Are we too focused on social issues?



Do we place too much emphasis on social issues? It seems that there are hundreds of statements from Bishops concerning immigration, migrants, tax reform, etc. Every time there’s a new bill on the floor of Congress, or a news story - there seems to be an accompanying statement from the Bishops. Not that social issues aren’t important, but where are the equal number concerning doctrine and liturgy. They seem like a trickle compared to the other.

Are we nothing but philanthropists with no foundation of why we do these things? Is is just about giving money (which has the effect of alienating from the Church those who aren’t wealthy)?


I’m not an American. I wouldn’t say that’s the case in Britain. Very few people could tell you what the Catholic Church teaches about interest, for instance, but most could tell you about contraception. It would interesting to know how many members of the public know the term “transubstantiation”.


Not if the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Christ spoke quite a bit on social issues himself—if anyone had a mandate to ignore such messy things, it was him.

While the Catholic Church is not of this world, Catholics are, and must ever strive to make her a better place, one more worthy of Christ.



It puts feet and understanding into our faith.



Like I said, the social issues are important. It just seems to me that they get emphasized to the exclusion of doctrinal and liturgical issues.

In the Church we have both corporal and spiritual works of mercy. They are roughly divided as social (corporal) and doctrinal (spiritual) issues - in a rough analogical way. Both are very important, but I would say that the spiritual works of mercy are more important than the corporal works of mercy. What good does a bowl of soup do someone who is burning in hell?

Of course, both are under attack today. The corporal works of mercy are more distorted and the spiritual are more directly assaulted. The corporal works of mercy are:

  1. Feed the hungry.
  2. Give drink to the thirsty.
  3. Clothe the naked.
  4. Shelter the homeless.
  5. Comfort the imprisoned.
  6. Visit the sick.
  7. Bury the dead.

How many actually perform these works? Usually these get distorted to “write a check”.

The spiritual works of mercy are:

  1. Admonish sinners.
  2. Instruct the uninformed.
  3. Counsel the doubtful.
  4. Comfort the sorrowful.
  5. Be patient with those in error.
  6. Forgive offenses.
  7. Pray for the living and the dead.

How many dare do any of these today? If you admonish a sinner they decry you as judgmental. If you instruct the uninformed or counsel the doubtful they accuse you of proselytzing. If you comfort the sorrowful, they think a host of ill towards you, especially in doubting your motive. If you are patient with those in error (also know as bearing evils patiently) or forgive offenses, they’ll label you as “Mr. Holier-than-thou”. If you pray for the living and the dead they think you’re up to something.

Oh well, just some random ruminations.


It certainly is true that the spiritual virtues are harder to practice in today’s world, where wealth abounds and charity is correspondingly easier than in the apostles’ day.

Of course, the fact that it is more difficult to do gives us no warrant not to do it.

Rather than saying “We’re too focused on social issues”, it may be more accurate to say “We’re losing focus on spiritual issues.”

I don’t think you’ll get too much quarrel on that score.


when you say we do you mean that you are one of the bishops who just concluded their meeting in Baltimore? because you use the various declarations and letters from the USCCB as the basis of posing the question.

who exactly do you feel is too focused on social issues (if they are at all)? parishes, pastors, catechists, parishioners, Catholic institutions, dioceses?

IMO we are not focused enough on social issues. The liturgy has very clear directions, which simply need to be implemented, there is no need for a new letter on the topic every few months, just do it and do it right. Have you not been listening to the readings these last weeks of the year? social issues are what matters. If you attend the most sublimely beautiful Mass conducted by the most reverent priest, where every aspect perfect, yet leave that Church without being inflamed for God’s love and ready to evangelize and serve, you have gained nothing. If you are blessed with the opportunity to receive Our Lord in communion, spend time in silence with him afterward, yet leave the Church unable to see his face in the poor, you have rejected Him. ( I am using the editorial “you” in this post).

if there is an imbalance in the the relative weight given to social justice as to doctrine in many places, much of the blame lies with the so-called traditionalist Catholics who have set up an artificial dichotomy which does not exist in the gospels, and use social justice concerns as a benchmark for judging whether or not a priest, parish or diocese meets their criteria for orthodoxy.


so what
do it anyway, that is what Mother Teresa advises, and she is a saint so she should know something about social justice.


Let me make the contra argument. There is too much emphasis on social justice which is improperly defined. As a wise woman once said on TV this generation knows the Social Gospel well, it is the rest of the Gospel that is not known.

If one signs up for a Habitat for Humanity project at parish, yet contracepts how is that meritorious? If one brings canned goods to mass, yet councils their child to live in a homosexual relationship how is that living out the Gospel message?

If one does any good work, yet persistently doubts the authority of the Church to rule in matters of morals how is that consistent with following Christ?

It is not that social issues are up played too much. It is that other issues are down played too much. There is a reason for this I believe.


Most agree with teaching social justice and it is standard fare now. It does not take courage to preach social justice. It does take courage to preach about sin.

When youth receive confirmation and social justice activities are the means to receive it, most abandon Catholicism soon after.


There is too much emphasis on “social issues” when some church clergy sound off on things they apparently know little about. When they start concluding foreign policy matters, advocating defiance of federal law, etc. that’s gone too far. I’ve heard such things come out of highly placed Catholic clergy on the war, on immigration reform for example. These and other matters are complex multi-faceted problems. I have no problem with clergy commenting generally on matters but to conclude that the war was/is immoral is extremely myopic at best. They have no expertise in foreign policy, diplomacy, military science, intelligence, and it often appears a lacking in understanding of history. Many still argue the A-bomb was immoral but most scholars in international law of war will tell you, it saved more lives than it took. Also, concluding that being in favor of legalizing illegal immigrants is the only moral route totally dismisses the damage it would do to the whole society, especially economically. It’s a simple fact that illegal immigrants take more than they give in benefits, medical care, education, social security, etc. Some US companies are the profit beneficiaries and they and the illegal immigrants are both in essence stealing from the American public. That’s not just. Having sympathy for the poor is not the same as subborning illegal activity and promoting a policy to require the public to sacrifice its own benefits for them. My point is clergy goes too far on some social issues, beyond the realm of their spiritual life’s work. They are absolutely on target on the pro-life issues for example and have turned the tide of the debate over 30 plus years.



Random church members and Priests are not necessarily qualified to provide authority on politcal or legal matters. This is often why the push for social justice seems unfocused, IMO.

The Church has the authority and knowledge to tell us we need to “help the poor among us.” This is good, sound advice, and has biblical backing. I doubt any of us would argue this.

They cannot say for a fact whether or not this means having an open border policy with no restrictions for (currently) illegal immigrants. Or whether or not this means we have to pull all our troops out of Iraq today to be peacekepeers and good stewards.

The details of putting this “care of the poor” info effect are where the debate begins.

And remember, as the saying (sort of goes), “opinions are like backsides; everybody has them…”


In general I would say no.

Part of your point was that the statements of the Bishops are more often on social issues. This seems appropriate in statements that are for the general public. If the Archbishop comments on providing food and shelter to immigrants, or on some other social policy, that is in part an attempt to influence and speak to the public and the government. I can’t imagine a press conference on perpetual virginity, the filioque, or sacramental music. Perhaps these need more emphasis within the Church, but that is more the role of the parish, I think.


You don’t have to wait until your sex life is totally in accordance with Church teachings to help out with a charity. It is better to have both chasity and charity, but one is better than neither.

Charity can become a pretext for avoiding more obvious faults closer to home. So it is best to be involved in something run under the direction of the Church, where at least the organisation will be united to thew will of Jesus.


My point is one is emphasized greatly and the other is not. Both truths matter greatly in terms of our salvation.

Charity can become a pretext for avoiding more obvious faults closer to home. So it is best to be involved in something run under the direction of the Church, where at least the organisation will be united to thew will of Jesus.

I am not arguing against good works. I am arguing against the idea good works are all that matter.


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