Social justice concerns us most of all

Justice Matters

Catholic Social Justice Commission

WE are constantly reminded that we live in a society.

Whether it’s the payment of tax or utility bills, we cannot escape the unpleasant fact that we have to contribute financially to help make the society work effectively. And when we are pulled over to prove we are driving with a blood alcohol level below a prescribed limit, we are reminded that the benefits of society bring obligations that are not merely financial.

We see, however, constant reminders that not all share equitably the benefits of the society to which they belong. Sometimes isolation or dispossession is due to personal circumstances – illness, addiction, misfortune or crises in personal relationships. But sometimes many are caught in the same dispossessed circumstances because of the policies or collective action or inaction of society.

It may be Aborigines who have been displaced from their traditional way of life. It may be migrants who have been forced to flee war or oppression and find great difficulty in coping with unfamiliar languages and customs.

It may be the single income family struggling to survive because of wage or tax policies. It may be the unemployed who are required to live on a mere survival income because of a widespread attitude that being unemployed is a self-imposed situation.

In all such circumstances there is an abundant need for outreaching to the individual in a genuine spirit of charity.

But there is also need to redress the attitudes of society in the way it handles or ignores the disadvantaged groups in its midst.

Social justice prevails when there is an ordering of society to give every person the means to develop their personal attributes and to become a full person, not held back by retarding forces that are changeable if society has the will.

Social justice, of its very nature, calls for change in society. By that fact alone many can be disturbed. Those in better financial circumstances may be reluctant to further share their wealth beyond what society already demands of them (and unfortunately redistribution is sometimes marred by mismanagement and abuse).

Others may, in good conscience, believe that the proposals advanced by social justice activists are impractical, unfair to the majority, or too disturbing to the overall good.

Christian activists in social justice, for their part, need to prayerfully decide their courses of action and recognise that they may run the risk of seeming to be at the fringe of society or politically motivated. That can be counter productive to the cause of social justice.

They must also be mindful that those who love justice should not offend against justice, and with only good cause should they ascribe unworthy motivations to those of another persuasion. Many may sympathise with Aboriginal children who were removed from their parents in former times. But in doing so they should not, without good cause and sufficient knowledge of events, condemn those who received the children into care. Many probably had noble motivations according to their perspectives at the time.

Whatever the difficulties of reaching a common perspective, social justice must remain a Christian concern. Jesus taught us social justice with his story of the Good Samaritan who crossed a cultural divide to help his fellow man. The end of the story is that the Good Samaritan asked the innkeeper to look after the injured man – he used the rudimentary social structure of the times.

The Catholic Social Justice Commission of our Archdiocese wishes to make our own small contribution to the debate. Our intention is not to be directive, nor to suggest easy or single solutions to problems. But we hope that our comments will stir that reservoir of Christian concern among readers to seek social justice solutions to current issues.

If you would like to be involved in, or establish, a social justice group in your parish, contact the Commission at