Catholic Teaching and Prudential Judgment

While I have emphasized from the start that I want this blog to be a forum for the kind of civil discourse so absent in today’s public square, I did not intend for that to mean an absence of strongly stated convictions. My point was and is simply that we can argue forcefully for what we believe—and against that which we consider harmful—while still respecting those with whom we disagree.  

My intention is to examine critical issues from a Catholic perspective—that is, from within the context of Catholic moral and social teachings. Of course, what I will be offering on many of these issues are my own prudential judgments—informed, I hope, by those Catholic teachings, but not the only or exclusive conclusions that Catholics may in good conscience reach on such issues.

I won’t, in other words, succumb to the temptation (paraphrasing an old Rush Limbaugh line) to  declare that “the views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of all Catholics—but they oughtta be!”

Rather, I’ll try to keep in mind the teaching I have cited previously from Gaudium et spes, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: that while one person’s “Christian vision will suggest a certain solution in some given situation,” it “happens rather frequently, and legitimately so, that some of the faithful, with no less sincerity, will see the problem quite differently”; and that “in those cases no one is permitted to identify the authority of the Church exclusively with his own opinion.”

So, for example, those who favor massive federal programs as the solution to poverty should not assume that all who disagree are necessarily uncaring toward the poor. Some might instead see free market policies, designed to stimulate economic growth and the creation of jobs, as the real answers to alleviating poverty.

Regarding criminal justice, those rightly concerned about preserving law and order should not dismiss those promoting “restorative justice” as being “soft on crime”; conversely, proponents of restorative justice need to be sensitive to the suffering of crime victims, and supportive of efforts to protect the innocent. Supporters of law and order, in turn, must recognize that protecting the innocent also means securing justice for those wrongly accused or wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit.

On immigration, those on both sides should stop demonizing their opponents. While there is an element of bigotry among some immigration opponents (going all the way back to Margaret Sanger, who targeted certain “undesirable” groups for immigration restrictions as well as birth control), that hardly characterizes all who have legitimate concerns about border security. On the other hand, while there are legitimate concerns about a criminal element among illegal immigrants (a concern particularly felt in immigrant communities, on whom that criminal element primarily preys), it is grossly unjust to stereotype all undocumented immigrants as dangerous criminals. Regardless of one’s feelings about the need for border security, I have always been at a loss to understand the vitriol directed at people who come here, often at great peril, simply to try to do better for their families.      

On these and so many other issues of life and justice, as Gaudium et spes instructs, we are not justified in asserting that our policy position—even if it comports with Catholic moral and social teaching—is the only policy judgment consistent with that teaching.

Instead, we should thoughtfully—and prayerfully—examine each such issue in light of the Church’s teachings; try to reach our best prudential judgments as to how to apply those teachings in ways that best serve the common good; then share our conclusions while respectfully considering differing prudential judgments, reached no less sincerely, by others equally committed to applying Catholic moral and social teaching to the issue at hand.    

In short, let us, as Gaudium et spes encourages, “try to guide each other by sincere dialogue in a spirit of mutual charity and with anxious interest above all in the common good.”

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

3 thoughts on “Catholic Teaching and Prudential Judgment

  1. I was gratified to see Msgr. Batule weigh in. He was chaplain for the Corpus Christi Council of the Knights of Columbus which I belonged to in Mineola before my wife Peggy and I moved to the Charleston SC area this year. I always looked forward to reading his column in the Council newsletter. He was also very supportive of Catholics for Freedom of Religion, a group I am still active in.

    I completely agree about the need to be civil in all discussion. Remembering that I’ve been known to be wrong about my opinions makes it a lot easier to remember civility.

    Still, there are issues that need to be addressed and without dissenters such as St. Catherine of Siena change wouldn’t take place.

    Today, beside covering up sexual abuse, we see bishops uttering contradictions to one another about voting guides and the degree of importance of social issues. Many affirm the priority of issues that are of life and death such as euthanasia, abortion, assisted suicide, infanticide, invited fertilization and capital punishment. Others, in their view, emphasize the equality immigration and refugees to the issues of life itself. As a result these Church leaders have left the laity thoroughly confused and that itself is a scandal.

    Another point of confusion concerns who can receive Holy Communion. Cardinal Dolan says he cannot refuse the Eucharist to NY’s Governor Cuomo who stubbornly persists (Canon 915) in supporting the evil of abortion and even infanticide which he has championed as being legal in NY. If this governor can receive one must wonder who cannot!

    One important fact has been completely ignored and that is the trend of the Democrat party. There is a long list of issues they support such as same sex marriage, sex change, restrictions on religious liberty (e.g. Little Sisters, corona virus) and extending infanticide that is totally ignored in the political equation and many bishops all but endorsed Biden and even congratulated his, as did Pope Francis, even though the election is not final and seriously contested.

    It seems to me that voices – civil ones, need to be sounded from the laity to correct the confusion wrought by the princes of the Church.


    1. As usual, Walter, thank you for your very thoughtful comments. You are of course right: while we are called as Catholics to exude concern for all suffering people, there is, politically, a necessary hierarchy of issues: and opposing government laws and cultural attitudes that legalize and legitimize the direct taking of innocent human life, especially on so massive a scale as with abortion, MUST be our top priority. As long as the most innocent, most defenseless among us are afforded no protection in our laws and public policies, none of us–particularly other vulnerable populations with whom “social justice” Catholics are primarily concerned–is safe. I expect to soon address the Communion and pro-abortion Catholic question. You might not fully agree with my take on that, but as always I will look forward to your comments.


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