The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator. By free will, he is capable of directing himself toward his true good. He finds his perfection “in seeking and loving what is true and good.”7 Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1704^.
Men and women are made in the image and likeness of God and it is a description of this individual dignity that begins Part III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Life in Christ”. Part III contains the discussion on Social Justice, but that is not the most important part. To place “Social Justice” into context, one must understand that men and women are called to separate Good from Evil and to avoid sin. They have a responsibility to differentiate for themselves what is good and what is evil and to live by the teachings of Jesus Christ as annunciated in the Gospel, the Ten Commandments and the apostolic catechesis. Our study on Social Justice will occur on 5/12 but on 5/26 will conclude with a study on Morality. Morality is a critical part of understanding Social justice, and will be analyzed more extensively later, but a critical concept is that of “intention” and the catechism points out the well known truism “The end does not justify the means”. This concept is important because while the group “FAST” claims to work for “Social Justice” as its ends, it does so through means that are obviously or arguably immoral*. Since the ends can never justify the means, FAST is violating moral directives of the catechism and must be transformed in order to be embraced by our churches.
Social Justice is defined as follows:
“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.”
As discussed by Ryan Messmore of the Heritage Institute, Social Justice was developed as a concept by Catholic theologian Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio as a response to 19th century industrialization and extensive interference in small units of society by larger units. (The Heritage Institute actually works to promote Social Justice through Charitable activities with its series “Seek Social Justice”). Luigi Taparelli recognized that man is part of society and sought to reconcile that with the teachings of the church. He recognized that man was to live up to his full potential and develop fully as a person. Thus “Social Justice” recognizes that the society man lives in must allow the conditions where men and women can fully develop to achieve “their due”. One very important concept he annunciated, and that was adopted by the church, was that of “SUBSIDIARITY”.
“1883 Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”
Thus when working for social justice, one must be careful not to seek to have the government do what people or groups of “lower order” can do and should do for themselves. Thus, when FAST advocates a “Drug Court” program, or tutoring program, or bus program run by the government, they are asking the government to do for others what they, the members of FAST as a community should do for others directly. Sadly, FAST has refused to consider creating such personal outreach programs to animate its actions. Rather, it seeks to intimidate public officials with threats of a voter turnout if they don’t spend government money on these programs that often fail. This is an example of where the principle of subsidiarity can and should come into play. Christians who believe in social justice and want to help solve the problems of their fellow man should, through charity, engage in personal acts to do so as a “community”. That means visiting prisons, tutoring kids directly, and driving the elderly to their doctor’s appointments.
The Catechism is even more clear on Subsidiarity when it rejects two forms of government that fall under the category of “collectivism” by rejecting Collectivism itself. It actually names these forms of government that it rejects: Socialism and communism.
“1885 The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. It tends toward the establishment of true international order.”
“2425 The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.” She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for “there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.” Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended.”
Note also that the church “refuses to accept” absolute primacy of “the marketplace” over human labor and calls for “reasonable regulation of the marketplace”. Certainly there is plenty of regulation of the American marketplace, but much of it may not be considered “reasonable” by men and women who possess reason and the free will to separate good from evil. There are many instances of the Catechism advocating protection of property rights and contracts for exchange of private properties through the principle of “Commutative Justice“.
In just this short exposition, it is clear that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is well developed and covers a great deal of territory. But as is summarized here, the concept of Social Justice must be considered in the context of moral action and respect the “subsidiarity” of smaller community groups, families and individuals. Social Justice thus is best served when calling for small government, less intervention by large authorities and bureaucracies and more freedom, choice and personal responsibility. Through charitable action, men and women can best serve their fellow man to create true Social Justice.
^The author strongly recommends the Catechism of the Catholic Church website from St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Picayune Mississippi.
*e.g. No internal dissent, no democratic process, no election of representatives, taxation of churches without consent of their congregation members, misrepresentation of the Bible,misleading “facts” to justify positions, advocacy of programs that violate the concept of subsidiarity and advocacy for programs that also cause injustice and unintended consequences.