Social Justice is Also a Non-Negotiable

Social Justice is Also a Non-Negotiable October 3, 2016

Social justice

Luca Giordano, “Allegory of Justice”

It’s true. There are more than the mere five one again and again hears proclaimed from the rooftops: abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, and same-sex marriage. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith lists more. I bet you did not know that. Let us read all that it says.

When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation [Those are strong words.] the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person.

So everything the CDF is about to list is “the essence of the moral law.” “At stake,” it says, is “the integral good of the human person. That is why these are non-negotiable.

Let us go on.

This is the case with laws concerning abortion and euthanasia (not to be confused with the decision to forgo extraordinary treatments, which is morally legitimate). Such laws must defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death. In the same way, it is necessary to recall the duty to respect and protect the rights of the human embryo. Analogously, the family needs to be safeguarded and promoted, based on monogamous marriage between a man and a woman, and protected in its unity and stability in the face of modern laws on divorce: in no way can other forms of cohabitation be placed on the same level as marriage, nor can they receive legal recognition as such. The same is true for the freedom of parents regarding the education of their children; it is an inalienable right recognized also by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Nothing so far to cause massive strokes or sweats or seizures on the Right. Not yet. But we must read on.

In the same way, one must consider society’s protection of minors and freedom from modern forms of slavery (drug abuse and prostitution, for example). In addition, there is the right to religious freedom and the development of an economy that is at the service of the human person and of the common good, with [Brace yourself now.] respect for social justice, the principles of human solidarity and subsidiarity, according to which “the rights of all individuals, families, and organizations and their practical implementation must be acknowledged.”

There is it is! Social justice! A non-negotiable! I mean, to just imagine! Get a drink of water if you need to before we go on. The Church will still be here.

Finally, the question of peace must be mentioned. Certain pacifistic and ideological visions tend at times to secularize the value of peace, while, in other cases, there is the problem of summary ethical judgments which forget the complexity of the issues involved. Peace is always “the work of justice and the effect of charity.” It demands the absolute and radical rejection of violence and terrorism and requires a constant and vigilant commitment on the part of all political leaders.

But I thought bombing the bejeebus out of people was prudential judgment, and now you tell me that peace is a non-negotiable? What heresy is this, and what smoke of Satan?

But it seems that we must add, to our five favorite non-negotiables, four more: social justice, peace, elimination of slavery in all its forms, and education.

There are nine of them.


“But Alt!” you will say. “The CDF also says that if you vote for a candidate who supports abortion, you are in mortal sin and can’t receive communion. It does not say the same thing about voting for a candidate who opposes social justice.”

But not so fast. Let us read what the CDF actually says.

A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia.

Did you catch that qualification? Good. We read on.

When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.

And guess what? The Church does not give us a list of “proportionate reasons,” although I would have to guess that the other items on the list of “moral principles that do not admit of exception” would count. You think it’s safe to guess that? I do.

Bottom line: The Church does not tell us how to vote. Often a candidate who supports abortion is running against a candidate who opposes social justice. The Church does not tell us how to resolve this conflict. What the Church does do is name the moral principles that should factor in our voting, and then leave it up to the individual’s own conscience and prayer. The one thing the Church tells us we must not do, on pain of mortal sin, is vote for a candidate because that candidate supports abortion.

Our motives can put us into mortal sin, but not our vote itself. Don’t confuse the two. And don’t sit in judgment on someone else’s motives. Unless someone tells you, “I am voting for Mrs. Clinton because she supports abortion, and I think that’s great,” you don’t know. And it’s none of your business anyway.

That Mr. Obama won the Catholic vote in 2008 and 2012 is not a scandal. That so many will sit in judgment on them, as though they can see into their motivations, is.


Update: Michelle Arnold adds this important point:

Just for the record, Catholic Answers (which coined the “non-negotiables” in its voter guide) *never* claimed there was just five. They chose to *spotlight* five, based on certain criteria.

Without pulling out the guide, I think the criteria were no room for alternative positions on the issue and that the issue was under current debate in American politics. They also deliberately intended to limit the scope of the guide to keep it short (to encourage people to read it and distribute it).

Whether or not you agree with the idea of “non-negotiables,” and whether or not you agree with CA’s choice of “non-negotiables,” it is incorrect to assume that CA intended to say that only five exist.

In this post, I was thinking more of the re-presentation of the “non-negotiables” elsewhere, not necessarily by Catholic Answers itself.


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