evil of *denying the laborer his wages* and that redistribution of *ownership* is necessary to fix this situation.

    I don’t know about you, but I live in a state where most of the politicians were born elsewhere, and most of the property is owned by people who live out of state.

    And where EVERY winter, poor people DO freeze to death on the sidewalks, while richer citizens walk by and do NOTHING.

    “Wouldn’t it be better to give that money to actual poor people, who need it?”

    It would be better to skip the money, take foreclosed houses, and get the homeless off the streets. But that’s “redistribution” as well, isn’t it? Anyway, that’s the word Pope Leo XIII used in Rerum Novarum.

    “And, given redistribution’s dismal history, isn’t it time we dropped it as a way of helping the poor, and tried something different? ”

    Near as I can tell, true Catholic redistribution has never even been tried. We replace it with Welfare.

    “After all, hasn’t insanity been defined as doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results?”

    Yes it is. And thinking that redistribution of ownership is the same as redistribution of tax money is a mistake that is made over and over, and yet you keep expecting different results.

  • Ted Seeber

    Likewise though- like I said, I can’t understand the Democrats either- so willing to give welfare, but only at the demand that the poor reduce their numbers through eugenics. I’d rather Medicaid pay for a hundred million births, then have one red cent go to Planned Parenthood for abortion. Maybe if we paid women to be mothers, the same way we pay men to be professional managers, we’d have a half a chance at convincing women not to get abortions. A single mother is worth 20 CEOs.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Well, I don’t know, Ted. My husband and I pay our taxes, but it never seems to go to helping poor, and homeless people. It always seems to go for stuff like foreign aid to countries that don’t like us very much, politicians’ salaries and our failing public school systems, and various weird social experiments, such as demanding we buy birth control of 30-year old college students.

    So I don’t think higher taxes are ever the answer to anything. It just gives the elites more money to play with—not a good idea.

    Capitalist societies have their problems, but they’re as nothing compared to communist, or feudal ones—talk about your intrinsic evils!

    Where I live, my evil, fat-cat, imperialist employers have always paid me. And, if where you live, people really are freezing to death on the streets—that’s an indictment of the people who live there, not caplitalism, business men, Republicans, etc.; shame on them, for permitting this, and for selling off their state to the highest bidder!

    I’m not Catholic. I’m not obligated to abide by Rerum Novarum, or to support any Catholic social programs—and “Catholic Redistributism” honestly doesn’t sound, um–trustworthy. I mean it sounds good; this kind of thing always does (go back to my earlier post where I talk about how the tyrannies of the 20th Century all started out trying to help somebody); “Redistribution of ownership” is not a good idea. (Both the Nazis and the Communists tried it.) And who decides who gets what, and how it gets distributed, and who is “worthy” to get something, and who isn’t? Yeah, yeah, yeah, some central committee somewhere will decide how it all gets redistributed—but who’se going to keep an eye on them? The Pope? The local bishop? The Ladies Altar Committee? And who’se bring them to book if they become corrupt? (Always a danger, even in a religious organization—especially in religious organizations!)

    And, as always, the Redistributists are going to need a cadre of strongmen, to make sure everybody gets their fair share, and those “bad’ businessmen hand over everything they’re not entitled to, and twist their arms a bit, if they balk. . .

    Say hello, once again, to those jolly chaps who’ve helped make the 20th Century so much fun! The secret police/Cheka/Vice police/leg breakers, whatever they’ll decide to call themselves; “No one expects the Catholic Redistribution Inquisition!” Religious redistribution, no matter how idealistic or well-intended in its beginnings, wouldn’t work any better than the ordinary, non-Catholic, non-religious variety—in fact, it might be worse. As C.S. Lewis once said, if you have to live under a tyranny, it might be better to live under a heedless robber baron, then a self-righteous Grand Inquisitor, who will torment you because, in his mind, it’s the right thing to do.

    Progressives push birth control because they adhere to old ideas that should have become outmoded sometime around the end of WWI, but, alas, have stuck around, long past their sell-by date; also, because they’re convinced that abortion is the key to endless sexual freedom, and they’re loathe to give that up. (Again, look up Margaret Sanger, on BING.)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    It depends on the single mother, Ted.

    I’ve met some pretty unlikeable, and irresponsible ones. And, no, it’s not a good idea to start paying them money to have children. (Doesn’t the state already do something like that?)

    Bringing back adoption (if the state will allow religious organizations to run adoption centers) would be a better idea.

  • Will

    When I worked for the state human services department, private and religious charities had much more demand than they could handle. They did not advocate reducing public assistance. There are some that take advantage of the system, but most need temporary help and are off the system.

  • Manny


    You speak as if hundreds if not thousands of poverty programs don’t currently exist. You speak as if trillions of dollars over the past five decades hven’t been spent by government on poverty programs. You speak as if millions of people are homeless and starving. You live in a strawman world.

    You answered:
    “No, but it does say that in most capitalist systems the owners are guilty of the intrinsic evil of *denying the laborer his wages* and that redistribution of *ownership* is necessary to fix this situation.”

    Who is denying people wages? I repeat, you live in a strawman world. If that is true, then get our very bishops to start identifying who is being denied wages and speak out loudly about it. As far as I know, it is illegal by our law code (not just moral law) to deny people their wage.