Where are the real social justice agencies of the Catholic Church?

July 3, 2015 09:00 AM

By Michael Hichborn

Genuine social justice is not composed of bureaucracies, collaboration with government agencies, and high salaries. As Pope Francis has recently said, it begins with Christ: “The Church must bring Jesus, the love of Jesus, the charity of Jesus.”

And that’s the rub. Our research has repeatedly pointed out over the last four years that Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and Catholic Relief Services have repeatedly shown that they are not bringing Jesus, but rather programs, projects, and agencies that focus specifically on “services” that are at absolute odds with Catholic teaching.

Because of our position and our well-documented research, we have taken a great deal of flak from people within the Catholic social justice community and even some Catholic bishops.

On the other hand, we have received private praise from many lay Catholics and numerous bishops.

So when lay supporters ask us why the Catholic Church appears to be silent or even appears at times to defend the actions of organizations at odds with Church teaching, we hasten to point out that the Church is—as she has always been—consistent. It is those human beings within the Church who often go astray.

For over 40 years, the popes of the Church have expressed their concern for the direction of these agencies in general. We have simply applied their clearly enunciated general concerns to specific situations. 

In 1975, Pope Paul VI penned the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, warning in paragraph 32 what would happen if the work of charity in the Church focused on the temporal while ignoring the eternal:

We must not ignore the fact that many, even generous Christians who are sensitive to the dramatic questions involved in the problem of liberation, in their wish to commit the Church to the liberation effort are frequently tempted to reduce her mission to the dimensions of a simply temporal project. They would reduce her aims to a man-centered goal; the salvation of which she is the messenger would be reduced to material well-being. Her activity, forgetful of all spiritual and religious preoccupation, would become initiatives of the political or social order. But if this were so, the Church would lose her fundamental meaning. Her message of liberation would no longer have any originality and would easily be open to monopolization and manipulation by ideological systems and political parties. She would have no more authority to proclaim freedom as in the name of God. This is why we have wished to emphasize, in the same address at the opening of the Synod, “the need to restate clearly the specifically religious finality of evangelization. This latter would lose its reason for existence if it were to diverge from the religious axis that guides it: the kingdom of God, before anything else, in its fully theological meaning.” (emphasis added) 

In 1986, under the instruction of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Josef Ratzinger wrote Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, wherein he said (paragraph 98):

Thus a theology of freedom and liberation which faithfully echoes Mary’s Magnificat preserved in the Church’s memory is something needed by the times in which we are living. But it would be criminal to take the energies of popular piety and misdirect them toward a purely earthly plan of liberation, which would very soon be revealed as nothing more than an illusion and a cause of new forms of slavery.(emphasis added)

Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio, On the Service of Charity, gave specific instructions to Catholic charitable organizations:

It is important, however, to keep in mind that "practical activity will always be insufficient, unless it visibly expresses a love for man, a love nourished by an encounter with Christ." In carrying out their charitable activity, therefore, the various Catholic organizations should not limit themselves merely to collecting and distributing funds, but should show special concern for individuals in need and exercise a valuable educational function within the Christian community, helping people to appreciate the importance of sharing, respect and love in the spirit of the Gospel of Christ. The Church’s charitable activity at all levels must avoid the risk of becoming just another form of organized social assistance. (emphasis added)

Pope Francis has recently echoed the words of these popes on several occasions. In his first sermon as pope, he said:

We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the bride of the Lord. When we are not walking, we stop moving. When we are not building on the stones, what happens? The same thing that happens to children on the beach when they build sandcastles: everything is swept away, there is no solidity. When we do not profess Jesus Christ, the saying of Léon Bloy comes to mind: “Anyone who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil.” When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness. (emphasis added)

Just last week, Pope Francis reiterated these warnings

Our Lady also wants to bring the great gift of Jesus to us, to us all; and with him she brings us His love, His peace, and His joy. In this, the Church is like Mary: the Church is not a shop, she is not a humanitarian agency, the Church is not an NGO. The Church is sent to bring Christ and His Gospel to all. She does not bring herself—whether small or great, strong or weak, the Church carries Jesus and should be like Mary when she went to visit Elizabeth. What did Mary take to her? Jesus. The Church brings Jesus: This is the centre of the Church, to carry Jesus! If, as a hypothesis, the Church were not to bring Jesus, she would be a dead Church. The Church must bring Jesus, the love of Jesus, the charity of Jesus. (emphasis added)

The statements of these popes speak for themselves, and stand as a firm testimony to the truth; the Church HAS spoken against actions taken by the likes of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Charities USA, and Catholic Relief Services. The question is, “Why are these agencies ignoring the popes?” 

Hopefully, through prayer, fasting, and exposure of the truth, these organizations will sever their ties with the culture of death and conform to the authentic charity defined by the vicars of Christ.

Michael Hichborn is director of American Life League’s Defend the Faith project.

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