US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Is Catholic social teaching Catholic moral teaching?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Reviewing reactions to yesterday's Vatican "note"/document/reflection on the Catholic left (with their collective "you said it") and the Catholic right ("not so fast!"), I'm find myself more interested in the debate under the debate: whether Catholic social teaching is binding church moral teaching that requires Catholics to act in a certain way, just as moral teaching on, say, sex is binding.

It seems an odd dichotomy to me: Why would the church teach that individual people must be just, merciful, loving, and peaceful, but then say that, when people come together to create governments, corporations, and social and financial institutions, they can collectively do whatever they want? If Catholic individuals have a moral obligation to care for the sick, feed the poor, educate the ignorant, and do all the other works of mercy, doesn't it stand to reason that those obligactions extend to groups of people as well?

The mechanisms of individual and collective moral action and responsibility are obviously different, and there can be legitimate debate about how being just, merciful, loving, and peaceful look when we do it as a group. So we have arguments about which family arrangements are more beneficial to the common good, and which systems of taxation are more just. But it seems ludicrous to me to say that the church can only ask those questions of individual moral actions and not collective ones, such as war or the way we organize financial markets.

So why the debate? I think because the church's social teaching is actually more challenging because it hits us where we feel it the most: in our wallets.