ONSIGNOR M. Francis Mannion served as director of the Mundelein Liturgical Institute from 2000-2002. He recently penned an article asserting that social justice is the only thing vital to the Catholic Church, and everything else (even doctrine) amounts to “footnotes.”
Anyone who’s attained the age of reason knows that the most important social justice work is to oppose the murder of innocent life. After all, the “soup kitchens” mentioned in Mannion’s article aren’t much good to somebody who’s dead. However, Pro-Life work is not the only valid form of social justice work: one can minister to prisoners, fight against euthanasia, clothe the naked, feed the poor, and so forth.
Pope Francis has been outspoken in his opposition to the murder of innocent life. You can read some his quotes by clicking here. In his most recent document, Evangelii Gaudium (11/24/2013), Francis lashed out at abortion supporters in several places, reminding us that “defense of unborn life is closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.”
At the same time, during an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica (9/30/2013), Pope Francis said it is false to contend that things like opposition to abortion constitute the whole of the Catholic Faith. Rather, Christ must be at the center. However, opposition to abortion is (needless to say) part of being Catholic, as Pope Francis reminded us on 20 September: “Each unborn child unjustly condemned to abortion bears the face of Jesus Christ, bears the face of the Lord.”
WE HAVE ALL ENCOUNTERED at one time or another people who say, “Everyone can believe as he wishes and nobody should be allowed to prevent this.” However, forcing their rule upon everyone contradicts their rule! Others say, “There’s no such thing as absolute truth.” But the question they won’t answer is, “Is that something which is true?”
Likewise, it is strange to read an article by Msgr. Mannion which downplays dogma and doctrine as “footnotes,” while that very article imposes a new dogma on the entire human race. Specifically, consider Paul Kennedy’s assertion (as quoted in Mannion’s article):
The litmus test [of Christian faith] is whether you help the unknown, the desperate-looking person at the soup kitchen, the beggar on the street. All else is footnotes. What matters is your reaching out to help. That’s the sole question you will be asked when you reach the Pearly Gates.
Kennedy’s view (writes Msgr. Mannion) is “fundamentally correct.”
Yet, I’ve never seen such a dogma articulated by the Catholic Church. If I’m wrong, please send an email (using the “Contact Us” at the top) citing such a document.
Msgr. Mannion and Pope Francis have presented us with two conflicting notions of the “essence” of the Catholic Faith: they cannot both be correct. I grant that Francis’ interviews are not intended as magisterial teaching. Instead, they’re similar to Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (Vol. 3), which B16 specifically said was not intended as part of magisterial teaching. However, in my humble opinion, Pope Francis is spot on. In particular, I think of folks who skip Sunday Mass because they’re too busy promoting social justice. Another example I’ve seen with my own eyes is a mother so busy doing Pro-Life work that she neglects her own children. Both are wrong.
POPE BENEDICT’S BROTHER brought up the Second World War in this special interview. What was it like to live in Germany during those years? Many brave Catholics risked everything to save innocent lives. What would we have done? I have a feeling many of us would have found excuses not to put ourselves at risk.
Those who know very little history are often critical of Cardinal Pacelli, who was willing to sign a concordat with Hitler (see photo above with Cardinal Pacelli and Msgr. Alfredo Ottaviani). They say things like, “Oh, I would never have dealt with the Nazis.” And yet, these same people won’t lift a finger in defense of innocent life. Our own country has murdered more than 55 million innocent babies and continues even as I type these words! A few days ago, Cardinal Burke mentioned that we are living in a modern-day holocaust.
Yet, most of us choose not to think about such “uncomfortable” truths. We’d rather go about our business and not get involved. Even though social justice work does not constitute the fullness of our Faith (see above), let us pray to God for strength follow His Will, even if He calls us to heroic acts of charity.
Editor’s Note: From time to time, we will examine articles made public on the internet. Any critical observations are not intended in a polemical way, but rather in the service of truth. If you do not find such reflections valuable, please ignore them.