Table of Contents
- The teaching of the Church that applies revealed truth and Christian moral principles to the social order is called the social doctrine of the Church. The purpose of the Church’s social teaching is to present God’s plan for secular reality. It enlightens the minds of men and women with truth and guides them in building up the earthly city according to the divine plan.
- The social teachings of the Catholic Church regard relationships in a profoundly religious way. They honor the dignity of the human being that is freely given by God to each person by being created in the divine image and likeness (Gen 1:26). The Church’s teachings on social justice deal with establishing, maintaining and promoting right relationships between persons and the common good of peoples, societies and the entire earth. The morality of our choices is based on our vocation to be in communion with one another in the family of God according to the message of the Gospel. Where sinfulness has entered the social fabric of our relationships the Church tries to address the destructive effects of evil.
- Many persons try to create a false division between political issues and moral truth. They say that the Church should not speak on political issues. However, most so called “political issues” are in fact, moral issues, since they deal with the actions of human persons. If the Church is to be faithful to Jesus, it must teach those moral truths which govern human choices and actions.
- There is often the inclination to choose economic gain over the authentic good for self and neighbor. Personal sin leads to social sin and to unjust social structures. Working for social justice is not merely an option in facing issues of human life, health, welfare, and solidarity, but a requirement found in the Gospel.
- The Word of God and Christian Tradition provide much guidance in a world of rapid change and ever-new challenges. All scriptures, from the stories of the Old Testament through the parables of Jesus and the guidance of the epistles, speak of the right relationships that need to exist between human beings. No other teaching of Jesus is clearer than this: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself… do this, and you will live.” (Lk 10:27-28.) In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 29-36) Jesus expanded the meaning of neighbor to include not only those like us, but those who are different and distant from us. He taught us through words and example to see and take special care of those most in need (Mt 25: 31-46). This preferential option for the poor includes overcoming unjust practices and situations that oppress the poor. Jesus’ example challenges us to remain faithful to the reign of God in the most adverse circumstances.
- Catholic tradition is rich with saints, holy men and women throughout the centuries, named saints and those unknown, who have devoted themselves to the needs of the poor through charitable service and through improving the social situations that contributed to oppression of the poor. Often they were martyred by authorities, who were confronted by the powerful witness of their lives and the hope they gave to the oppressed. This tradition continues in our own times, as we respond as individual Christians and as Christian faith communities.
- Today, a greater awareness of the inter-relatedness and working of our global economy is emerging. Sinful and destructive patterns and goals have been more clearly identified. Papal documents and pastoral letters from the US bishops have become more frequent as the Church provides help in dealing with contemporary social and political issues. Significant social teachings have been articulated in many papal documents, beginning with Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Workers) by Pope Leo XIII (1891) which addressed the inhuman conditions of industrial workers and bitter class division. This first major social encyclical defended the right to own private property, and supported workers’ rights to form unions, to bargain collectively for just wages and decent working conditions.
- Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) by Pope John XXIII (1963) stated that the basis for human dignity is God’s creation of order in the universe. Rights have corresponding duties. The protection and promotion of rights and duties is the function of legitimate public authority whose purpose is service of the common good. Peace is not the absence of war but the result of justice for all. Economic Justice for All, the US Bishops’ Pastoral Letter (1986) emphasized that human dignity is fostered when people participate in the life of the community. Participation of the community in decisions shaping the economy is integral to US democracy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) states that “It is the role of the laity ‘to … show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice’.” (CCC, 2442.)
- The state of Texas has been at the center of the heated debate over human life issues especially regarding abortion and capital punishment. Other critical life issues in the Diocese include support for families, unemployment, lack of adequate housing, domestic violence, hunger, poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, racism (subtle and overt), discrimination, unsafe neighborhoods, elder and child abuse, lack of gun control, and a large prison population. These social issues are related to the promotion of the sanctity of human life and the common good.
- Social concerns include health, welfare and education: accessibility of medical care by the poor, the disabled, the uninsured, the elderly, and infants. Family issues include: employment, childcare, poverty, the reduction of dependency, and the fostering of responsibility. The focus of our religious education must expand beyond self-development to sensitizing persons to the needs of others and how to respond to those needs.
- The Church in Southeast Texas has great diversity. Among the things that make us different, one from the other are ethnic and cultural heritage. We are: African Americans, Vietnamese, Filipinos, and a rapidly growing Spanish-speaking population, as well as Caucasians of Cajun and Italian descent. We are not all identical; some of us are different personally, emotionally, physically. Some persons have like-gender sexual orientation. Some persons are unable to enter the mainstream of society and are jobless and homeless. Some persons struggle with addictions. Although we are all sisters and brothers, no one of us is identical to the other. Awareness of diversity can lead to supporting individuals and enriching the faith community or it can lead to prejudicial behaviors. “Prejudice starts with the simple perception of difference, whether that difference is physical or psychological” (Pastoral Statement of U. S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, p. 2). Our call to follow Jesus’ example asks all of us to be open and accepting of the differences in others and to come together as a community of faith.
- Concern for protecting the environment, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil for growing, begins with but is not limited to the local area. Stewardship of God’s creation and environmental justice addresses many interrelated areas: air and water pollution, hazardous waste transportation and disposal, sustainable development and land-use, energy efficiency, over-consumption of natural resources, agricultural pesticides and fertilizers, military operations, and international arms trade.
- Different economic bases dominate different geographical areas of the Diocese of Beaumont: oil and gas exploration production, process plants, transportation, agriculture, fishing and wood products. While each of these economic bases brings the benefits of employment, each also brings the responsibility of caring for the environment we share. At times this creates conflict. Every person can contribute to the health and balance in our environment by daily life choices. Yet the decision-makers in industry and government bear a much greater stewardship responsibility for large scale and lasting impact.
- Within the Diocese there are workers in the process industries, in small businesses, in service industries, and in health care and education. Although Southeast Texas is no longer heavily unionized, a significant number of workers are union members collectively trying to achieve what is impossible alone. Managers, stockholders, and owners need to balance their economic goals with the needs of those they employ. In 1996 the National Council of Catholic Bishops stated again that all people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions as well as to organize and join unions and other associations (Catholic Framework for Economic Life).
- Our laity, in union with our Bishop, priests, and religious, appear to be unwavering in their desire to protect and preserve the sanctity and dignity of all human life, health care, welfare reform and education. Some progress has been made through diocesan ministries: Parish and Community Concerns, Prison Ministry, Family Life, and other various programs and offices. The wealth of cultural nuances that come from our various racial and ethnic heritages enriches liturgical celebrations, especially diocesan ones. This broadens the entire community’s understanding and appreciation of other peoples.
- For several decades, educational and media efforts at the national and local levels have heightened individual awareness of environmental issues. Through the combined efforts of concerned individuals, governmental regulations, and cooperation by local industries, substantial progress has been made in improving air and water quality in our area. Relations between organized labor and management have improved recently. There tends to be a balance of respect by and for each other as advocated by Church teaching in the area of labor relations.
- Although the Church has clear and well-articulated principles on human life issues, they are not receiving universal acceptance by all of the faithful. Some Catholics pick and choose which Church teaching they will accept, such as addressing the injustice of abortion but ignoring the injustice that can occur applying the penalty of capital punishment. It is incumbent upon the faith community, whether at the voting booth, the jury room, or on Capitol Hill, to adhere to the teachings of God and the sanctity of human life. This adherence must be informed and faith-filled. Public opinion should not set social teaching or public morality. Because of their faith, there will be times when Catholics will not support popular opinion or law that is in error.
- Presently Christian counseling is not widely available for troubled families. Some families have inadequate or no insurance. The poor, alienated, disabled, and recent immigrants have not received sufficient attention and outreach from the Church. Many rural Hispanic communities do not have access to educational resources that could assist them: citizenship classes and English as a second language. Racism and cultural bias, often subtle and hidden, keep prejudices alive. Catholic elementary schools in the diocese are unable to offer access to disabled children. Despite the fact that there are many gifts and talents within the faith community, the worship and inclusion needs of persons with disabilities are often overlooked. Our large prison population presents a challenge in terms of finding people and resources for proper ministry to offenders.
- There exists dangerous apathy regarding the religious and moral dimensions of our behavior as a society. Unfair economic practices based on language, race, sex, physical appearance, and disabilities need to be eliminated. Stewardship of the environment must occur to assure that previous achievements are not lost and that future improvements take place. While Catholics are called by the Church to a preferential option for the poor, the income gap between the rich and the poor has increased steadily over the last twenty years.
- Much remains to be done to bring about social justice. We need to accept the challenge to examine our consciences and seek to correct our personal faults. We are asked to examine the root causes of how our sinfulness has become part of the fabric of society so we can seek to remove social sin from our institutions. We cannot merely try to avoid sin, but we need to promote justice.
In order to do this, the synod recommends the following goals and strategies:
Goal 32. Become socially and ethically responsive at home and in the public arena so as to carry out Christ’s mission in the world.
- Make an effort to become well informed about the Church’s social teachings so as to be able to speak clearly in public
- Teach children and youth right from wrong and the need to be concerned about bringing Catholic moral values and ethics into both personal life and the life of the community
- Identify prejudices and teach respect and acceptance of others through word and example
- Respect God’s gift of creation by exercising care for the environment
Goal 33. Integrate social justice and peace-making into the faith life of the parish community.
- Stress that parishioner participation is necessary to carry out works of faith
- Help make the connection between liturgy and social justice at home, in the workplace, and in the civic community
- Give homilies that clearly address the evils of prejudice, racism, abuse of human dignity, and failure to help one’s neighbor
- Include local and state justice issues in homilies and prayer petitions
- Present the social teaching of the Church in RCIA formation
- Address attacks on the value of life and human dignity through education on Catholic moral teaching
Goal 34. Collaborate across denominational lines to address social issues and help those in need.
- Collaborate with organizations seeking to benefit the common good, such as Triangle Interfaith
- Address issues such as inadequate health care, domestic violence, homelessness, prison population, availability of weapons, and environmental contamination
Goal 35. Extend parish ministry to reach out to incarcerated Catholics.
- Educate parishioners to support prison ministry and outreach to the incarcerated
- Work with families of offenders outside the walls
- Work at making the parish a community of faith where an ex-offender can be accepted
- Train lay volunteers to assist with prison ministry
Goal 36. Promote Catholic social teaching and respect for all of life.
- Publicize and teach the principles of social justice and actively cultivate their acceptance among Catholics in Southeast Texas
- Include social justice education in the services provided by Catholic Charities
- Use various forms of media to educate the public
- Publish timely information on social justice issues in the East Texas Catholic
- Ensure that just wages are paid to all church workers
Goal 37. Take an active role in responding to recent immigrants and the issues they face.
- Work toward reducing prejudice and social resistance to newcomers
- Provide assistance with legal issues and documentation through the immigration office of Catholic Charities
- Provide for greater participation and visibility of Vietnamese and Hispanic peoples within the local Church
- On the Condition of Workers [Rerum Novarum]. Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter, 1891.
- Peace on Earth [Pacem in Terris]. John XXIII, Encyclical Letter, 1963.
- Economic Justice for All. National Conference of Catholic Bishops / United States Catholic Conference, 1986.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 1992.
- Pastoral Statement of U.S. Bishops on Persons with Disabilties. National Conference of Catholic Bishops / United States Catholic Conference, 1989.
- A Catholic Framework for Economic Life. National Conference of Catholic Bishops / United States Catholic Conference, 1996.