This question, unfortunately, is not a hypothetical one. And the ironic thing is that one may presume that these same students would probably participate in the March for Life as well. How is it that a Seventh Grade class from Our Lady Queen of Peace School ended a week-long program about social justice by donating the money raised to, among other groups, Equality Now, which advocates for the legalization of abortion throughout the world and lobbies Congress in the United States to ensure funding for “family planning” programs?
These children were participants in a program on “social justice” designed and implemented by their teachers and a parish priest. It was an in-depth and well-organized program. It likely was developed with the best of intentions. And yet, in the end, it produced the result of Catholic children donating money to causes that oppose teachings of the Catholic faith. Moreover, the process itself involved the children being exposed to morally problematic material.
Why did this happen? Perhaps the answer lies in divorcing the concept of social justice from its necessary precursors: charity and truth.
In an analysis of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (“Charity in Truth”), Fr. Thomas Weinandy writes a fair summary:
…First Pope Benedict XVI articulates the Christian principles that establish all political, economic and social action. The key to this doctrinal foundation, and so to the whole of the encyclical’s teaching, is the title itself: “Charity in Truth.”
Charity in truth, to which Jesus bore witness, “is the principle driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity.” “Charity is at the heart of the church’s social doctrine.” Love is that “extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.” Charity “is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family member or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones).”…
While charity lies at the very heart of all relationships, it can only be authentic if it tethers itself to truth. Deprived of truth, love “becomes an empty shell.” Without truth, love falls prey to sentimentality, subjective emotions and mere opinions all of which abuse and distort love. “Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity.”…
This boils down the relationship among truth, charity and social justice; without the right foundation, social justice because mere political activism. And political activism in and of itself is not a guaranty of Catholicity.
Teachers have a responsibility to teach the Catholic faith to their charges. This responsibility includes ensuring doctrinal clarity and support for the Church’s teachings, catechetical content consistent with the truth, sound liturgical practice, and availability of the sacraments. If the teacher or priest tells them that matter X is what the Church teaches, that is what the vast majority will believe. If the teacher or priest tells them that giving money to organization Y is a good thing to do, they will believe it.
I want to get into some of the troubling aspects of this program, but due to the space limitations of a blog post I am forced to focus on just a few things. There were other groups that received donations from this class, including the Environmental Defense Fund, which promotes the discredited “global warming” science to justify confiscatory taxation and wealth redistribution, and the Anti-Defamation League. I am limiting this post to the Equality Now donation and “women’s rights” portion of the program merely because the Church’s teaching on abortion and contraception are crystal clear, and I don’t have to spend time trying to establish it in this space. I may take up other aspects of the program in subsequent posts.
The program of Our Lady Queen of Peace school is posted on the web. It begins with a challenge (after describing a “box city” last year’s class had developed):
Last year’s 6th grade saw what went on with the Box City and asked Mrs. , the Junior High Religion teacher, if they could hold the event this year. This presented her with a real opportunity. She envisioned incorporating a Social Justice unit in her 7th grade religion class throughout the first semester leading to the planning and carrying out of the project in the second semester. Mrs.  recruited Fr.  to present the Social Justice unit and he worked with the students for one class period each week.
The challenge laid before the students was this: to come up with a definition of what Social Justice means, to become aware of issues of injustice in our world, and to propose, agree on and carry out a project that would address an issue of injustice.
They developed an extensive plan, which can be viewed here. A recurring plank of this plan was to “target government and church leaders with the power to make changes”. And they sought “to solicit active involvement and contributions for those deprived of justice.”
This section was followed by what is described on the website as “the Process“, in which students considered some sample case studies under the direction of the teacher and a priest. Among these cases studies are two that seemed a more than a little daring for seventh grade children: Mary and the Problem Pregnancy, and Annie– To Report or Not Report.
While the latter has a creepiness factor of 10, in the interests of time let me focus on the former. It dealt with the travails of a woman who was divorced from an emotionally abusive man and who becomes pregnant with another man’s child outside of wedlock. See if you can square the circle of description from this excerpt:
She met a young man who was decent to her, respected her, and was loving towards her. She would eventually marry him, but before they were married, she became pregnant again.
Just how the young man who took advantage of her and joined her in mortal sin was nonetheless “decent” to her and “respected her” is less than clear. And, sorry, but “became pregnant”? I can imagine little Janey raising her hand and asking, “Father, if they weren’t married, how did she become pregnant? How can that happen?” Perhaps I am not jaded enough if I dare hope that even one seventh grader may have some measure of childhood innocence left. Be that as it may, it is the province of the parent to decide when these topics are covered, and not that of the school.
The scenario then allows the children to discuss Mary’s (and isn’t that name loaded with implications?) two options: to have the baby or to abort the baby.
There were several such sample cases. During the week, each day brought a different focus and activity. At the end of the week, the students held a Saturday carnival with (among other activities) a “Walk for Women’s Rights” cake-walk; an “Ambulance Race for Health Care”; a “Put a Face on Hatred” face-painting booth; and a “Break the Cycle of Domestic Violence” balloon-pop booth.
Again, limiting this post to the “women’s rights” issue, this booth was the source of raising money for Equality Now. The amount raised was modest, indeed, but the size of the donation does not address the morality of the donation.
Some of the activities and positions of Equality Now should alert Catholics that this group cannot receive our support. These include the following:
Again, I am focusing on just one issue and one group. There are other serious questions about the orthodoxy and appropriateness of this class, the partnering groups and the materials. Every link and excerpt I have given in this post come from what Our Lady Queen of Peace and the other groups involved have posted themselves.
Social justice without truth is impossible. Teaching Catholic seventh-graders that the cause of social justice is advanced by supporting, directly or indirectly, the killing of unborn children, and the violation of the Church’s teachings on marriage and procreation is an abomination. Assuming that those in charge did not have actual knowledge of the activities and positions of groups like Equality Now (as difficult as that is to do), their lack of investigation into these groups is scandalous.
What do the architects of this ill-advised program think of the results?
In the end, they made a difference. They made a difference to each other in what they learned and shared. They made a difference to their school in motivating other kids to want to do something about people who are hurting. They made a difference to their parents and other adult parishioners. At the very least, they made people think, consider the possibility that there are different opinions and different approaches to social problems. Beyond that, they lit a fire under others to be involved, to contribute, to care about hurting people. They made a difference that was noticed at the level of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and passed along nationally, a difference that let people committed to social justice and social ministry recognize a model and a possibility for expanding efforts, for being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
I can’t speak to the rest of the religion curriculum at this school, but I wonder if the children are as adept at internalizing the teachings of the faith and sound Catholic theology as they are about the plight of women who don’t have access to “family planning” services.
And these types of programs seem to have the implicit support of Catholic Charities, whose ongoing collaboration with JustFaith (which includes a recent workshop given by its founder Jack Jezreel, who has ties to the dissident group Call to Action) sends a message that social justice need not be “tethered to the truth”, as the Holy Father maintains it must be.
In case you’re wondering, the tuition at Our Lady Queen of Peace is $3,780 per year.