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‘Catholic Social Ignorance’

| Thursday, January 30, 2014

A recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life national survey inquired about American knowledge of religion — particularly, individuals’ knowledge of their own religions. The survey included fairly basic questions about famous spiritual figures, fundamentals of belief and religious practices.

Disappointingly, the average respondent answered only 50 percent of the 32 questions correctly, with the majority of people incorrectly answering questions pertaining to their own faiths. On average, Catholics scored lower than Jews, Protestants, Mormons and atheists. An overwhelming 45 percent of Catholics answered incorrectly when asked if their church said the Eucharist was a symbol or the actual body and blood of Christ, even though the miracle of the Eucharist is a fundamental Catholic belief.

Catholicism, and religion in general, can be an excellent institution. I admire those with a steadfast devotion to their faith, as I constantly work on improving my own spirituality and relationship with my Catholic religion. However, it is frustrating to encounter those who preach creeds with which they are unknowingly unfamiliar or who blindly accept a religion based on instruction or routine rather than on personal discovery. Worse, it is maddening to encounter those who try to pass off their own socio-political views as tenants of their religion.

I find that one aspect of Catholicism with which Catholics are continually unfamiliar is that of Catholic Social Teaching. At my Catholic high school, an entire required religion course was devoted to this topic, so I was shocked to be greeted by a Notre Dame student body that is, generally speaking, ignorant about each of its tenants and its implications.
There is more to Catholic thought than abortion, gay marriage and premarital sex. Though the Catholic Church does offer steadfast positions on these issues, they are by no means the sole focus of all of Catholic ideology; and I would argue they are often not the most important issues with which the Church deals. However, these issues comprise the major, at times sole, socio-political focus of a huge number of Catholics and in turn influence the way they vote, the organizations they support and the way in which they present themselves. In doing so, what I argue are more important issues — poverty, racism, illiteracy — take on a less important, or at least less impassioned, role. Very often, these same Catholics resist political measures such as welfare policy, universal health care or the rights of labor unions.

The common misconception is that all Catholics are called to be politically conservative because of issues such as the ones I previously mentioned, but the truth of the matter is that a vast amount of Catholic Social Teaching leans toward the left. For example, two of the seven key themes of Catholic Social Teaching are “Option for the Poor and Vulnerable” and “Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers.” The official document states, “the economy must serve the people, not the other way around,” and official Church positions support labor unions, immigration reform and universal health care (with the exception of contraceptives.)

Pope Francis asserted, “A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.”

He has been accused of being a communist for expressing what people perceive to be extreme liberal views when it comes to the issues of poverty and government intervention, when he is merely bringing certain tenants of Catholic Social Teaching to the forefront for the first time in a while.

People should educate themselves about official Catholic Social Teaching before they make claims about what political implications it does or does not have. If people are attempting to follow these Catholic principles, then it may require a shift in their views. And if people respectfully disagree with the Catholic position on certain issues, that is also okay. Few Catholics agree with every single Catholic position, and everyone has a right to his or her own opinion. But people need to admit when they disagree with the Church in their positions and be okay with it, or at the very least, do not claim that their views are supported by the Church when they are not.

Bianca Almada is a sophomore residing in Cavanaugh Hall. She is studying English, Spanish and Journalism. She can be contacted at balmada@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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