Can “Social Justice” Be Saved?

Over at Catholic.org, my friend Deacon Keith Fournier makes the argument that Catholics need to “take back” the phrase “social justice” in its true meaning. 

His argument is a continuation of an exchange we shared at the Catholic Leadership Conference in Philadelphia a few weeks ago.  Deacon Fournier was in the midst of making the same argument, when I exerted my rights as moderator by interrupting to say, “That won’t work – the phrase ‘social justice’ is far too corrupted and become a veritable code phrase for pro-abortion Catholics in politics.”

Deacon Fournier disagreed, and has now published a full-length version of the argument I so rudely interrupted. 

Yet I still disagree.  It’s one thing to stress the desirability of a thing, quite another its feasibility.  And the redefinition of “social justice” for generations of Catholics is not feasible. 

 

We need a new phrase altogether to recapture what is meant by Catholic social teaching. 

What could that new phrase be?  Maybe we use “social teaching” or “pro-life social justice”?  I’m not sure, but I know that plain old “social justice” is lost, at least for the next 50 years. 

I know that 50 years is not a long time in the life of our ancient Church — but, oh, the damage that will be done; the damage that has been done.

In his article this morning, Deacon Fournier describes what happened after he and I stopped our friendly argument, which, I think, demonstrates my point rather well:

I continued to press for an authentically Catholic vision of social justice as set forth in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. As the lively discussion continued a man in attendance became so angry about my use of the term social justice that he began to shout and rushed the platform. Fortunately, he calmed down. He was angry because he insisted it was a term used by ‘leftists’.

I am well aware of the co-opting of the term by the “left” – so is the leadership of the Catholic Church. She has rightly condemned the errors found in versions of what was called “liberation theology” and other errant politicized efforts to usurp the term.  However, the Catholic Church has not stopped using the term “Social Justice” and neither should we who are her sons and daughters.

 

Deal W. Hudson

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Deal W. Hudson is ​publisher and editor of The Christian Review and the host of "Church and Culture," a weekly two-hour radio show on the Ave Maria Radio Network.​ Formerly publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine for ten years, his articles and comments have been published widely in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. He has also appeared on TV and radio news shows such as the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, NBC News, and All Things Considered on National Public Radio. Hudson worked with Karl Rove in coordinating then-Gov. George W. Bush's outreach to Catholic voters in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, President Bush appointed him a member of the official delegation from the United States to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of John Paul II's papacy. Hudson, a former professor of philosophy for 15 years, is the editor and author of eight books. He tells the story of his conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholic in An American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003), and his latest, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, was published in March 2008. He is married to Theresa Carver Hudson, also a Baptist convert, and they have two children, Hannah and Cyprian who was adopted from Romania in 2001.

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