Social Justice and Pro-Life: Are They Compatible?

I was recently asked by a Chicago Tribune reporter to explain the diversity in American Catholicism. How could Justice Scalia, a conservative, be Catholic, and Sonia Sotomayor, the newest nominee to the Supreme Court also be Catholic? Is the Church large enough to encompass both? I didn't know, but speculated that Sotomayor would be drawn to the "social justice" aspect of the tradition.I explained that there are different strands in American Catholicism today. Some American Catholics today emphasize life issues, others emphasize social justice issues. Some people work in pregnancy counseling centers, others work in soup kitchens. "Different gifts but the same spirit," to borrow from St. Paul.Are these strands incompatible? NO. There is no inherent incompatibility between concern for life issues and commitment to other questions of social justice. Pope John Paul II wrote both Evangelium Vitae and Solicitudo Rei Socialis. The U.S. Catholic Bishops advocate for social justice for both the immigrant and the unborn. And in Evangelium Vitae itself, Pope John Paul emphasized the need to put in place social structures and programs that support pregnant women and families as well as the elderly. Dorothy Day dedicated herself to improving the lot of the impoverished--and opposed abortion.I don't know what Judge Sotomayor's views on abortion are. (Some pro-life activists are cautiously optimistic. ) But I do know that it would be a terrible thing for the Church to pit its social justice commitments and its pro-life commitments against one another.

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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