Many Catholics have objected in recent years to grants awarded by the USCCB’s economic justice organization the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). Pro-life and other Catholics have specifically objected to funds being given to pro-abortion and socialist-leaning organizations, while Catholics on the Left have ridiculed the anti-CCHD campaign.
But while “conservative” Catholics may be the source of objections to the way CCHD operates, it seems that left-leaning Catholics are now challenging the very foundational premise of the CCHD and related economic justice efforts.
The theory behind CCHD is that the Gospel requires not only evangelization, and not only charity for the poor, but also the promotion of justice in society and the economy. In fact when Catholics have asked why CCHD doesn’t just fund charitable organizations instead of societal change agents, the CCHD has affirmed its focus on the distinction between charity and social justice efforts, and has insisted that the latter “is rooted in our baptism and faith commitment” just as much as the former.
Conservative Catholics don’t object to the notion that the Gospel requires social justice–though they may disagree with liberal Catholics about exactly how to define it. All Catholics should agree that the Gospel cannot just be about evangelization or direct care for the poor–because evangelization isn’t really evangelization until people and their society actually follow Jesus in their everyday lives and societal institutions.
This makes it all the more surprising that the Catholic Left is now attacking the very idea of economic justice. They claim that moral duties of the Gospel extend only to Catholic parishes and their charities such as schools and hospitals.
I am of course talking about the HHS Mandate. But the dividing line staked out by the Catholic Left in that debate destroys any grounds on which to defend economic justice efforts such as the CCHD. Leftist Catholics favor exempting only the consciences of churches and charities from the HHS Mandate, while forcing everyone else to comply. This stance draws a bright line against the assertion that the Gospel requires Catholics who work in the business world to do justice as a matter of conscience.
The underlying error of this view comes from trying to draw any line around what parts of human life the Gospel reigns over. Jesus Christ is either Lord of everything we do, including in business, or he is not Lord at all.
Economic justice in particular is meaningless unless the Gospel requires justice as a matter of conscience for business and policy leaders. If business leaders have no conscience worthy of protection from mandates like in Obamacare, they cannot have a duty to do justice in general to their workers, the environment, their communities or anyone else. Clamor or activism calling for such economic justice would be meaningless.
Even preaching in favor of economic justice would be meaningless under the Catholic Left’s view restricting conscience to churches and charities, because the sermon would be irrelevant for most people in the pews. According to the Catholic Left they have no consciences even when they run businesses, so they have no duty to anyone except to make a buck. When Zaccheus promised to pay back those he defrauded, Jesus should have told him to keep his money.
The conscience that the HHS Mandate is violating is one and the same with the conscience that economic justice advocates seek to persuade. If the former does not exist neither does the latter.
The Catholic Left is therefore decimating the CCHD’s moral foundation that “our baptism and faith commitment” impose duties from the Gospel on the way business and society leaders operate. By telling those people they have no conscience–because only churches and charities have consciences worthy of protection–the Catholic Left is renouncing the very distinction between direct charity and economic justice that the CCHD uses to defend its existence. No greater threat to the CCHD could have been launched by conservatives, who at root merely want anti-Catholic efforts not to get Sunday collection money.
If members of the Catholic Left were being consistent, the National Catholic Reporter would call for the CCHD to shut down because conscience has no implication for people in business, and Professor Stephen Schneck would resign as head of an economic justice institute because only churches and charities have any justice duties.
Not even Paul Ryan can be attacked by the Catholic Left anymore: since he isn’t a church or a charity, the Gospel can’t possibly speak to his conscience in a meaningful way about how to structure the federal budget.
Partisan promotion of economic justice, especially by self-labelled economic justice experts, will further cause conservative Catholics to distrust the very idea of economic justice, and necessarily undermines efforts such as CCHD.