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Stop Blaming the Bishops: the Dangers of the New Clericalism

6/28/2004 - 7:43 AM PST

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By: Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

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“…For the Church does not propose economic and political systems or programs, nor does she show preference for one or the other, provided that human dignity is properly respected and promoted, and provided she herself is allowed the room she needs to exercise her ministry in the world. But the Church is an "expert in humanity" and this leads her necessarily to extend her religious mission to the various fields in which men and women expend their efforts in search of the always relative happiness which is possible in this world, in line with their dignity as persons…

The Church's social doctrine is not a "third way" between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism, nor even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed to one another: rather, it constitutes a category of its own…. The teaching and spreading of her social doctrine are part of the Church's evangelizing mission. And since it is a doctrine aimed at guiding people's behavior, it consequently gives rise to a "commitment to justice", according to each individual's role, vocation and circumstances.

Pope John Paul II, On Social Concerns, Par. 41

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The Premise

I will celebrate my fiftieth birthday very soon. For over thirty years I have tried to integrate my Catholic Christian faith in my daily life in the very real world. That very real world involves the realm of public policy and politics. Oh, believe me, I know how profoundly difficult this task truly is and I have the scars on my back, at least figuratively, to demonstrate that fact.

I have witnessed the unfortunate co-opting of wonderful phrases such as “the common good” and “authentic liberation” by the left. Along with the entire world, I welcomed the fall of that Wall in Berlin as a sign that any ideology that denies God cannot possibly serve man and woman, the family, society, authentic human development and the common good.

I have also experienced the rise and fall of the “religious right”, one more mistaken effort at trying to respond to the prophetic call of the Gospel within a culture losing its moral compass. I have written extensively on the both the lessons to be learned from the fall of that movement and the mission that still remains for all Christians who understand that our social obligation is an integral part of the Christian mission in the world.

The short quotation from Pope John Paul II with which I begin this article uses a phrase that is found throughout the writings of the Fathers of the second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church and in the encyclicals, letters and exhortations of the occupants of Peters Chair for many, many years. The Church is “an expert in humanity.” Why? Because - like the Lord whom she serves - the Church - and all of her members- walks the way of the person. That is the heart of the matter. Of course we are called “into the world”, for God still loves the world and still sends His Son, through His Body on earth, into the world on mission.

No matter how difficult the road becomes, I will not cease from the effort to try to live, love and build social efforts informed by the treasury that is contained within the social teaching of the Catholic Church. This wonderful body of teaching on the person, the family, authentic social and economic justice and the common good is not simply for “religious people.” It unpacks the principles that must become the building blocks of any truly just society, any society where men and women will find authentic human fulfillment.

This kind of society will make the human person the polestar of all public policy and recognize that the first human right is the right to life. It will be a society that acknowledges that marriage and family are the first vital cell of society and always serve the common good. This kind of society will truly care about the poor and the needy; and will work toward an economic order first at the service of the person, the family and the common good.

In short, the social teaching of the Catholic Church should inform all efforts toward authentic social justice and peace. Why? Because Catholic social teaching is not “religious” - at least in the sense that it is only for religious people. Rather, it contains the principles and wisdom needed in this desperate hour to build a more just society. This body of teaching called the “Social Teaching” is not true because it is Catholic; it is Catholic because it is true. In fact, it is the hope for this new millennium. Christians are called to rediscover this teaching as a treasure in a field and inform what the American Catholic Bishops recently called their “faithful citizenship” by it. This body of ...

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