In recent years, we have been reading and hearing ever more frequently about ‘social justice’. Less frequently is the term defined, or its underlying assumptions identified. Occasionally, however, discussions about ‘social justice’ do reveal some of the ideological commitments of its proponents – and these commitments are often profoundly opposed to Church teaching. In our opinion, it is urgent that our thinking about these topics be clear, because unarticulated principles of ‘social justice’ are quickly infiltrating our public and private institutions, including educational institutions at all levels, in ways that will generate hostility to Catholics and other Christians as they live out their faith.
Others have engaged in the work of exposing and critiquing the ideologies that undergird what often passes for ‘social justice’ in public discourse. Rather than recapitulate those efforts, we thought that it would be useful to remind our members what the Church actually teaches about humanity and its proper social commitments. The terms of discussion in our current debates are drawn from a set of ambiguous concepts that have served as tools for attacking others rather than as instruments for improving understanding and generating mutual encouragement. If our conceptual language is flawed, our discussion will be fruitless. We need a fresh set of concepts. It will seem ironic to some that these are to be found not in fashionable (yet ungrounded) critical theories, but in the pluri-millennial teachings of the Church. Scripture and Tradition offer us much better instruments with which to reflect upon our social obligations.
Catholics have been blessed with a wonderful resource, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004), which summarizes the Church’s teaching on these matters. Many who refer to the ‘social teaching of the Church’ have perhaps not adequately reflected on the principles and exhortations of this document. As a guide to our chapter members and any other interested readers, we have undertaken to provide a summary of this text, which we will post here over the course of the coming weeks. The original text may be found at: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html