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Understanding charity and justice

Caroline Jansen | Sunday, October 13, 2013

In his letter to the editor on Oct. 9, Mr. Gianfalla makes a good point that Catholic Social Teaching is often used to rationalize one’s poor choice in political ideology. Unfortunately, Mr. Gianfalla has a flawed understanding of what Catholic Social Teaching includes. His analysis fails to note the difference between charity and justice, both of which are required of Catholics. Charity, as he notes, is personal action taking care of the immediate needs of the people, and it is best left to private entities. Justice, however, entails finding solutions to the systemic root causes of poverty and degradation of human persons and requires group action to rectify the situation.
Many liberal Catholics are correct in seeing the need for justice in our society, whereas many conservatives I have met let this aspect of Catholic Social Teaching fall to the wayside, adopting an Ayn Rand mentality of “justice” found in purely capitalist societies that leads to the oppression of the lower socioeconomic levels of society to the benefit of the strong. This approach to capitalist economics must be resisted, as it is contrary to the dignity of our brothers and sisters around us, degrading them to the amount of economic output that can be produced. Just as God gave us free will to choose to love Him and one another, the individual freedoms we have as members of our republic ought to be used toward forwarding the greater good of our communities.
However, a socialist society is also unjust. Much like unrestrained capitalism, pure socialism subordinates the person to the government and views the people as a collective, rather than a group of individuals, each with dignity and fundamental rights. In attempting to cater to the collective, it disparages individual excellence and perpetuates a cycle of poverty and dependence on the government. This is contrary to a person’s right to work for a just wage to support his or her own family. Additionally, socialist governments put a person’s liberty under strict regulation – restricting their ability to choose their own healthcare plan or even drink size. Such minute regulation of a person’s liberty is contrary to that person’s natural rights.
As Catholics, we have an obligation to seek social justice. Unfortunately, both liberal and conservative Catholics often allow party-line ideology to warp their reason and conscience. In order to create a just society, we need to consider policies that prevent the most vulnerable members of our society from being trampled: By prohibiting abortion in order to protect the unborn, by restricting unfair and unregulated business practices to protect consumers and workers and by reforming welfare policies that perpetuate the cycle of poverty in order to protect the economically disadvantaged. The United States was established on the ideal that we could create a more perfect form of governance, one that respects the liberty of the people as well as promotes the common good. By pragmatically adapting our economic and social policies to better match our national principles based on classical liberal thought, Catholic Social Teaching will best come to fruition.

Caroline Jansen
Cavanaugh Hall