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A Caricature of Charity

A PREFERENTIAL OPTION FOR WHOM?

By John A. Perricone | May 2014
Fr. John A. Perricone, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, New York. His articles have appeared in St. John's Law Review, The Latin Mass, and The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies.

Any Catholic who has been paying attention over the past forty years has heard of the “preferential option for poor sinners.” Well, almost. That last word was never a part of the original slogan. Therein lies a story. In the raucous wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) a significant number of the theological bien pensant executed a doctrinal coup d’état. Under the banner of aggiornamento, they masterminded a tectonic shift in the raison d’être of the Catholic Church. No longer was the Church’s mission “saving souls”; respectable Catholics now spoke of “social justice.” In fact, from the 1960s to this very day, a Catholic would be hard put to find mention of “saving souls” in any sermon or any part of the voluminous mainstream literature (used in colleges, universities, seminaries, and various houses of formation) accumulated since Vatican II. So thorough was the revolution that the mere mention of the phrase “saving souls” today in well-heeled circles is met with arched eyebrows or condescending smirks.

Almost overnight it was made to appear as though the plight of the poor had never been the Catholic Church’s concern. Against the Church’s alleged callous indifference rose bands of “enlightened” priests and nuns who would show her a thing or two. This fifth column would spare no shock in proving their point; in fact, shock became a potent weapon in their arsenal. Breaking with the past was their driving passion, especially the perceived despicable past of the Church prior to 1965. They exhibited the utopian furor of the Jacobins and Maoists in pursuing their cause. Destruction was necessary to soften the soil for the “social justice” they would usher in upon the face of the earth.

In the twinkle of an eye, Catholics noticed the difference: St. Vincent de Paul societies were replaced by “social justice” committees; Lenten mite boxes, touchingly depicting the Suffering Savior of Gethsemane, were tossed in favor of Rice Bowl boxes; St. Nicholas drives at Christmastime gave way to Giving Trees. Add to this something even more troubling: The precious (and sometimes artistically priceless) liturgical accoutrements used for Holy Mass and the sacraments were tagged as signs of the oppression of the poor. With the fanaticism of Bolsheviks, organized bands of Catholic iconoclasts ransacked sacristy after sacristy for every sacred vessel and vestment they could find. Everything was either sold or discarded, lest their contagion infect the New Catholics aborning.

Similar frenzies were unleashed upon the beloved interiors of churches across the globe. All this was done, ostensibly, so that the poor could be served. One could not be accused of melodrama for calling to mind Robespierre who, in the midst of the Reign of Terror, calmly remarked, “Heads must roll, so that men could be free.”

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