Catholic for Choice: John Zmirak

by Michael Sean Winters

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Over at The Catholic Thing, John Zmirak has penned an essay entitled, "The Myth of Catholic Social Teaching." Zmirak does not argue that Catholic Social Teaching needs to be developed. He does not quibble with this application of the Church's teaching or that. No, he questions the entire idea that there is any such thing as a "social magisterium." Regular readers will quickly spot the fallacies in his argument, the most obvious of which is that just because a teaching must be applied, and that in the process of application, certainty diminishes, this process does not mean anything goes nor does it mean that application process is any less vital to the life of the Church than the easier to determine negative proscriptions of the divine law. If "thou shalt not," it is pretty easy to classify various things that are simply impermissible but the command to love one another permits several avenues for fulfillment. That does not make their fulfillment any less obligatory nor does it mean some avenues are dead ends. 

But, Zmirak is really adopting the same pose here that Catholics for Choice adopts. He is not trying to refine the Church's teaching, he is trying to sow confusion among the faithful and deny the Church's right and duty to teach the truth about the human person. Zmirak may not agree with the Church's teachings on, say, the right of workers to organize themselves into unions, but that teaching is based on the exact same belief in the inherent dignity of every human being as is the Church's defense of unborn human life. He does not appear to understand this. He writes:

But is it true? Is there a “spirit-led” “social Magisterium” that works by accretion over the centuries, gradually building up a coherent, defensible program of economics and politics, which can be drawn by simply reading what popes have said and fitting those statements together like Lego blocks, to construct a Catholic city? Is that what Jesus intended to give us when He founded the papacy?

The "program" is not one of economics or politics. The "program" is the Church's understanding of Christian anthropology and how that applies to every avenue of life that concerns the human person, including economics and politics. Zmirak seems not to understand this. For example, when the CDF condemned certain varieties of liberation theology, it was not an economic critique. The CDF said that certain strands of liberation theology misunderstood the truth about human person as revealed by the Incarnation. Zmirak is one of those Catholics who is less than thrilled with Pope Francis' obvious and repeated highlighting of the Church's social magisterium, but just because Mr. Zmirak doesn't like it, that does not mean there is no such thing. I do not know Mr. Zmirak but I offer now a public challenge to debate him anywhere and at anytime about not only the existence of a social magisterium, but about its content. 


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