Speakers highlight centrality of family in a healthy and just society

Building the Culture of Love: A Rediscovery of Catholic Social Justice was the theme of the Witness Conference 2001, held at De La Salle College in Toronto on Sept. 29.The conference theme of social justice “seemed very appropriate to us,” said Hugh Ranalli, Witness’s vice-chairman. “In a number of talks we had among ourselves, various issues kept coming up – things we would see in headlines in newspapers, like the anti-globalization riots, and what people were experiencing in their families in trying to look at their relationship with society. Social justice was something very topical and appropriate, but unfortunately not very well understood.”

Speakers included Michael Greaney, director of research for the Centre for Economic and Social Justice in Washington, D.C., Joe Campbell, a freelance journalist and former pro-life activist, Dr. Donald DeMarco, professor of philosophy at St. Jerome’s College in Waterloo, Ont. and Dr. John Scott of Pakenham, Ont., who with his children has pursued a vision of home economics through a family business.

Greaney, an accountant, specializes in the analysis and application of principles that underlie employee ownership. His centre espouses a free-market alternative to capitalism and socialism, primarily through studying the social teachings of Pope Pius XI and the integration of those teachings with the economic theories of Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler.

Greaney said a “new vision” of social justice is called for, one that aims for a common good (defined as the capacity of every person to acquire and develop virtue) and the practical application of ideas. While globalization disconnects people from the common good – because most do not have access to the means of acquiring and possessing property – Catholic social teaching and the universal moral principles that underpin it provide a solution.

“It’s not size that’s important, it’s how you’re connected to it,” said Greaney. “The rising tide lifts all boats. Property is a boat. The state’s job is to make it possible for people to get boats, not to get boats for them. Put another way, the state is not to ensure equality of results, but equality of opportunity … a level playing field.” He said the economic problems of today are caused by “bad ideas being embodied in institutions.” A consistent application of Catholic social teaching, in contrast, would have four main thrusts – an expanded ownership of capital; the full restoration of rights to private property; a limited economic role for the state; and free, open markets.

Joe Campbell, a contributing editor to Catholic Insight, looked at the connection between social justice, the family and the individual. He noted that the family is the basic cell of society and is naturally constituted to support social justice. Governments, he said, treat sex inside and outside of marriage as virtually equivalent, whereas public policies should protect and support intact families. “We must treat families as something special,” said Campbell.

“The welfare state has tended not so much to assist families, as to replace them … The welfare state menaces the economic, social, sexual and religious bonds that knit families together and keep them intact. As the welfare state advances, the family declines.”

He said the current welfare state doesn’t seem able to distinguish between compassion and indulgence. The emphasis should be on developing mental and behavioural qualities that equip people to create wealth. Campbell concluded that although the poor are often characterized as being victims, “personal and cultural attributes are more decisive causes” of poverty.

DeMarco, a frequent contributor to The Interim, offered a general definition of social justice: “The effort made by responsible persons, within a civil society, to work effectively for the common good through a graduated series of subsidiary groups, including the family and other free associations, in harmony and reciprocity with the various institutions and political officials that are part of that society.” DeMarco added, “The first and fundamental structure for human ecology is the family, in which man receives his first, formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and be loved – and thus, what it means to actually be a person.”

The Witness to Faith award was this year presented posthumously to Eunice Morgan, a devoted Catholic and hostess of home meetings that discussed problems of church and society. James Likoudis, president emeritus of Catholics United for the Faith, said in a written tribute: “Eunice stood out as a Catholic laywoman who strove in her own humble and quiet way to be a sign of the living God in a decadent society that no longer respected the sanctity of human life and the integrity of the family.” Previous winners include Monsignor Vincent Foy and Dr. John Shea.

Ranalli said this year’s conference was the first that Witness has staged on its own, a previous forum being co-sponsored with U.S. Catholic newspaper, The Wanderer. He said this year’s event was a success, in that it accomplished the intended purpose of bringing forward issues of social justice and equipping people to take the ideas expressed out into the world.