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Insist on ‘Justice’ in ‘Social Justice’: No ‘Health Care Reform’

Deacon Keith Fournier

October 30, 2009

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Catholic Online) – It was the controversialist comedian and social commentator, the late Lenny Bruce, who once said: “In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.” He was referring to his contention that he was being treated unfairly by the US justice system during over his use of questionable language in some of his routines. I now offer a variation on the quote as I address the issue of “Social Justice” in this article. “Where is the ‘Social Justice’ in Social Justice Circles these days?” Let me explain what I mean.

As we approach a vote on a massive reform of the delivery of health care services in the United States there is a raging debate over many important issues which such a huge change would entail. In the midst of it all some are insisting that the failure to provide health care to all is a failure of our obligation to make an authentic commitment as a Nation to “Social Justice”. This claim is causing a very interesting divide among many Catholics and other Christians. After all, doesn’t our obligation in solidarity call us to give what the Church and the Gospel (see, e.g., Matthew 25) properly calls a “love of preference” to the poor? Doesn't "Social Justice" require that we find a way to provide health care to all of our neighbors?

However, good Catholics and other Christians can, and do, disagree on just how this obligation in solidarity can best be discharged. For example, the principle of subidiarity is an ordering principle in Catholic social teaching. It affirms that governance is best when it is exercised by the smallest mediating group, starting with the family as the first government and moving out from there. It properly prefers the utilizing of smaller mediating institutions over centralized solutions which seem to prefer starting with the central or federal government. There is a very real and valid concern being raised in the debate over the current health care plans being offered as it relates to the application of this principle in any real reform.

However, the most important issue which must be addressed is lost in the charged rhetoric over all of this "justice talk". That is the glaring fact that many who use the “Social Justice” arguments in this debate also support the intrinsically evil and utterly indefensible inclusion of abortion as a “health care service” in all of the current proposals for health care reform. Abortion is the intentional killing of children - our first neighbors - in the first home of the whole human race. Medical science confirms what the Natural Law has already revealed to all of us, that little boy or girl whom we now routinely operate on in the womb is one of us, our neighbor. The evil of killing him or her by dismemberment or suction or chemical weapons which was once hidden by the sophistry of the language of “choice” has been revealed for the horror that it really truly is. It is always and everywhere wrong to allow anyone to "choose" to kill the innocent.It is, in fact, criminal.

Sadly, we are not having this debate. The very foundation of all “Social Justice” is the recognition of dignity of every human person, from conception throughout all of life, at every age and stage, up to and including a natural death. We human beings are always “in development”. “Me” at almost 55 is a very different human being than “Me” at 5. However, I am now and have always been a human person and, as such, I have fundamental rights, the first of which is to the right to life and the freedom to not be killed by someone else in the name of “choice”. We are obligated - precisely because we are human persons together - to look out for one another. We all truly are our brother/sister’s keepers. This self evident truth then, that life is the first and fundamental human right, and further the derivative obligation to be good neighbors to one another and not kill each other is the very heart of “Social Justice”. Yet, sadly, many people, including many Catholics and other Christians, are not even using this obvious and essential argument to oppose the current versions of so called “Health Care Reform”.

That brings me to what my dear late father use to call, my “pet peeve”; the misunderstanding, misuse or even the rejection of the expressions “Social Justice Catholics” and "Peace and Justice Catholics" among many of my fellow Pro-life Catholics. First, let me make this point; I claim that I am both. That is right, I am a “Social Justice” and a “Peace and Justice” Catholic Christian. And you my readers, if you insist that children in the womb are our first neighbors and must be protected against being killed as a matter of justice and solidarity, are also. It is time we took these terms back from some who have wrongly claimed them exclusively as their own.

Over the decades I have been involved in what absolutely is the fundamental human rights struggle of our age, the Pro-Life movement; I have been uncomfortable with the acceptance of a kind of primacy of political language in our circles. In an age which has lost its moral anchor our prophetic witness requires our unwavering commitment to this first fundamental human right, the right to life, and our absolute insistence that the dignity of the person is the epicenter of every other “Social Justice” issue. This fact has never been more important. To all who claim to care about "Social Justice" and actually support the current versions of "Health Care Reform", where is the justice for the children in the womb who will be killed through abortion, funded by tax dollars?

The “politicized” language of the current debate has not served us well. In fact – and I will upset some of my friends even more by saying this- I am convinced that it has corrupted our discourse and impeded our progress in our work of persuading our fellow countrymen and women of our really, truly JUST position of defending the fundamental right to life. We should not first be “conservatives”, “neo-Conservatives,”, “liberals”, “progressives”, “Democrats”, “Republicans”…. or any permutation of those political labels. We must first be Catholic Christians, embracing the fullness of wisdom which the Magisterium (teaching office) of our Catholic Church offers us in her Social Doctrine and seeking to make the truths and principles which that instruction offers to us the leaven of all our work to build a more just society. Justice is Not a “liberal” or “left wing” word. It is the heart of our obligation as Christians who live in this world with other human persons!

We must take back the term “Social Justice Catholics” and form a New Catholic Action movement which rejects the “left/right” paradigm, emphasizing the first and most important issues. If we are opposed by those who have lost sight of the fundamental connection between recognizing the rights of children in the womb (the poorest of the poor, our first neighbors) and our claim to be concerned about all human rights, we should take them on in a robust, fully informed and doggedly persistent debate. Not by using the same old political arguments which have failed but with the true “Social Doctrine” of our Catholic Church. I also propose we take back that other term which is also being wrongly used in a similarly almost disparaging manner in some circles these days “Peace and Justice Catholics”.

We should all be “Peace and Justice Catholics”. It was not that long ago that the prophet from Calcutta, the humble little nun we called “Mother Teresa" reminded us “And today the greatest means - the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion.” Oh, I can hear it coming from some of my colleagues! First, anyone who has read me over the years knows that I have a strong aversion to war. That is because I believe the Lord does as well and the Church is and must be a champion of peace, properly understood. However, I will save that discussion for another article....

In some circles within our Catholic community we often hear, or see on bumper stickers, the words of the late Pope Pius XII “Peace is the Fruit of Justice.” Pope Paul VI turned the insight into the popular phrase “If you want peace, work for justice.” Make no mistake, it is true. Again in the words of Mother Teresa: “…because if a mother can kill her own child… what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me? There is nothing between.” Our insistence upon the justice claims of our youngest neighbors makes us peacemakers.

Violence begins in the womb when we allow the crime of killing children residing therein to continue being called a "choice" and a "right" when it is always and everywhere wrong!Then, we compound the evil by allowing what our Church rightly calls a "horrendous crime" (procured abortion) to be protected and promoted and then backed up by the police power of the State. The current “Health Care” reform will make this an even more egregious evil if not amended. The war on the womb has gone on for far too long. The weapons used against these children are weapons of war, surgical strikes and chemical weapons the evil results of which, if shown, would cause even the most hardened of hearts to recoil. However, we hide it and we are now reaping the whirlwind of violence which it has unleashed.

In his encyclical letter “On Social Concerns” the late giant of the Social Doctrine of the Church made a vital point. Remember, he is the one to whom the entire “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church” is dedicated with these words “To His Holiness Pope John Paul II, Master of Social Doctrine and Evangelical Witness to Justice and Peace.” After alluding to this motto of Pius XII, pope John Paul wrote, “Today, one could say, with the same exactness and the same power of biblical inspiration (cf. Is. 32:17, Jas. 3:18) opus solidaritatis pax – peace is the fruit of solidarity.” (On Social Concerns, #39)

By the way, that very word “solidarity” is another example of my premise. It was not that long ago that my insistence on using that term in my pro-life work was the source of argument with some of my friends because, in their mind it sounded too “left wing.” I would regularly respond “NONSENSE! Our solidarity with children in the womb is the very heart of our Pro-Life position!” Fortunately, the word is now embraced even by many of them. Maybe we should make up the new bumper stickers which read “'Peace is the Fruit of Solidarity' with all, including children in the womb.”

We must become the true “Social Justice” and “Peace and Justice" Catholics now. Our Bishops have clearly taken the lead in calling for opposition to any “Health Care” reform which includes the killing of our youngest neighbors. It is time to support their effort and build a massive “New Catholic Action” committed to building a truly just society for every human person.

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