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Cafeteria Catholicism & the Pope’s Encyclical

CHRIST & NEIGHBOR

By John C. Cort | May 1988

On a recent “Firing Line” program, William F. Buckley Jr. hosted Michael Novak and Fr. Richard McBrien in a discussion of John Paul II’s latest bombshell, a discussion that revealed some interest­ing things about “cafeteria Catholicism.”

The bombshell was the Pope’s encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, which he wrote to commemo­rate the 20th anniversary of another papal bomb­shell, Populorum Progressio of Paul VI. The latter was newsworthy, even revolutionary, for several rea­sons: One, it expressed more clearly and forcefully than other statements the foundation stone of Judeo-Christian social teaching: “No one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use what he does not need when others lack necessities.” I prefix “Chris­tian” with “Judeo” because this principle of social justice goes back not only to Aquinas, the Fathers of the Church, and Jesus, but to the Prophets and sages of the Old Testament.

Two, for the first time Populorum Progressio, clearly extended this obligation from individuals to nations: “The superfluous wealth of rich countries should be placed at the service of poor nations.”

Three, for the first time in a modern papal document, the Thomistic teaching on just revolu­tion was expressed, namely, that “a revolutionary uprising” could be justified “where there is mani­fest, long-standing tyranny which would do great damage to fundamental personal rights and danger­ous harm to the common good of the country.”

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