Why I’ve been spending more energy learning and discussing Catholic Social Teaching…

Why I’ve been spending more energy learning and discussing Catholic Social Teaching… September 29, 2015

…then rehashing Greatest Hits on Apologetic Stuff my readers have already heard:

“A Christianity which does little in practice, while incessantly explaining its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle.

A pastor must show that the ‘Gospel of the family’ is truly ‘good news’ in a world where self-concern seems to reign supreme! We are not speaking about some romantic dream: the perseverance which is called for in having a family and raising it transforms the world and human history.”
– Pope Francis speaking at St. Charles Borromeo seminary Sat. Sept. 26, 2015

I often hear the lament, “Why don’t you stick to apologetics? Why are you on about Catholic Social Teaching and all that liberal stuff? You’re such a huge disappointment!”

Well, there’s no denying I’m a huge disappointment. But it still seems to me that I have a duty to learn and try to live the Church social doctrine and not just stick to apologetics, and the Pope just said why. Apologetics is for helping people get past intellectual roadblocks so they can embrace the proclamation of the gospel. It’s a useful endeavor, but it has a danger: you can get stuck there at the pitfall of “Tell me again how awesome I am for being Catholic and how dumb Those Guys Are for Not Getting It”.

Worse still, it can create a subculture in which simply repeating a small round of Catholic apologetics talking points can become a substitute for the whole teaching of the faith, particularly in a political atmosphere where it has become very much in the interest of one party to massage the faithful into believing that opposition to abortion takes away the sins of the world.

This is part of why Francis is disorienting for many. He has forcefully brought back something that most conservative Catholics had somehow convinced themselves was either ignorable or even heretical: the Seamless Garment. After 30 years of a politics that had taught them that virtually all of Catholic Social teaching could be ignored or edited just so long as you embraced the five non-negotiables (and most of all, opposition to abortion) Francis has very forcefully made clear that the unborn cannot be used as human shields for support for unjust war, torture, contempt for the weakest and policies that harm the family or the refugee. All this, thought to be “liberal”, turns out to simply be Catholic and requires more from us than simply saying “abortion is non-negotiable and everything else is prudential judgement that we can blow off”. It *challenges us to act*, which is much less fun than hearing again that we have the Real Presence in the Eucharist and Protestants are wrong about that.

Don’t get me wrong. Apologetics will always be important. I don’t unsay a word I’ve written on it and I will doubtless write more. But it’s only a weigh station. Action in response to the full-orbed teaching of the Church is critical. This pope is making that call urgent.

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  • capaxdei

    Pope Francis warned the UN to “avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences.” It’s easy to see what he means when talking to well-funded diplomats. It may be harder to see how it might apply to living the Christian life in a society that ignores, attacks, or co-opts declarations of Christian teaching.

  • The unborn cannot be used as human shields for support for “some evil”, just as the poor cannot be used as human shields for support for “some evil”. How do we negotiate these two? I struggle with it.

    I do think that for people who don’t understand the faith, social justice just becomes “volunteerism”. You will NOT love a God you do not know, and you will NOT serve a God you do not love. It starts with knowing and moves to loving.

    • ManyMoreSpices

      This ratchet only works one way. That’s why we remain waiting for Mark to announce that those who oppose capital punishment for criminals but support abortion aren’t really opposed to capital punishment, and that those who support an increase in the minimum wage but support abortion aren’t really in favor of raising the minimum wage.

      It sounds pretty dumb when you say it that way, doesn’t it? It should. Because it’s a terrible argument.

      • Alma Peregrina

        “Those who oppose capital punishment for criminals but support abortion aren’t really opposed to capital punishment”

        I may be dumb, but I think it’s a good argument. Just like I find it a good argument if I tweek your minimum wage quote just a little:

        “Those who support social justice but support abortion aren’t really in favor of social justice”

        Not what you and Mark had in mind… but still good.

        • Dan13

          Oh come on, we all know that one can be a selfish hedonist who never gives any time or money to charity but still be considered a “good person” as long as one votes for a democrat and puts up a rainbow profile picture on Facebook. After all, that is what social justice is, it isn’t following the Corporal Works of Mercy or anything crazy like that . . .

        • ManyMoreSpices

          If Mark’s argument were that you’re not fully pro-life if you’re [more] in favor of capital punishment [than the Church allows], he would have a point. Instead he writes:

          “On the contrary, the unborn are, for a huge number of Movement Conservatives, merely human shields for the real non-negotiables, such as zeal for the death penalty. Given the choice, the money, time, and energy will go toward doggedly defending the death penalty, or other so-called “prudential judgments” and not toward the defense of the unborn. The unborn only get trotted out to say “Vote for us or the baby gets it.”

          Note that Mark does not say that huge numbers of the left use minimum-wage earners and convicted murderers as human shields for the real non-negotiable: abortion. Because the idea that leftists are insincere about abolishing the death penalty and hiking the minimum wage is preposterous.

          He’s got a point about being consistently pro-life. But he’s using the Seamless Garment to strangle opponents to his right. He’s not merely saying that conservatives need to get better at being pro-life. He’s saying that they’re not actually anti-abortion.

          • Alma Peregrina

            I said it was not what Mark had in mind.

            Now, regarding Mark’s argument, I think that you are confusing some things. Mark’s point is not that *every* right-winger has this tactic. He’s saying that “A huge number of Movement Conservatives…” meaning it’s not *all* and it’s conservatives belonging to the *movement* (meaning they’re people highly involved politically).

            And I think he has a point. It doesn’t *strangle* the right-wing if you acknowlege you have a problem with those people. In fact, not acknowleging this problem is what could strangle the right-wing.

            Do you deny that there is a certain political movement that uses its energies to fight for social policies that are against catholic teaching, all the while using abortion to blackmail catholics into supporting them?

            If you do, I’m sorry, I don’t.

            As for your comparison to the left-wing, I think it’s apt. We *may* see the left-wing as saying: “Either you allow us to make abortion a social right or the poor gets it”. However, it is not as explicit as right-wing pundits… but if you really look at it, it’s there, all right.

        • Marthe Lépine

          I would add that one might see abortion as some kind of pre-emptive capital punishment, done before a person has even the tiniest possibility of even developing violent tendencies…

          • Alma Peregrina

            Yes. Especially when pro-choicers use the Freakonomics argument, they’re being pro-death penalty. And what’s worse, without due judgment.

      • Dan13

        You have a false equivalency. Mark isn’t saying that those who support torture or the death penalty are not anti-abortion; he is saying that they aren’t pro-life.

        In order to be pro-life you must be anti-abortion. However, just because you are anti-abortion does not necessarily mean you are pro-life. “Anti-abortion” and “pro-life” are not synonyms. Rather an anti-abortion view is one necessary plank in the pro-life position, perhaps the most important one, but not the only one. One should also support the rest of the “seamless garment.”

        • ManyMoreSpices
        • Alma Peregrina

          MMS’s point is not about the “antiabortion, not prolife” argument, it’s about the “if you fight for other political issues, then abortion isn’t your top priority” argument.

          He has a certain point. Someone may be against abortion and *still* fight other political fights. If you want to know an accurate equivalency, it would be when liberals tell you: “Why are you guys trying to outlaw abortion? Why don’t you try to help the poor instead?”

          It’s unfair, isn’t it? It assumes that, just because you are pro-life, you don’t care for the poor.

          Where MMS fails, in my opinion, is that he doesn’t see that Mark is denouncing a real phenomenon here. Namely that some people that scold social justice catholics about abortion being a top priority in politics, on the other hand, spend much of their time and energies fighting political battles other than abortion… and, worse of all, the fight *against* the Church. Their energies and resources are badly allocated… and more in favor of a certain political ideology or party than in favor of the unborn.

          • How many Catholics who otherwise accept general moral teachings of the Church are pro death penalty or pro torture, I wonder?

            I don’t know. But it just doesn’t seem likely to be very much to me. Not a big enough percentage to warrant the emphasis and repetition of this discussion. Just reading this blog, you would think this was endemic to Catholic culture.

            The percentage of Catholics who are pro contraception, divorce and remarriage, drunkenness or drug use, missing Mass, gay marriage, abortion, ignore the poor, withhold wages, etc, seems so much larger, that it just feels trivial to keep fighting with some unimaginably small sliver of Catholics who are otherwise orthodox, try to live good lives, and yet support the death penalty or our military tactics.

            There are many Catholics who miss those two checkboxes in ADDITION to many of the aforementioned. But in those cases, is death penalty really so important that it deserves this much airtime over the others on this blog?

            If often feels that Mark is scolding not an actual problematic group of Catholics, but rather a former version of himself.

            • Alma Peregrina

              “How many Catholics who otherwise accept general moral teachings of the Church are pro death penalty or pro torture, I wonder?”

              I don’t know. Especially since that is an almost completely american phenomenon. You will find almost no catholic outside the USA that is pro death penalty or pro torture.

              And I do agree the percentage of catholics that have the cafeteria open to all those issues is much larger. Should we spend more time discussing them? Maybe… but it’s Mark’s blog and Mark writes what he wants.

              Also, let’s not downplay torture or death penalty here. Death penalty *is* important. There are people *dying* because of it. And torture is an intrinsecally imoral evil. So, it is not so innocuous to be heterodox on these issues.

              Maybe I’m wrong here (and maybe I’ll be murdered for saying this), but I *do* think that abortion is more important than the death penalty or torture… but I also think that the death penalty and torture are more important than, say, gay “marriage”. I even think that social justice, drunkenness, drugs, divorce… are more important than gay “marriage”. And yet, conservatives spend lots of time on gay “marriage” disproportionately to other more pressing matters.

              • Of course I understand this is an American thing. I also get that this is Marks blog. Sure he can talk about whatever he wants.

                Finally I’m not going start ranking death penalty or whatever. But when you look at the reasons people hold contrary views, if they disagree with a bunch of Catholic teachings they are likely so unchatechized that arguments like seamless garment ect are unlikely to phase them. Death penalty is so far from the basics, it doesn’t seem like a good place to start.

                The way Mark writes he seems to be speaking to an educated, engaged, generally consenting Catholic audience. I’m left wondering how many of such people are actively supporting DP? It seems like wasted breath. (Much like my own posts I guess.. shrug)

                • Alma Peregrina

                  “The way Mark writes he seems to be speaking to an educated, engaged, generally consenting Catholic audience. I’m left wondering how many of such people are actively supporting DP?”

                  I think there have been combox comments of catholics that testify that they turned from their heterodoxy on death penalty and torture by reading Mark’s blog.

                  Mind you, those were informed, catechized catholics… but that were deceived by current american culture that they would be *more* catholic if they followed the GOP on these issues rather than the popes.

                  Mark’s blog is neccessary to counterbalance the vast amount of conservative-dissident catholics on the media.

                  • OK. I see your point. If there has been one person who fixed their view then Marks hammering the issue has been profitable. Ill buy that. You win 🙂

                    • Alma Peregrina

                      I really am not here to *win*, but to have some pleasant conversations about issues that interest me. Thank you, sir, for obliging me on that.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      And it’s too bad that I no longer have enough money to travel, since one thing I particularly enjoy in life is a pleasant conversation… I would love to meet you in person, as well as many other of Mark’s reader. (Sorry if this remark is not on the subject being discussed…)

                    • Alma Peregrina

                      Thank you for your kind words, Marthe. I really like your comments as well. God bless you.

                  • Cas

                    Yes, I am one who pretty much fits your description of those who “turned from their heterodoxy” after reading Mark’s writing. Although, I mention it several times in various comboxes on this blog, so maybe you’re mistaking several posts from one person as being a group of different individuals. 😉

                    • Alma Peregrina

                      Unless you sign up with diferent names, I think that’s not the case.

                • David

                  While there are many people who *do* put the entirety of Catholic social justice teaching into practice; speaking from experience, I’ve also come across many people who feel just dandy about putting a check box next to the so-called anti-abortion candidate during election time, only to go back to their lives in which the rest of Catholic doctrine on social justice need not apply. It’s not just some tiny minority.

                  We are a big community of sinners who *need* God’s mercy.

                  • Yes someone recently tried to guilt me on abortion when I told them I voted for neither Romney nor Obama.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  I don’t know about actual figures, but from the number of those people who consider as an educated, engaged, generally consenting Catholic audience who actually read Mark’s blog and contribute their comments, and strongly support the death penalty (as illustrated by the number of comments that immediately appear whenever Mark brings up that particular subject), it seems that there is a large number of them that actually and actively support the death penalty. Or do you assume that there are some people who regularly “Google” the death penalty in order to only comment on Mark’s post when he brings up the death penalty? By the way, as a citizen of only one of the large number of developed countries where the death penalty has not been an issue for decades, I find that there is an excessively large quantity of time spent in your country discussing the death penalty instead of working on more useful causes.

          • chezami

            My point is not that if you fight for other issues besides abortion, you are not prolife. It is “If you fight *against* the Church on other prolife issues, and use the unborn as human shields for your defiance of the Church, you are not prolife”.

            • Agreed. Are there a lot of people who do that and otherwise accept Catholic teaching?

            • Alma Peregrina

              “My point is not that if you fight for other issues besides abortion, you are not prolife.”

              Agreed. But that was the point MMS was trying to convey, I think. As someone who understands both, I’m trying to make each other’s arguments more clear.

    • Alma Peregrina

      “How do we negotiate these two? I struggle with it.”

      Why? There’s nothing logically incompatible between the two, apart from having two opposite political ideologies selling you the lie that they are logically incompatible.

      Just defend the unborn when you need to. And defend the poor when you need to. Sacrifice neither to any political force. It’s really easy.

      • It’s gets tricky when voting and you actually need to make a decision when ALL of the candidates oppose SOME Church teaching. Not so easy.

        • Alma Peregrina

          Maybe it’s because of the american mindset, but I really think you guys overestimate the value of your votes.

          I think that preaching and being socially active is much more effective in spreading the word than just voting. At least you do that yourself, and are not dependent on machiavellic politicians to do it for you, or to put words on your mouths.

          Not saying voting is not important. But I think you guys shouldn’t loose so much sleep because of it. Politicians really don’t care about what you think… and you’re not a sizable political force to make them tremble.

          • Andy

            I agree especially with “Politicians really don’t care about what you think” – they care only for the oligarchs who pay for their elections.

          • Stu

            Yes. And we treat the election of President as the most important. Real change starts at the local level where we can have more influence.

    • Cas

      You raise some good points. I think that for people who do not yet know and love God, this love can begin with love for their fellow man (one expression being social justice and volunteerism). There are some atheists I know who express this kind of love better than many Christians I know; in fact, listening to many of the things [they] say, it surprises me just how compatible many of their beliefs and ideals are with authentic Christianity.

      EDIT: “things THEY say”

    • ivan_the_mad

      But what of invincible ignorance? Does not the pagan who follows the natural law graven on his heart love and serve the God he does not know?

      • It’s very tricky to start playing the invincible ignorance game. An argument could be made that just about anyone mentally healthy in the West couldn’t possibly have II. Good arguments could be made to the contrary. There’s really no way of knowing. And speculation usually turns into self-consoling or justifying one’s own apathy for evangelizing.

        All we can assume is that it’s better to know the Gospels than not, so if there is any difficulty in a Christian getting to heaven, it is quite likely harder for a non.

        • ivan_the_mad

          I play no games. The Church answers yes to my second question.

          • Mike Petrik

            I think IprayIam’s response assumed that answer. He or she was simply suggesting that because the application of that teaching to particular circumstances can never be certain one should be cautious about assuming its application and eager to evangelize.

            But you are right in responding to Ben that the Church most certainly does hold out the possibility of a man serving a God he does not know.

            That said, the law written on the hearts of men can require a quality of discernment that might not be accessible to all men. Ask a child if it is ok for mommy to kill the baby in her tummy, and there is little risk of an affirmative response. Ask the same child if it is ok for society to kill a man who tortured and killed several children the response will be less predictable. These difficulties do not disappear upon the onset of adulthood. The danger of consequentialism and its distinction from prudentialism are not always obvious. The Church is vital when it comes to moral teachings in part because it is so often necessary.

            • Stu

              Yes. And that is the challenge with the this torture debate. Even run-of-mill Catholics haven’t really thought this out AND like all Americans are infected with a bit of Lockean thinking in all things. If we can’t convince all Catholics that abortion is wrong, how much harder is it going to be to convince other Catholics that torturing “evil terrorists” to “save lives” is also wrong? And simply pounding them everyday with what shit heads they are and hypocrites probably isn’t going to have the greatest return on investment.

              • Mike Petrik

                Hear hear, Stu!

            • ivan_the_mad

              I responded to Ben’s categorical. If you or IprayIam somehow imagine me to say that it further makes no difference whether a man be Christian, then I am utterly confounded.

              • Mike Petrik

                Not at all, ivan. I think prayIam was building on your response, not at all disagreeing with it. Your response to him/her suggested to me that perhaps that was not sufficiently obvious, and I sought only to clarify.

  • Kathleen S.

    Thank you Mark!! Glad you have taken this on. We certainly do need balance in the Catholic Church.

  • Tony

    I really do agree with everything you’ve said, the only difference I think we have is that I think you really do have to evangelize for marriage, because so much of societies social problems come from sex outside marriage, I know a women who fights everyday for the homeless, which is great, but she also fights for gay marriage, and I can’t believe she doesn’t see the connection between all the people she is ministering to who come from broken families. So fighting for ideas that help the family is very important.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    Yup. Christianity conquered the Roman Empire with a simple motto: Show me. Don’t tell me.

    Explaining the finer points of Trinitarian theology is well and good. But if the world doesn’t see Christ in our lives, none of the rest matters.

  • David

    American conservatives have been playing fools of Catholics for many decades. They love how they can just scream the words “end abortion!” from a political platform, reel in the suckers who take the bait, and *not do a damn thing to end abortion* while having those Catholics believe that all that stuff the Church teaches about the rest of humanity outside of (rightfully) protecting the unborn is just non-obligatory nonsense. The left *and* the right make Gepetto look like a novice at pupeteering.

    • Sue Korlan

      If you look at state governments instead of the Federal Government, you will note that for the most part the Republicans have delivered on doing what they can to stop abortions. At the federal level they just play games with the pro-life voters.

      • Andy

        Yet many of these efforts are being “thrown” out by courts – more is the pity. The real change will have to be at the national level, unfortunately, and it will have to involve more than just banning abortions.

        • Joseph

          Politicians aren’t stupid. Methinks they*know* that there moves to restrict abortion will get tossed out in court. They are lawyers by and in large. They just play the game to keep dangling the carrot in the faces of their constituency.

  • The issue within American politics is Three Dimensional and it does everyone a disservice when people refuse to recognize those dimension. Or you will think people are your enemies when they aren’t and your friends when they aren’t.

    D1. The issues: As it stands, neither the D nor R party have platforms that align with Catholic teaching. We’ve played the “lesser of two evils” game for so long both parties have suckered the average american into supporting a party that is incompatible with some of their morals, while giving only lip service to others.

    D2. How to solve problems: This is where a lot of fighting goes on. This is where I think Mark sometimes conflates people who disagree with the “how” with those who disagree with the morals. A great example is poverty. Two equally committed compassionate people can disagree over whether a certain minimum wage policy is the best way to help. One of them may be wrong, but they can still both hold and live the same Christian values at the end of the day.

    D3. Where to solve the problems: It is the opinion of many people that the fed gov is not the right org to solve these problems even if it’s the right solution. Common Core is a great example. The debate over whether it’s good misses the point. CC could be the best thing in the world, and it still needs to be something adopted and implemented locally, not nationally. Others may disagree.

  • Mark, I think the backlash about “liberal” policies is not disagreement with the Catholic values so much as the fact that in the West, this is so married to the idea that the federal government is a good place to solve these problems.

    A great example is how Catholic charity organizations have taken so much money from the federal government over the years and are now being screwed over for it because our values are incompatible with those being enforced. When we become bedmates with the federal government, just because they seem like the easiest way to implement social justice, we end up tying our ability to do good work with an organization that will turn on us and cripple us when we get out of line.

    Just look at how many adoption agencies have had to shut down due to Obama’s policies. Worse is coming. Social justice is best left out of the purview of Caesar.

    • David

      Respectfully, no. Mark isn’t eschewing Catholic teaching on subsidiarity.

      • Hm. perhaps you misunderstand what I was trying to say. I think a lot of the conservative reaction to what seems like no-brainer Christian ideas is the fact that Western politics have basically pushed gov-solves-problems as the only solution so hard that it leaves a (wrongful) bad taste and distain in their mouth for social justice in general. The worst thing about Liberation Theology is that it has given a negative associate with real social justice.

        I didn’t suggest that he is eschewing subsidiarity at all. But left leaning folk often do. Mark *sometimes* seems to portray the conservative backlash as mostly just value dissonance.

        • David

          Ah. Be that as it may, that taste needs to be slapped out of their mouths. It’s *often* used as a crutch to not give a darn about Catholic social justice.

          • [Be that as it may, that taste needs to be slapped out of their mouths.]

            Lol. I don’t think we disagree then.

          • LFM

            It may often be used as a “crutch to not give a darn about Catholic social justice.” But what happens if the people in question do “give a darn” about Catholic social justice, but don’t want to be used as tools by others who are trying to raise funds/get elected/feel popular? Do they deserve to have the bad taste “slapped out of their mouths”? For shame. That’s a nasty position to take on any issue.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “Social justice is best left out of the purview of Caesar.” You should rethink this; state abuse of power urges corrective reform to realize Catholic teaching regarding the proper role of the state, not further error.

      From the catechism:
      §1928 “Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.”

      §1910 “It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies.”

      • Mike Petrik

        Yes, the notion that the role of the state can or should be somehow separated from the common good is simply not sustainable.

        The heavy lifting is in the exercise of prudence upon our obligation to fulfill those teachings. That lifting results in good faithful Catholics shouting those very teachings at each other on the theory that they are completely self-explanatory and only their interpretation can possibly be permitted. It is tiresome.

  • AquinasMan

    Your words are resonating with me more and more…

    I think the problem is that we’ve fallen into is an either/or frame of mind, and projecting the same perspective onto Pope Francis. And let’s not kid ourselves, Mark, it’s on both sides of the equation: Culture of Life Warriors somehow fear that embracing CST somehow weakens their apostolates. And Social Justice Warriors somehow fear that embracing Culture of Death issues weakens their apostolates. And sure enough, Benedict was seen as the boogie man of the left, and Francis is seen as the boogie man of the right.

    And there’s the rub — we’ve allowed our Christian duties — the corporal and spiritual works of mercy — to be categorized as liberal or conservative pets. We’ve literally politicized them — do we realize how stupid that is? We’ve suckled on a hermeneutic of suspicion for far too long. And instead of contradicting that kind of worldly unsophistication, we’ve happily marched ourselves into the spiritual concentration camp of our choice. The seamless garment, I propose, must also apply to the very fabric of the Church militant.

    If Michael Sean Winters can’t break bread with Father Z, why bother calling ourselves Catholic? If Mark Shea can’t break bread with Steve Skojec, what’s the point? If defending life means discounting the preferential option for the poor, what Church are we following, exactly?

    I’m tired of the bullshit divisions in this Church. We either straighten up and start recognizing what each of us contributes, or we’re in for a world of pain. That doesn’t mean the pro-life warrior has to bifurcate their activities, but, at minimum, every pro-life warrior should pray each day for those caring for the illegal immigrant. And every person caring for the illegal immigrant should be offering prayers for the person courageously witnessing outside an abortion mill. At minimum, we can be involved in each other’s apostolates in prayer and public support, even if our “strengths” are elsewhere. Enough with the bullshit. It’s killing us.

    And yes, I’m going back and re-reading Laudato Si with an open heart this time. I’m the first and foremost guilty party when it comes to this bullshit hermeneutic of suspicion.

    • chezami

      No argument with me about the hypocrisy of the Left in pitting their pet issues against stuff too redolent of conservatism for them. I’ve never denied that. The thing is, the Left has never pretended for a moment to be anything other than frank and open cafeteria Catholics. So you know what you are getting from them is a highly selective reading of the Tradition that breezily dumps whatever it doesn’t like. I rejected that the day I entered the Church. The reason I’m so hard on conservative Catholics who battle Francis and the Magisterium is that they announce themselves as conservators of the Tradition but are, in fact, as committed to the cafeteria as the Lefties, but refuse to admit it and even paint the Pope as the enemy of the faith and themselves as its saviors. That is, I think, much more sinister and deceptive than the Lefty who cheerily blows off the Tradition and openly admits it.

      That said, let me add that you greatly cheer my heart by what you write. 🙂

    • Alma Peregrina
    • Stu

      Few observations.

      The “left” and “right” in the US have one thing in common. They are both liberals. True conservatives are very rare in the US. American “Conservatives” have for a long time been turned off to CST because they think it means things like women’s “ordination”, accepting of homosexuality, pro-abortion, etc. American “liberal” do believe CST means things like women’s “ordination”, accepting of homosexuality, pro-abortion, etc. Now those are general statements but I think they are fairly solid. And in that both major political parties are hosed.

      The key is for a core group of Catholics to begin highlighting what CST actually says. Thus the need for education AND charitable delivery.

      • LFM

        ‘The “left” and “right” in the US have one thing in common. They are both liberals. True conservatives are very rare in the US.’

        Very rare? Yes. In fact, I’m not at all certain I’ve ever encountered such a person…

  • Stu

    The best source for understanding Catholic Social Teaching in terms of economics is Professor John Medaille of the University of Dallas. He has two outstanding books.

    Toward a Truly Free Market
    A Distributist Perspective on the Role of Government, Taxes, Health Care, Deficits, and More


    The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace

    These will equip you to talk on the subject as well understand why we are in the place we are.

    • Andy

      Thank you for the suggestions.

      • Stu

        Might I recommend the following?


        You might recognize the host. A little project I was doing, that I had to put on hold.

        • Andy

          Thank you – I just added to my bookmarks

        • Artevelde

          Thank you Stu. And – although this will sound mushy in retrospect no doubt, but I feel it’s fitting today – I hope you will be among all of us here discussing things for a long time to come.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      Seconding that thank you.

      • Stu

        Do you follow him on Facebook? Great opportunity to interact with him.

  • Caroline

    I wonder what would happen if we dropped the social justice language and substituted such expressions as love of Jesus Christ? I recently heard a homily about how a priest did various good works out of social justice; never once was the love of Christ mentioned. I trust he did these good works for the love of Christ, but unless one cared to supply that context, one could have thought that he was merely the servant of an ideology. Or is this too Protestant?

    • Marthe Lépine

      Jesus did say that “whatever you do to the smallest of mine, you do to me”. It seems to me that Catholic should know that so well that they don’t need it repeated each and every time someone does something good to those “smallest”. However, it does not make much sense to limit “smallest” to the unborn, since, once born, they will become bigger, and sometimes, even often, will in time become poor, homeless, unemployed, sick or in prison, refugees or victims of war… Trying to support the unborn should obviously include all those issues of social justice, and Catholics should not need to be constantly reminded that they are supposed to see the face of Christ in each and every one of those suffering people. I just cannot understand why this is not just second nature to a Catholic…

  • LFM

    Mr Shea: I like you very much. Always have, always will. I must tell you, however, that I’ve seldom read a more self-satisfied piece of what the young now call “humble-brag” coming from anyone as from you in this post.

    Just where did you get the idea that Catholics of conservative views are opposed to the “seamless garment” view of Catholic life? Didn’t you once quote statistics that showed that conservative persons were more likely to contribute to charity than self-described liberals?

    You have reproached American Catholics for their parochialism in assuming that the Church should naturally support free-market economics, which is fair enough. But you’re equally guilty in your blindness to the fact that the world is full of nation-states who support various forms of “social democracy” and that many of them have failed to provide for the very people they intended to help. Oh – and none of the ones that have best succeeded in the endeavour, I’m ashamed to say, have been Catholic. Perhaps that’s a matter of incidentals, like the fact that few Catholic nations in Europe were well-provided with the basics of the Industrial Revolution, like coal and water power. Or is it a question of deep social “structure” after all?

    It does seem as if a nation must be thoroughly capitalist before it can become satisfactorily socialist, supposing this is what it wants, and few Catholic countries (none, in fact, that I can think of, with France, as usual, being a possible exception) achieved this goal without massive intervention from the outside. In Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc., the process did not begin until after WWII and the implementation of the Marshall Plan. It’s all very well to believe in distributism, but one has to have something to distribute first.

    Your criticisms of Catholic “conservatives” (many of whom are actually liberals in the original usage of the term) go too far, with too little thought and knowledge, and too much emotion.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Maybe Mark has found that view of that opposition to a “seamless garment” from reading conservative blogs? It possibly came from much of the same sources from which mine came… Since that is certainly the impression I did get, when I began to read Catholic blogs on the Internet, and particularly since the first of those blogs has been “Crisis”… In my opinion, Mark’s criticisms of Catholic conservatives certainly do not go too far (except maybe from the eyes of many Catholic conservatives…) and seem very much needed. Unfortunately, gentle and unemotional criticism can be too easily dismissed, and respectful and “diplomatic” language, as we have seen too clearly during Pope Frencis’ visit to your country, will be either dismissed as not strong enough, or lead people to assume some subjects have not even been brought up.

      • LFM

        The point is that neither of you appears to know anything about “Catholic conservatives” outside North America. Traditionally, “conservative” Catholics have been hostile to free market economics. It’s only been since John Paul II that any Pope has had anything good to say about what Rome calls “liberalism” but what Americans call conservatism. Mark knows this, sort of, in that he keeps pointing out that criticism of the free market is not new to Pope Francis. What he doesn’t appear to understand is that this Pope’s criticisms are in fact a return to a perhaps reactionary strand of Catholicism – one that is not necessarily going to be helpful to the age in which we live.

        Two final points: (a) sede-vacantists who know their stuff will be as hostile to the free market as any socialist; (b) it is possible to be a seamless-garmenter and oppose some or all of Pope Francis’s positions on the grounds that they will not in fact achieve their intended goals.

        Oh, and one more thing: I never said that Mark’s criticisms of conservative Catholics go too far. I was trying to suggest that they are going in the wrong direction, that they are, in fact, wrong-headed.

    • chezami

      Just where did you get the idea that Catholics of conservative views are opposed to the “seamless garment” view of Catholic life?

      From hundreds of interactions from self-described conservative Catholics.

      • LFM

        I am too tired to address this properly tonight, but will try to do so tomorrow.

      • LFM

        All right, trying again and I hope with less irritation, or whatever it was, than I allowed into my comments last night.

        There are doubtless many Catholic conservatives (I’ll use the term “conservative” in your sense in this comment) who take a “let the poor fend for themselves” approach to social issues like poverty, and a punitive stance towards matters like torture and capital punishment. Here is what I do not understand about your recent approach to these people and the various issues on which they differ from you:

        a) Why is it necessary for you to engage with Catholics of this kind in a fashion that is certain to alienate them rather than bring them into the fold? Could you not simply remind them that they are wrong about Catholic teaching?

        b) When you were doing apologetics, your approach to opponents, whether on the right or left, was more moderate. Indignation and righteous anger were not the predominant tones of your posts. However justified, they are not a healthy fuel for the human organism and should be used with restraint.

        c) Some of the social issues about which you differ from more conservative Catholics really are prudential matters in that the solutions to them are not obvious. What’s more, some of the solutions beloved by progressives, Catholic and otherwise, carry a number of disadvantages and frequently do not work. Not everyone who opposes a massive influx of immigrants hates immigrants. Not everyone who opposes raising the minimum wage to the same level everywhere is hostile to the poor. (Just like not everyone who opposes gay marriage hates gay people.) Even if you disagree with such people, surely you could at least acknowledge the possibility that they might be thinking/acting with good will?

        d) A point to keep in mind about the difference between apologetics and social activism (whatever type of the latter you espouse): social activism is essentially a form of politics and it relies for success on building alliances. One reason left-wing “social justice warriors” often fail to build momentum behind their movements is that they enjoy raging against skeptics and critics more than actually changing society. If you want to achieve social change you should take care not to fall into that trap.

        e) Why is it acceptable to bring lapsed Catholics back into the fold by being “gentle” with them about divorce, abortion, same-sex marriage and other controversial issues – something many commenters here have defended – but not acceptable to keep “conservative” ones on side by being gentle with them about the errors, like lack of charity towards the poor etc., to which you believe they are prone? Either approach is equally defensible, or indefensible. But the eagerness to embrace the former group, not alongside but at the expense of the other, is illogical. It smacks of an excessive resort to, even enjoyment of, righteous anger, as I said earlier.

        f) Finally, why identify conservatism among Catholics with only the nastiest ranters and ragers you encounter? You risk alienating Catholics who otherwise agree with you about BOTH capital punishment and abortion. (Ahem. People like me.) Are there not enough rifts between Catholics already without encouraging us to create new ones?

        Sigh. Have gone on and on without being quite certain that I said what was necessary. Hence the length. Apologies.

        • David

          “One reason left-wing “social justice warriors” often fail to build momentum behind their movements is that they enjoy raging against skeptics and critics more than actually changing society.”

          …like, many on the so-called right? Both* sides share this amazing gift of speaking out their rears, and raging against skeptics and critics while their surroundings crumble around them.

          I also don’t buy your argument about “prudential judgements”. This has also been a lousy way to make to excuses for not putting Chruch teaching into practice. For example, it’s one thing thing to observe an influx of immgrants, (many of whom are impoverished or are in desperate situations) and earnestly wonder what the best, particular ways to care for them are. It’s another to send them home packing without doing anything to care for them, or to do nothing so as to not care for them. This is seen time and time again with many so-called conservatives regarding many issues. The issue is *not* disagreement about the particulars between people who are *actually* working for justice and mercy; it’s *continually* doing *no work whatsoever*, then hiding behind the smokescreen of “prudential judgement” so one can just sit on his ass.

          • David

            “By their fruits you shall know them.”

          • LFM

            Of course both sides share that “gift”. THAT’s why I was warning Mark against following the progressive version of it if he were planning to separate himself from conservative Catholics. The really good Catholic social justice fighters avoid the use of political language in trying to right wrongs.

            My argument about “prudential judgments” is legitimate. I’ll ask you, as I meant to ask Mark (only I flubbed the question and spoilt the point): where do you get the idea that Catholics with conservative views are not putting any kind of justice or mercy into practice? As I said in my most recent comment, I expect that there are thousands of Catholics of conservative bent who are like this, but they are not necessarily a majority. Certainly they are not a majority in the world at large, as opposed to the United States. You will not increase the numbers of Catholics willing to consider taking a more active role in charitable work by insisting that any who don’t are mere hypocrites.

            Your comment about immigrants is naive or misleading because it dodges some central issues. What about protecting poorer Americans from an influx of unskilled, uneducated workers who because they have, unsurprisingly, lower standards of living, tend to have a net depressive effect on wages? What about protecting one’s own people (of whatever race or ethnic background) from an influx of newcomers with vastly different social ethics, so that whole areas of some cities become unsafe for (say) women who are not veiled? What about the lost girls of Rotherham? Surely many of the migrants who have assimilated with such difficulty to Western mores might have been better helped by fairer trade, foreign aid, and so forth? Being aware of such issues is not a mark of xenophobia, but the exercise of legitimate prudence.

            As I said, too many people commenting here, including Mark, seem willing to see only the best of their “side” and the worst of the other. It’s not an effective way to argue, and it is disappointing to me because this blog used to be a rather different place. I never thought, ten years ago, that Mark was anything but “liberal” about immigration, but his way of handling dissenting views regarding any issue was different then, more humorous and less bitter in tone.

            • David

              “THAT’s why I was warning Mark against following the progressive version of it if he were planning to separate himself from conservative Catholics.”

              Which Mark hasn’t done. He’s not the man to state “don’t dos” without first making clear what the “dos” (the entirety of Catholic social teaching) are.

              “As I said in my most recent comment, I expect that there are thousands of Catholics of conservative bent who are like this, but they are not necessarily a majority.”

              So what? I don’t care if it’s the majority or not, as if the claim “David, it’s not greater than 50%, so shut up about it”. The point is that there are enough of them to notice and call out; whether they are in the comboxes or social media, going out in huge numbers to vote morons into office, or writing article after embarassing article in which they get pissy about the Pope.

              “Your comment about immigrants is naive or misleading because it dodges some central issues.”

              Um, I’m positive that I *just* typed this earlier:

              “…it’s one thing thing to observe an influx of immgrants, (many of whom are impoverished or are in desperate situations) and earnestly wonder what the best, particular ways to care for them are. It’s another to send them home packing without doing anything to care for them, or to do nothing so as to not care for them.”

              Are you playing me for a fool? Yes, I know of these so-called issues. I’m also not a utilitarianist, and I sure as heck know that one of those choices (choice “GO AWAY”) — a choice shared by oh-so-many “conservatives” — is the *wrong* choice. American conservatives have lurked in the shadows for too long, and you continue to shovel their bullshit.

              • LFM

                How do you know “go away” is the wrong choice, if you then offer some alternative that might be more effective than inviting them in to live with you permanently? You’re confusing matters of judgment, like how to respond to massive immigration pressures, with absolute moral dictates, like *how* to treat people charitably. Consider it on the personal level: sometimes the best course of action when you encounter a homeless man is to ask him to come live with you, and other times it is not. (Can you see the application?)

                Meanwhile, you should be ashamed of yourself for resorting to foul language and insult to make your points.

                • David

                  “How do you know “go away” is the wrong choice, if you then offer some alternative…”

                  The alternative is neither offered nor implemented even in the miraculous event that it is offered. Decades of lies…and the strong language aptly describes the phenomenon.

                  We go in circles.

        • Stu

          I would love to see the same Mark Shea, the one whose books I really enjoyed as I entered the Church, give a go at CST. But I’m not sure it is in him anymore. I don’t doubt his beliefs one bit, but the tone is heartbreaking. I truly think the same tone we use to bring our protestant brothers into the Church should be extended to our fellow Catholics who aren’t completely in the fold either.

          • Joseph

            Translation: Please stop shining the light on the cesspool on the Right that is no different than the cesspool on the Left! I’ll like you much more once you stop exposing my ideology for being antichrist.

            • Stu

              Wow. I had no idea I was saying that. Thanks for cluing me in.

              And what is my ideology since you know so much about me? Clearly I have no idea.

          • chezami

            We Patheosees are just so awful. Teach me your inner beauty, Stu.

            • Stu

              At times, your behavior is awful. Well meaning, I have no doubt. But awful.

        • Joseph

          Have you ever tried to convince a pro-choice Catholic that abortion is wrong? It’s not Mark that is alienating anyone. Both the Catholics who are more Left and Right than Catholic have made quite a conscious decision to alienate themselves. That’s just how sin works.

  • David

    “I am too tired to address this properly tonight, but will try to do so tomorrow.”

    Don’t, please. Tired of seeing this tribe continue to defend themselves and their stupid qualifications time and time again; holding these stupid adjectives close to their hearts like they’re clinging to a childhood blankie. You’re *no* different from the so-called liberal Catholics.

    American “conservative” Catholic. According to you and Stu, few of them still exist. I have to ask the question *why* these people feel the need to label themselves *conservative* Catholics in the first place; as if the Catholic faith can be separated into the fallen ideologies of conservatism and liberalism; as if the Nicene Creed says, “I believe in one, holy, conservative, Catholic, and apostolic Church”. Which it can’t, doesnt. Not *then*, not *now*, not *ever*. And no, I don’t care if the label is historic; shed these damn labels once and for all. Just be *Catholic*, and live by the *Catholic* faith. That’s it.

    • Stu

      I think you misread both LFM and myself.

      • David

        I went back and re-read both of your recent posts.

        I’m standing by virtually everything I said.

        • Stu

          Then I submit you misread me but I am open to that being my fault.

          But if you think I am carrying water for so-called American “Conservatives” then that is incorrect. I have no party affiliation nor identify myself with such labels. I’m Catholic and a distributist. And I’m also a monarchist FWIW.

      • chezami

        No doubt due to his being a Patheosee like me. We’re such judgmental scum.

        • Stu


          I would never say that.

          Yeah, you come across that way. I’m not sure how one who identifies as an apologist can be so bitter and negative when it comes to helping others see the light.

          • chezami

            Us Patheosee are just vile.

            • Stu

              Vile? No.

              Those again are your words.

    • LFM

      That was a thoroughly nasty and unjustified comment. I do not and never have identified Catholicism with ANY form of conservatism. Nothing I have said here suggests anything of the kind.

      Mark, I offered before to go away if you feel my contributions are doing nothing more than labeling you as “judgmental scum”. Your use of that phrase, btw, more than anything else, convinces me that you are going in a spiritually dangerous direction, and by “direction” I am not speaking of any of your views on social policy, which I think are admirable if mistaken.

      • chezami

        You have not labeled me a “Patheosee”, LFM. Stu has–in his infinite goodness and maturity.

        • LFM

          Thank you. Although, looking at Stu’s comments, I don’t really see that, aside from that label, he has been especially unpleasant to you in any of them. I have not yet gone through them exhaustively, however!

          • Stu

            Mark is out of sorts because I sometimes refer to the “Patheosees” on other blogs and on Facebook given their penchant to remain lockstep on some issues and given their mutual defense of each other on many different topics. (Though admittedly, that tribe is breaking up given the addition of some other bloggers.) What is interesting is that Mark really takes notice of something I said a handful of times on another blog or even on Facebook given he long ago blocked me even seeing anything he posts. It does concern him. But at the very least, it’s a good deflection for his own poor behavior on his own blog. So because I have used some term that he dislikes, any possible criticism I might have of his tactics is clearly moot.

            Not that it matters that on most issues, in terms of substance, I completely agree with him or have actually defended him on other blogs as well.

            But rest assured, I’m the problem with Mark Shea.

            • chezami

              What’s hilarious to me is the assumption that I have time to read other Patheos blogs, much less create a lockstep narrative calling for the expulsion of the Impure. But the labeling of me as a Pharisee for thinking that a good man should not be smeared as a Stalinist killer and that the pope is not the enemy of the faith is duly noted. You are a paragon of virtue compared with my vile self.

              • Stu

                What’s hilarious is that you clearly have the time to monitor what I write elsewhere on the Internet. Especially since I haven’t used that expression but a handful of timess. And where did I ever label you a “Pharisee for thinking that a good man should not be smeared as a Stalinist killer and that the pope is not the enemy of the faith”? Where?

                • chezami

                  No. I don’t. I just happened upon it. But it sets your beautiful exhortations to a judgmental swine like me in a clarifying light.

                  • Stu

                    Who called you a swine? Further, where did I use the term as you previously suggested? (Stalinist Pope and all that?)

                    Further, have stumbled on the many times I have defended you on other blogs?

                    But let’s say I’m such a terrible guy because I used the term Patheosees in reference to the bloggers here? So what? Does that make my observations about you wrong? Is it possible that I may be right about the effectiveness of your tact or that you have become increasingly bitter? Am I the only one saying that? Is it possible that I am sincere in giving you some feedback that I think would make you more effective? Is it possible that we agree on much substance?

                    What’s my motivation Mark? Do you think I just want to needle the shit out of you year after year?

      • David

        “That was a thoroughly nasty and unjustified comment.”

        Read my reply to Stu below, because I’m not repeating myself.

        • LFM

          I have no idea which reply you mean and I have no intention of chasing you around this comments section trying to figure it out. Your comments are not sufficiently interesting or insightful for that.

  • LFM

    “If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of the people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?”

    Some people commenting need to take more heed of these words which should need no introduction.