Precisely because the Catholic teaching of social justice is important to us, its concepts have been twisted in the US political process. The term “social justice” has been co-opted with a new, almost opposite meaning – to forcefully redistribute wealth through taxation and to make decisions for all through a large, powerful central government.
While not precisely meeting the definition of socialism, these are hallmarks of it. When you hear politicians refer to “social justice,” “common good,” or even “preferential option for the poor” – they are really referring to a liberal social agenda, supported by a collectivist economic system and led by themselves (the elite). They are purposefully usurping our terms with the intent to mislead. This is far from the concepts of Catholic social justice.
It is important to note that no US political party embraces the true social justice concepts embodied in Catholic teaching. Their public goals and hidden agendas are often at odds with the genuine teaching. The Catholic Church does not endorse any political party.
The Church also does not endorse any form of government. However, it specifically condemns socialism. Long before the term “socialism” was coined, Saint John Chrysostom (347 to 407 AD) wrote:
Should we look to kings and princes to put right the inequalities between rich and poor? Should we require soldiers to come and seize the rich person’s gold and distribute it among his destitute neighbors? Should we beg the emperor to impose a tax on the rich so great that it reduces them to the level of the poor and then to share the proceeds of that tax among everyone?
Equality imposed by force would achieve nothing, and do much harm. Those who combined both cruel hearts and sharp minds would soon find ways of making themselves rich again. Worse still, the rich whose gold was taken away would feel bitter and resentful; while the poor who received the gold form the hands of soldiers would feel no gratitude, because no generosity would have prompted the gift.
Far from bringing moral benefit to society, it would actually do moral harm.
Material justice cannot be accomplished by compulsion, a change of heart will not follow. The only way to achieve true justice is to change people’s hearts first – and then they will joyfully share their wealth.
Saint John Chrysostom
Doctor of the Church
1,500+ years later our shepherds continue to warn us against the lies and false promises of socialism.
…Socialism… cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth.
Quadragesimo Anno, 117, Encyclical of Pope Pius XI
Reconstruction of the Social Order, May 15, 1931
Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between Communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism.
Mater Et Magistra, 34, Pope John XXIII
On Christianity and Social Progress, May 15, 1961
…the fundamental error of socialism is anthropological in nature. Socialism considers the individual person simply as an element, a molecule within the social organism, so that the good of the individual is completely subordinated to the functioning of the socio-economic mechanism. Socialism likewise maintains that the good of the individual can be realized without reference to his free choice, to the unique and exclusive responsibility which he exercises in the face of good or evil.
Centesimus Annus, 13, Encyclical of Pope John Paul II
January 5, 1991
Socialists… debase the natural union of man and woman… the [family] bond they… deliver up to lust. Lured… by the greed of present goods… they assail the right of property. While they seem desirous of caring for the needs and satisfying the desires of all men, they strive to seize and hold in common whatever has been acquired either by title, by labor, or by thrift.
Quod Apostolici Muneris, 1, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII
On Socialism, December 28, 1878
Read these quotes. There is little more that I could add.
This is part 2 of 2. Last week I presented the Catholic teaching of social justice.