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Vatican to America: ‘Social Justice’ is About Relationships, Not Socialism

Peter Cardinal Turkson, President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has a message for Catholics in America, particularly those involved in social justice ministry, that could put a damper on the political machinations of the Shadow Party.

The message? “Social justice” is about “relationships,” not “socialism.” This clarification may very well be the catalyst to set the Catholic Church in America back on course with authentic Catholic teaching on hot-button issues involving massive government entitlement programs and other forms of overreach. If nothing else, it will almost certainly jump-start the “social justice” debate among Catholics. Cardinal Turkson, you see, is scheduled to deliver the plenary address at the 2011 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in February.

Though the news was published on January 13, reporting and commentary from among Catholics in America is, so far, scant. Even conservatives in the Church have been largely silent about the new ‘vocabulary’ Cardinal Turkson says he will be offering to help American Catholics understand that a “gift” is “not quite the same as a handout.” In an interview with Catholic News Agency, the Cardinal explained that the clarification is necessary because Pope Benedict’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth“) has been misinterpreted by the Vatican’s American audience.

It would be useful if we just observed our sense of justice as our ability to fulfill the demands of the relationships in which we stand.

This is in contrast to socialism, he explained, which is an ideology in which private property and private interests are totally placed in the service of government policies. What the Pope proposes in ‘Caritas in Veritate,’ said Cardinal Turkson, is ‘achieving the common good without sacrificing personal, private interests, aspirations and desires.’

Cardinal Turkson said the Council was also surprised that the Pope’s concept of the ‘gift,’ was perceived in some circles as encouraging government welfare handouts. In ‘Caritas in Veritate,’ Pope Benedict described the concept of “gift” as a way to understand God’s love for men and women in his gift of life and his gift of Jesus.

Whether he intended to or not, Cardinal Turkson has now echoed what many conservative Catholics in America have been calling for repeatedly — subsidiarity in economic policy. More importantly, the Cardinal observes the heart of the matter in noting that a ‘handout’ and a ‘gift’ are not at all the same, with the latter being more in keeping with the Gospel message.

Next: An Explanation of Subsidiarity, and the Example of Pope John Paul II

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is among those in the forefront of American political discourse in regard to Catholic teaching on subsidiarity.

One of the key principles of Catholic social thought is known as the principle of subsidiarity. This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be. This principle is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom. It conflicts with the passion for centralization and bureaucracy characteristic of the Welfare State.

This is why Pope John Paul II took the ‘social assistance state’ to task in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. The Pontiff wrote that the Welfare State was contradicting the principle of subsidiarity by intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility. This ‘leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.’

You  may remember that Pope John Paul II worked closely with President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to bring down communism in the Soviet Union and Marxist governments in Latin America. With the worldwide Left now in such kinship with Islam, and with no modern-day Reagan or Thatcher in sight, Pope Benedict XVI certainly has his work cut out for him. If they recognize that America has become polarized, perhaps America’s Catholic bishops will bite the bullet and commit themselves to following in the footsteps of the just-beatified Pope John Paul II…to morally undermine the Left as he morally undermined the Soviet Union.

We will, of course, know more about what Cardinal Turkson refers to as a new ‘vocabulary’ to clarify Catholic teaching on social justice when he delivers his address. For the time being, however, it appears clear that the lack of ‘harmony’ in America may have put the Vatican on notice. Clearly, Catholic American politicos (and many bishops) have strayed off course in “encouraging government welfare handouts” at grave expense to our “relationships” with each other.

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