The year in social justice-y news

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Waves of new revelations of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clerics in Europe, a badly misfiring U.S. and global economy, confusion reigning on U.S. foreclosures, BP’s blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, persistent unemployment and the widening divide between U.S. richest and poorest—and the government’s responsibility to respond to them—were the issues that drove a lot of the social justice coverage here at U.S. Catholic and other media sites during 2010. A few of the top concerns of news reporting related to social justice issues in the United States will likely remain frontrunners in 2011: immigration and health care reform made headlines frequently in 2010 and will likely generate a great many stories throughout the new year. The U.S. church has been at the forefront on both issues for years, supporting comprehensive immigration reform and health care that adequately covers all U.S. residents, but the legislative success of health care reform in March proved deeply divisive in the church as U.S. bishops and the Catholic Health Association and many leaders of congregations of U.S. sisters found themselves at odds over the final wording of the reform package and the issue of whether or not the complex legislation creates a de facto use of federal monies to pay for abortion.

Many prolife Catholic legislators were ultimately satisfied that it did not—and the President has issued executive orders to that effect—and voted for the package. The bishops’ conference remains unconvinced, and a very public battle over the final legislation left wounds that have not healed. That aspect of the story will likewise prove worthy of attention in the coming year. Pope Benedict’s endorsement of health care as an inalienable human right in November is worthy of note. Coincidence or was the Vatican attempting to prod the U.S. church past its disunity on this subject?

It was an odd year for social justice reporting as the concept itself became, thanks to Glenn Beckian bombast, news. The popular radio and cable broadcaster took direct aim on the concept, long enshrined in Catholic teaching and expression, arguing that “social justice” was essentially code for communism, Nazism and tyranny and urging parishioners to depart from parishes and pastors who evinced any affection for the term. Needless to say Beck’s campaign against social justice—and his complete misunderstanding of it—generated significant blowback.

Looking forward into 2011, keep an eye out for stories on the legitimacy of the U.S. drone wars in Pakistan and in general U.S. efforts to disentangle from Iraq and Afghanistan, the spread of the church’s sex abuse crisis to the developing world where the problem has arguably been well hidden, the impact on the most vulnerable as hard-pressed state and local governments attempt to balance their deeply troubled books, new pressure for ecologically treacherous natural gas and other fossil fuel exploration, the simultaneous emergence of alternative power and the growth of the solar power industry in China, and while we’re on the subject, the vast expansion of China’s strategic and economic reach.

Conditions in Africa promise to be a major source of headlines for social justice reporters, specifically the chaos in Ivory Coast and the high-pressure showdown on January 9 in Sudan as the nation faces a vote that will likely mean independence for the Christian south and a possible return to civil war with the Muslim north. What should be of attention in Sudan is the role of great powers China and the United States in the tension between the two Sudans—China has been a major importer of oil from Sudan, and the United States would like to be—and the international community’s “responsibility to protect” noncombatants from genocide and war crimes. Most nations, including the United States, have committed themselves to the RtP concept; Sudan may prove a test case for the strength of those convictions.

I’ve no doubt missed a lot in this short accounting. Feel free to add your nominations below in the comment section for stories from 2010 and likely stories in 2011. Have a wonderful new year all, and God bless us, everyone.