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Time for a New Movement for Catholic Action

By Deacon Keith A. Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC

"...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

On January 20, 2005, Americans will witness our Fifty-fifth Presidential inauguration. This Presidential campaign was intense. Pundits and "talking heads" are still addressing what this election reveals concerning voting trends for the future. However, there is no question that Catholics played an important role. The memory that lingers most for me is the continuing confusion in the Catholic community concerning how faith should inform political and social participation.

For over thirty years I have tried to integrate my Catholic Christian faith in my daily life and bring its wisdom into the "real world". That "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 consistently rejected the tired labels of "liberal" or "conservative". I have written extensively on the vital importance of Catholic and Christian being the "noun", not adjectives that go in front of any party or ideological label. As Catholics, we are called to take the great social teaching of our Church concerning the dignity of the person, marriage and the family, authentic human freedom, the common good, the principle of subsidiarity and the obligations of solidarity, justice and peace, a preferential love for the poor and so many other insights and evaluate political and policy positions based upon the principles it presents.

However, I know I must do more. We are called to build a more just society based upon them. For that to occur, we need a new movement for social change.

Over years of activism I have witnessed the unfortunate co-opting of wonderful phrases such as "the common good" and "authentic liberation" by the ideological "left. In the 1990's, I was asked by some with whom I was then associated to stop using these phrases because they sounded "liberal". This kind of thinking still continues. I recently wrote an article commenting on my sincere hope that the tragedy of the Tsunami in Southern Asia, which prompted such an inspiring, global response, should lead to what I called a "Tsunami of solidarity." I received a lot of responses to the article. Among them, someone writing to tell me that "solidarity" is not a word I should use because it has "leftist" connotations. Nonsense! It is a beautiful word that speaks to our obligations in justice, compassion and our call to be merciful!

I have also experienced first hand the limitations of the so called "religious right" and have shared the disappointment of many in the religious conservative movement. I have written extensively on the lessons to be learned from some of the failures of that movement as well as the mission that still remains for all Christians who understand that not only is our social obligation an integral part of the Christian mission in the world, but it is neither "left" nor "right", "liberal" nor "conservative".

The quotation from Pope John Paul II with which I begin this article uses a phrase that is found woven throughout the documents of the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church and in many of the modern papal encyclicals, letters and exhortations. The Church is "an expert in humanity." Like the Lord whom she serves, she walks the way of the person and the family. That is the heart of the matter. We who are sons and daughters of that Church carry her mission into every culture. We are called "into the world", for God still loves the world and He still sends His Son, through His Body on earth, into that world on mission.

I will not cease from my efforts to try to live, love and build a movement 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 a truly just society where men and women will find authentic human fulfillment.

This kind of society will make the dignity of every human person the polestar of all public policy and recognize that the first human right is the right to life. It will acknowledge and protect marriage and family as the first vital cell of society and promote and serve the common good. This kind of society will care about the poor and the needy; and work toward building an economic order that is first at the service of the person, the family and the common good.

The application of the social teaching of the Catholic Church to contemporary issues and challenges is the path toward authentic social justice and peace. Catholic Social teaching is not simply for "religious" people. It contains the principles and the wisdom needed in this desperate hour to build a more just society. This body of 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 must rediscover this teaching. It has for too long been hidden in a field.

For this to happen, Catholics must not only become aware that the Social teaching exists, we must read it, believe it, understand it and live it. We must become conversant in its wisdom and, above all, stop engaging in what the Council warned was one of the "greatest errors of our age", a separation between faith and life. The Social teaching of the Catholic Church gives us our marching orders for Catholic action. We must inform all our political, social and economic participation based upon it. This teaching must birth a new movement that, starting with these truths, rejects the tired old labels and dedicates itself to building a culture of life, family, freedom and solidarity, a "civilization of love".

This effort will not be easily categorized as "liberal" nor "conservative", nor "neo-conservative" or "neo-liberal" -which are both sides of the same coin. Aware of the practical realities of working within and/or alongside of political parties bearing names like "Democrat", "Republican", it should avoid becoming captive to any political party. This Catholic action should be infused with a public philosophy dedicated to the person, the family, solidarity, subsidiarity, economic and social justice and authentic human freedom and human rights. It should take the principles of the social teaching of the Catholic Church and work them as leaven into the loaf of society.

On October 25, 2004 Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, presented the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. It is the fruit of years of work and prayer. A 525-page volume, it sets forth a systematic synthesis of the Church's social doctrine from the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII to the current day. Cardinal Martino said. The Italian prelate said the new volume is a resource "without precedent in the history of the Church."

Those who have the jurisdiction and the vocation proper to this kind of work, the "lay faithful", must obtain this compendium, read it, pray through it and lead this new movement of Catholic Action.

The time has come.


Deacon Keith Fournier is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.His eighth book, "The Prayer of Mary" will be available in the Spring.

He is a Senior Editor and Correspondent for Catholic Online.


Third Millennium,LLC VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580




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