Catholic social teaching

The U.S. Is Ignoring Pope Francis' Call to Abolish the Death Penalty

Screenshot via C-SPAN / Youtube

I formerly served as a corrections officer at a maximum security facility. I also used to be a reserve police officer. I have sped through city streets in a squad car, sirens blaring, on my way to shootings. I have booked and interviewed (interrogated) alleged murderers. I have seen victims’ families cry. I have had inmates hit me. I even used force when I wore a badge. And yet, as a Catholic Christian, over the years I have come to oppose capital punishment for a number of reasons.

I agree with Pope Francis’ remarks about the death penalty. During his speech before Congress, Democrats and Republicans applauded when he emphasized: “Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’” (Mt 7:12). The pope added: “This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”

Pope Francis Arrives, Reassures U.S.: 'I'm a Catholic, Not a Communist!'

Image via Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS/RNS

Pope Francis touched down in Washington on Sept. 22 after a historic visit to Cuba, the first Latin American pope in history on his first trip to the U.S. He comes “as a migrant,” as a top papal aide put it, on a six-day visit filled with great expectations for the popular pontiff but also numerous challenges.

Among them are the sharp, even personal criticisms directed at him from American conservatives upset with his thundering pronouncements against economic injustice and climate change, and from conservative Catholics upset that his focus on the poor and marginalized is undercutting the Catholic Church’s focus on battling abortion and gay marriage.

Francis himself addressed those concerns even before he landed, telling reporters aboard the chartered Alitalia jet that everything he has said is in keeping with church teaching and laughing at repeated accusations that he is a communist or radical left-winger:

“I am certain I have never said anything more than what is in the social doctrine of the church,” Francis said, according to Catholic News Service .

“I follow the church and in this I do not think I am wrong.

RESOURCES: Catholic Social Teaching and Public Policy

No Longer the ‘Best Kept Secret’” (Sojourners, July 2014), by Tom Allio, describes how Pope Francis has played a vital role in the resurgence of Catholic social teaching. Through scripture and church teachings, this social tradition continues to guide Catholic communities and other people of faith who seek to create a more just society.

Check out how Catholic social teaching informs the work and mission of these organizations.

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No Longer the 'Best Kept Secret'

SINCE HIS ELECTION as the 265th successor of St. Peter, Pope Francis has provided a refresher course on Catholic social teaching to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. “Catholic social teaching is no longer a secret,” says Jean Hill, director of peace and justice for the diocese of Salt Lake City. “Everything Pope Francis is saying comes from social doctrine and is about social justice.”

Through his various homilies, speeches, and meetings, Francis is “reading the signs of the times” and making practical application to the issues of the day. Some of his most powerful statements to date were made in his first pastoral document, “The Joy of the Gospel,” including this declaration: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church that is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

Pope Francis is calling the faithful to be more merciful, compassionate, joyful, and centered upon the needs of the poor and vulnerable. He wants a church that sees the human person before the law and one that does not “obsess” about a narrow set of issues, but affirms both human life and human dignity. He invites

Catholics to pray, reflect, and embrace the beauty and breadth of Catholic social teaching—a rich tradition that is predicated on the dignity of the human person.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) defines Catholic social teaching as “a central and essential element of our faith. Its roots are in the Hebrew prophets who announced God’s special love for the poor and called God’s people to a covenant of love and justice.” This teaching is also founded on the life and words of Jesus. It posits that “every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family.”

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One Year In: The Joyful Surprise of Pope Francis

Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 5, giulio napolitano /

Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 5, giulio napolitano /

Today the world celebrates Pope Francis’ first year. Notice I didn’t say the church is celebrating, but the world. The pope has graced the covers of every magazine from TIME to Rolling Stone over the past year. People all over the world are delighted by the breath of fresh air he has brought. His popularity has moved beyond Catholics to Christians of all kinds, believers from other faith traditions, agnostics, and the “nones,” who are very drawn to this pope who emphasizes love and simple living.

But the pope said last week that he is not a “ superman” and does not want to be a celebrity. He is just trying to talk and live like Jesus, a point he makes repeatedly to shrug off his media darling standing. From the moment he took the name Francis, he made clear his, and thus the church’s priorities: the poor, peace, and the creation. Francis is now challenging the most powerful people and places in the world, as well as a popular culture that mostly asks how we can serve ourselves.

Pope Francis is right: it is not about him; it’s about the Christ he follows. Everything Francis is saying and doing is aimed at pressing this question: Are Christians going to follow Jesus or not? That should be the question on the first anniversary of this new pope. Are we Christians ready and willing to follow Jesus? How can we then serve the world?

More Protests Over Koch Gift to Catholic University of America

Andrew Abela of Catholic University. Photo by Ed Pfueller, via The Catholic University of America/RNS

A group of leading Catholic activists and academics has renewed criticism of Catholic University of America over a large gift from the billionaire industrialist and conservative funder Charles Koch, and over a school official’s statements that seem to endorse Koch’s questioning of climate change and the right of public workers to unionize.

In a letter sent on Monday to CUA President John Garvey and Andrew Abela, dean of CUA’s new business school, more than 50 Catholic signatories said Charles Koch and his brother, David, “have a clear political and ideological agenda.”

The Kochs’ libertarian-leaning positions, they said, “are in direct conflict with traditional Catholic values.”

'Rebuild My Church'

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Newly elected Pope Francis waves to the St. Peter's Square crowd. Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Francis. Pope Francis. This could be good news for the Catholic Church, for the whole church, and for the world. Let’s hope and pray so.

Jorge Bergoglio, the Argentinian cardinal from Buenos Aires, will be the first pope from Latin America and the first outside of Europe in a millennium. That’s good news from the start. And the world is now learning about the 76-year-old new pontiff whose election caused the white smoke to rise in the night skies of Rome to the cheers of tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square. A Jesuit scholar, he seems to be a humble man who lives simply, choosing to live in a small apartment instead of the archbishop’s palace, and travel on buses and trams instead of in the church limousine.

Will simplicity and social justice become the witness of the Roman Catholic Church around the world — and will it emanate from the first pope from the Global South, which is clearly the growing future of the church? What good news that would be.

Catholic University vs. Catholic Social Teaching on Unions

Adjunct faculty in today's colleges and universities are often, to put it mildly, not treated well in terms of income and job security, so it's not surprising to me that the adjuncts at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University are considering unionizing. After first agreeing to a union election, the university filed a legal movement last Friday to kibosh the process by claiming labor law doesn't apply to Duquesne as a religious institution.

I don't know whether Duquesne's professors' job is religious enough to make this legal claim stick, in the same way  the "ministerial exception" means anti-discrimination law doesn't apply to religious employees (as Melissa Scott explained in "A Hire Law for Churches" in the April Sojourners). But I do know that it seems ironic that the professors may have a better grasp of Catholic teaching regarding labor unions than the university administration does:

From Inside Higher Ed:

"Joshua Zelesnick, an adjunct who teaches English composition at Duquesne, said he was taken aback that the university signed an agreement to follow all NLRB rules and regulations and was now trying to back out of it. ...

“'They have a history of bargaining with other unions on campus -- for instance: they're not too Catholic to bargain with the Teamsters, who represent the campus police; not too Catholic for other unions.  How are they all of a sudden too Catholic for the USW?' Zelesnick said, adding that if the university wanted to exhibit its Catholic identity, 'upholding the papal encyclicals would be a great place to start.'

"Robin Sowards, an adjunct who teaches composition and linguistics at Duquesne, pointed out that the Roman Catholic Church has said that unions are an 'indispensable element of social life.'”

The school's full name is Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit. Is this a case of  "Spirit" vs. the letter of church teaching?

Read more at the Inside Higher Ed website.

The Ryan Budget and Moral Cowardice

By Win McNamee/Getty Images.

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at the Heritage Foundation March 22, 2012 in Washington, DC. By Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Remember Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 budget, The Path to Prosperity? Well, it’s baaa-aaack — and this time the path is smoother and wider and offers a quicker trip to judgment.

Christianity and most of the world’s faith traditions explicitly demand protection for the poor and the preservation of the lives and dignity of all. Well, the Chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan, high-tails it down his Path, budget rolled in-hand, in the exact opposite direction from those moral commitments.

Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), concluded that the Ryan budget “is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation's history)."

Any responsible budget plan requires a balanced approach that would both increase revenue and reduce spending. This proposal would cut taxes, merely hope for revenue, increase military spending, and slash most everything else that isn’t protected by large corporate interests.