On Social Justice Issues

    In Vol. 18, No. 5 [4], p. 6 of the March-April (2007) issue of Christ In the World edition, the article on Peace and Justice was interesting.  The article had a timely and well-formed comment on Lenten fasting, forgiveness, and almsgiving.  At the forefront of the article, a Dominican student friar’s reflection was quoted stating that the “North American Dominican Justice Promoters are too political.”   The source of that statement is unknown, but it is a general concern that should be addressed.   That observation should be of concern.

            In the article, the authoritative “Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” dated November 22, 2002, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time Pope Benedict XVI was prefect of that congregation, was quoted, which follows:

By fulfilling their civic duties, guided by a Christian conscience, in conformity with its values, the lay faithful exercise their proper task of infusing the temporal order with Christian values.

Article I. 1, Para. 3.  This document encourages participation in the political order, but sheds further light on the nature and priority of certain issues—and the centrality of the human person in the discussion involving key issues, where the document further explains,

The consequence of this fundamental teaching of the Second Vatican Council is that the lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in ‘public life’, that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas, which are intended to promote organically and institutionally the common good».  This would include the promotion and defence [sic] of goods such as public order and peace, freedom and equality, respect for human life and for the environment, justice and solidarity.

Article I, 1, Para. 3 (footnotes omitted).  Guadiam et Spes was also quoted where the Council stated, “Since [the laity] have an active role to play in the whole life of the Church, laymen are not only bound to penetrate the world with a Christian spirit, but are also called to be witnesses to Christ in all things in the midst of human society.”  Guadiam et Spes, No. 43 (emphasis added).  This is true.

            Of course, lay people involved in the formal institutes of the Order are not simply lay folk acting alone or with civil private associations, political parties, or societies.  Lay people are encouraged, if not admonished, to be involved in culture, society, and politics individually and in free association with other individuals; however, the Order’s organized committees—as well as all lay members—in the lay Order of Preachers, face an entirely different issue.  When speaking on behalf of lay Dominicans, we belong to a province and an institute, a lay religious institute of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic, that bears the mantle and authority of the Order itself, as well as the Church and her Magisterium—not the endeavors of private persons or private associations. 

            It seems reasonable that this fact alone would lead us, as lay members of a lay ecclesial institute to responsibly review each social and political issue very carefully so that it reflects the moral order, conscience, issues and efforts so dear and close to the Church--not the whim of ideology and political ideas that benefit from currency or fancy. 

            This is a heavy responsibility.

            When certain worldly issues are confronted by members of the lay Fraternities of the Order of Preachers, certain guideposts exist outside of political agendas or social causes celebre.  These guideposts include with certainty the Holy Scriptures and Tradition.  Also, encyclicals and other documents are authoritative.  John Paul II said, “It is the special function of the laity to seek the kingdom of God in dealing with temporal affairs and ordering them as God wishes.”  John Paul II, Religious and Human Promotion, April 1978, no. 28 (emphasis here).

            To amplify this point further, as taught by the Vatican Council II, “Laymen should also know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city….”  ”  Guadiam et Spes, No. 43 (emphasis here).   

            It is appropriate here to expound on the main point with clarity.  Upon review of the materials from the lay, religious, and general Dominican websites, Dominican links, including other Orders, and religious and other links, as well as national websites concerning peace and justice, it cannot be ignored the prominent peace and social justice issues at both at the national and at the international level, are largely liberal in nature and often are not based upon natural law or supernatural principles. 

            It cannot be denied that there are legitimate issues that the promoters, religious, and others are thankfully pursuing at national and international levels.  However, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the social justice movement has been deeply impacted by a liberal agenda.  As Dominicans we must be truthful in our review of this material. 

            This conclusion may shock or cause reactions of guffaws.  As Dominicans who seek the Truth, it cannot be ignored.  The social justice movement cannot move in a new direction whether to the right, middle, left, or with a new ideology.  The real move must not be grounded in a political or social ideology.  Any social justice action must be based on natural and supernatural principles, Godly in its origin and in its faith and practice and on “divine law [that] is inscribed in the life of the earthly city.” Guadiam et Spes, No. 43.  As Dominicans, especially as members of the Lay Dominican Family of the Order of Preachers, we need to preach the Gospel.  At home. At school. At work. In the town square.  At all levels of government.  At the courtrooms, the hallways of Congress, the halls of academia, at businesses, corporations, and the like, we need to preach the Gospel.   It is the Church that teaches, that preaches, that is the source and fountain of eternal life through its Head, Jesus Christ.

            Some examples of concern are appropriate at this point. 

            Before detailing any examples, among the examples below, there are legitimate issues that should be dealt with by honest men and women of good will who seek the truth who may necessarily come from opposing political views.  However, one point is simple:  these views often represent a political point of view, not necessarily a religious viewpoint. 

            Below are words and phrases gleaned from various religious and laity Dominican internet websites.  These websites mention these terms.  These terms were “lifted” from the websites and inserted below between quotation marks.  The phrases listed here are in no particular order:

The “environmental and ecology,” “environmental sustainability,” “HIV-AIDs in Africa,” “eco-feminism,” “feminism,” “greenhouse gases,” “militarism,” “sexism,” “globalism,” “anti-racism,” “global warming,” “death penalty,” “universal health care,” “public dissent in the civic and ecclesial arenas,” “School of the Americas,” “disarmament,” “Earth Charter,” “Columbia,” “partnering with planet earth,” “reverencing the earth,” “collaborating for systemic change,” “disarmament,” “the war in Iraq,” “earth is sacred and interconnected,” “human dignity,” “the conflict in Israel and Palestine,” “human trafficking,” “heresies of local and global domination,” “ravage earth,” “ecological crisis,” “ecologically sustainable design models,” “multicultural and biological diversity,” “non-violent peacemaking,” “right relationships with Earth community,” “social service agencies,” “helping the poor,” “people of Columbia,” “Iraq,” “genetically engineered food,” “land ethic,” “heresy of dualism,” “commit to actions that safeguard Earth,”  “unjust structures,” “world water day,” “UN Millennium Declaration,” “Dominican Ecology Project,” “economic globalization,” “Dominicans at the United Nations,” “pledge of non-violence,” “wrap the world in prayer for peace,” “alternative investments,” “immigration and migration,” “labor,” “fair trade,” “United Nations,” “human trafficking,” “Darfur,” “Zimbabwe,” “biodiversity,” “globalization,” “reality of limit,” “new cosmology,” “listen to Earth, and to rethink cosmology,” “human rights,” “homosexual rights,” “nuclear weapons,” “nuclear power,” “nuclear disarmament,” and on and on.[1]


            Among the various Dominican websites, there were links to secular “women’s spiritualism,” “feminist theology,” “political websites,” environmental websites such as Public Citizen on the issue of socialized water, Sierra Club, and the Women’s Environmental Institute, and “peace and justice” sites and linked to a common thread of issues that are included above. 

            The list cited above is not exhaustive.  It is simply a general sampling of what was discovered on the internet involving religious and lay Dominican sites and links listed on those sites.

            It should be clarified that the purpose here is not to accuse but to expand the horizons and open the minds of many of the Dominicans when it comes to these issues.  The issues listed above have a tendency to be from a liberal perspective, and there are legitimate opposing points of view from other men and women that can be expressed from a moral perspective.  It is not all one sided.  There are other voices that are not being expressed.

            This general tendency in our Order of Preachers is alarming—and should be to any Dominican.  As Catholics, we should not be controlled by any political issue from either a liberal or a conservative basis or other single political perspective.  We should be concerned about social justice issues that reflect on the faith and morals of Catholic teaching.

            One may argue that the ‘liberal’ issues are the important issues. Also equally so, another person could argue that the ‘conservative issues are the important issues.  Of course, that cannot be from a Catholic perspective—and that is precisely the problem that is confronting the social justice movement presently.

            This point requires discernment and honesty.  It is for that reason that the Lay Provincial Council and each provincial chapter should seriously consider the direction these issues have taken over time and face the reality that many of the issues and actions taken have missed the true mark of a genuine religious concern.  This problem cannot be ignored without causing great harm not only to the Province but to the whole Order.

            Many of the issues stated above have little to do with primary Catholic moral and social teachings about domestic family life, life issues, just laws, faith and morals, and the like, but have more to do with socialist solutions to social problems as well as a liberal ideology and related political ‘doctrine’.

            As Dominicans, what should we do? 

We gather first as Dominicans.  While many of us may be politically involved, and may respectively be socialists, Republicans, Democrats, libertarians, progressive, capitalists, and on and on, our present business together involves the Order of Preachers and not worldly politics.  If we participate individually in secular social movements, it is responsible that we take good moral positions.  However, as Dominican people, we should focus on vital ecclesial issues which rely upon a crucial moral and theological foundation. 

To do so requires the lay Dominicans to face tough contemporary issues that will form the World in His image.  Anything less, the World will form the Order in the its image

            As an illustration, let’s examine the tragic issue of abortion. 

            This issue is primary.  The social justice issues mentioned at large often reflect on a disenfranchised, a deprived, a weak and a poor constituency.  Yet, nowhere in the world is there a more weak, choice-less, poor, blind, and voiceless constituency than the preborn child.  Outside a brief oblique reference at a few Dominican websites, there was no mention of this modern savagery of killing innocent children.

            On the other hand, an issue widely mentioned at Dominican websites is the death penalty.  Pope John Paul II voiced a growing social opposition to the death penalty.  The reality is that modern social systems have an alternative to the death penalty. [2]  However, the issue is not that the death penalty is always morally wrong, but where society has an alternative to protect the public, the better option is to avoid the death penalty.  See, footnote ii.   Appropriately, John Paul II gave a strong admonition especially in modern societies against imposing the death penalty.  However, when it comes to killing innocent life, the Commandment against murder is invoked. [3]  “In effect, the absolute inviolability of innocent human life is a moral truth clearly taught by Sacred Scripture, constantly upheld in the Church's Tradition and consistently proposed by her Magisterium.”  Evangelium Vitae, para. 57.  As Pope John Paul II taught in his famous encyclical, “I confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral.”

            After reviewing the issue of life, it is clear that the killing of all innocent life—whether a child in the womb or not—is gravely immoral.  However, the Church has long understood that the death penalty is the state’s right to defend society, but when it can provide for a just punishment without further taking of life, then the dignity of the human person requires that the death penalty be avoided. 

            Where Evangelium Vitae and the Catechism do not forbid the death penalty outright, this matter is a relative and secondary obligation, while in contrast defending the life of an innocent person is an absolute and therefore a prior responsibility.  

            There is a dearth of information on the killing of innocent persons on the Dominican websites quoted above, that includes the killing of children in the womb.

            It is difficult to say that men and women of good will are able to debate in truth the moral rightness of abortion. There is no right to commit an abortion. That is a political proposition—not a religious or moral principle.  Many persons believe and are full of hope, that if society can be corrected about abortion, many ills of society will be righted. 

            There are other issues that could be included in this discussion.  These issues include married life, religious freedom, euthanasia, pornography, and moral theology. [4]

As lay members of the Order of Preachers, what great good can be done!   We can teach children about moral conduct, about sex, fulfilling promises, working, family life, and marriage.  We can preach to young and old alike about a Godly life. 

This includes the teaching of children by lay people and religious about moral and right conduct, about sex, fulfilling promises, working, family life, marriage, and about preaching to young and old adults alike about right living and moral conduct—a Godly life. 

 These are not political issues.  These are moral standards that are pillars of right conduct that can change forever the hearts and minds of men and women.

            The irony is that all the political and social activity in the world, if not based on Christ and on right living and morals, is only that: busy activity.   This is precisely where the magnificence of the Order of Preachers steps in and is so desperately needed at the pulpit and on the streets today: we need to preach the Gospel of Truth with the power of God.  The Gospel helps people to live rightly, which promotes a culture of life, and helps people to make right decisions at every level of society including the family, community, and national levels. 

            As lay folk in the Order of Preachers, we have a duty to uphold and preach the natural law in contra to our contemporary society that upholds the “decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law.”  Often politics and its culture brings with it a legitimacy of pluralistic ethics where tolerance of wrongs and rights becomes a civic virtue, where “citizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics” and yield to temporal cultural and moral trends as if every outlook was of equal value.  The Participation of Catholics in the Moral Life, para. II.2., Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect, (2002)(Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).

            Where people are taught right from wrong; they will do right at a personal, social, and governmental level.   Critical to this mission are education and preaching that leads to changed hearts. 

            The final point is simply this.  We are lay people in a Catholic religious order.  We are not social or political leaders (unless otherwise in our private lives).  As members of the Lay Fraternities of the Order of Preachers, we are to preach the Gospel in and to our various secular areas but not to proclaim the particular political and temporal ideologies themselves.  To change the world, we need to preach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the ‘good’ news of political agendas.

       The Idaho Lay Dominicans kindly ask that the Lay Provincial Council to carefully review the issues raised in this letter.  We believe they are of genuine concern.  Our Dominican lives need a renewal based on the documents of Vatican Council II, where we are urged to return to the original charisms of our founding father, St. Dominic, where preaching, study, and prayer are fundamental to our mission of salvation and the changing of the hearts and minds of people. 

        In this way, we truly speak to God and of God and reflect on Him through our preaching charism.  As you know, Christ focused on humankind, not the social and governmental structures of the world.   When men and women convert and change their personal lives and reform their minds, they will change the world.

John C. Keenan, J.D., O.P.L.; Formation Director, Blessed Margaret of Castello Chapter, Order of Preachers, Boise, Idaho, United States of America.

Saturday, June 09, 2007, The Idaho Lay Dominicans. www.dominicanidaho.org [Presented to the Lay Provincial Council, Western Province; Saturday, June 23, 2007.]



[1]  See, attached Bibliography.   The list of websites on the bibliography is not exhaustive. 

[2] Evangelium Vitae, Para. 27.  "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person".  Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2267.   

[3] Evangelium Vitae, Para. 57.  “If such great care must be taken to respect every life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ has absolute value when it refers to the innocent person.” 

[4]  Other vital issues include not only moral theology but the rights and wrongs involving marriage and domestic life in general; sexual mores; private property and the respect for it at a personal and social level; economic and political freedom; legal plunder; the economic and social mechanisms for helping the poor to be fed, clothed, educated, and raised in dignity, and other issues. 

    Additional issues involve the United Nations.  The “Dominicans at the United Nations” website shows that the Order of Preachers is involved in many vital issues, including the issue of human trafficking, the war in Iraq, the war in Darfur, etc.  However, at that website [www.un.op.org], there was no reference or mention with regard to the international abortion rights movement.  There are valid questions, complaints and observations about the United Nations, its legitimacy and its bureaucracy.  From a review of the documents at that website, it appears that at the United Nations, the Dominicans have failed to challenge the pro-abortion structures at the United Nations as well as the UN’s and NGOs’ (nongovernmental organizations’) complicity with that issue.   Most recently, in the name of women’s rights, it was noted by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) (an NGO at the United Nations) and displayed at their website, that “the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health has made a dedicated effort to show governments that reproductive and sexual rights are fundamental elements of the right to health.”   As you know, “reproductive and sexual rights” are nothing less than a euphemism for abortion rights.  [www.reproductiverights.org/worldwide.htm].   While many Dominicans have focused on the nation of Columbia and the war on drugs, international groups such as the CRR have been promoting abortion rights in the United Nations and internationally, and most recently with legal success in the City of Mexico. 

   In a recent seminal decision, the Columbia Supreme Court quoted resolutions made under cover of the UN in legalizing limited abortions.  Did the Dominicans at the United Nations help pro-life forces to confront this travesty?  This is unknown.  However if the website at www.un.op.org is reviewed, it does not appear as there was any such involvement.   

     Another issue mentioned on the websites list on page 4 above is “universal health care.”  This is socialized medicine whereby the state takes control of health care, including price controls, health care delivery, and the payment of health care through a state-sponsored tax.  There is much honest and legitimate debate over the efficacy of government-sponsored medicine.  Men and women of good will on all sides of this issue should debate this issue in truth and reason.

     The key issue is whether universal health care is the proper vehicle for change in the health care industry and for providing health care.  That is why it is improper for members on behalf of the Order within the context as lay members or religious, to promote or endorse universal health care because there are legitimate and opposing sides to this debate.  For many, universal health care would be disastrous for the poor in particular and society at large.   There is a wealth of economic, political, and social evidence that universal health care is a worldwide and profound failure, and that governments should deregulate the health care marketplace rather than take it over.