Charity vs Social Justice in the Roman Catholic Church


Mr. Vulcan (check my new Blog Nicknames page) saw the white smoke on the Vatican Cam, and called me over. A new Pope for the Roman Catholic Church had been chosen. We watched the live stream on Al Jazeera news.

As most of the world now knows, Pope Francis I, the Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina was elected. The first Pope ever from Latin America.

I became a Catholic at 31. My husband Picasso and I were living in Chicago, and were asked to be godparents. We figured that if we were going to truly walk the talk with this process, then we should both do the whole nine yards. After months of catechism classes, I was baptized, received my first communion, and got confirmed all on the same day-Holy Saturday. Picasso got up to speed as well with what was formally missing in his life as a lapsed Catholic.

My husband was deported back to Mexico two weeks after that Holy Saturday. I had a lot of long talks with God. It was the first, but not the last time that I grappled with my faith.

I learned about liberation theology in Mexico, with my life as a Catholic still ringing through me with its newness. I realized that Picasso and I had been practicing liberation theology with the priests at our church in Chicago. Good people like my friend A Tall Drink of Water introduced me to the principles, along with some radical nuns who were great teachers as well. In the quick and dirty version, I like to say that liberation theology uses the Bible as a tool or guide for practicing social justice.

Among his many positions that I deeply disagree with, the new Pope most definitely does not identify with or practice liberation theology. If anything, he made it a priority to distance himself from it when he was first starting out on his path as a priest. However, he is touted as a “champion of the poor.”

Apparently, he lived quite humbly in Argentina. The mainstream media is already making the rounds with the fact that as a Cardinal in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis I took public transportation regularly with the masses.

I believe that there is a powerful difference between charity versus social justice. Pope Francis I practices charity.

The Catholic Archbishop Óscar Romero y Galdámez of El Salvador practiced social justice. The Catholic Bishop Sergio Méndez Arceo of Cuernavaca, Mexico practiced social justice.

And both Romero and Méndez practiced social justice through the lens of liberation theology.

Considering liberation theology’s origins in Latin America, it’s extremely sad to me that Pope Francis I is propped up as Latin America’s pride and joy for today’s Catholics. He is certainly not bringing me any pride or joy today. I’d rather re-read and listen to the words of  two men who did much more than just ride the subway with the common people:

“I will not tire of declaring that if we really want an effective end to violence we must remove the violence that lies at the root of all violence: structural violence, social injustice, exclusion of citizens from the management of the country, repression. All this is what constitutes the primal cause, from which the rest flows naturally.” – Archbishop Oscar Romero

“Violent revolutions led by the common people can be at times in history absolutely and totally justified and lawful, because revolution, seen through the lens of renewal, is to complete what is unfinished or what can be perfected.” – Bishop Sergio Méndez speaking about Father Camilo Torres Restrepo of Columbia


15 thoughts on “Charity vs Social Justice in the Roman Catholic Church

  1. So what would Jesus think about this? Well. let’s consider what He taught – charity. He taught that people should give out of their hearts, not because someone seized their belongings. “Social justice” is Marxism, not Christian faith. Call it what it is.


      1. Romero and Mendez would have never – and never did – support Marxism or any economic system that diminished human dignity and its image of God. That’s precisely why Communism and like systems fail. Humanity, and its image of God made Man, should never succumb to a false sense of liberation. Read Paul and his Letters, especially about the freedom of the sons of God.


      2. Anonymous, thanks for posting. If you look at Romero and Mendez’s work, the economic system that they fought hardest against was capitalism. Capitalism can often be seen as an economic system that most diminishes human dignity and its image of God. To suggest that my blog post is about how Romero and Mendez supported Marxism or any other economic system is to profoundly misinterpret what I wrote. Thanks, Giselle


  2. As a Catholic, I see the term social justice has been grabbed & distorted by some people who are boastful operators, those who use religion as a false front. Truly charitable & humble souls seem rare (but aren’t) because they are naturally humble givers. These are the people to emmulate. A big problem can arise when governments adopt social justice language & rationale even tho it seems holy, because in order to represent all peoples, even athiests, & avoid corruption from politicians, you have to maintain separation of church & state. Politicians will use ideology to their benefit, not the poor’s as seen throughout history.


    1. Leigh,
      I do agree with the fact that the term social justice gets grabbed and distorted-it often gets warped into charity. However, I actually think that governments do not adopt enough true social justice language and rationale. And they certainly don’t overwhelmingly put it into a lot of practice. I think that it is important to clarify that social justice is not just for people of faith only. You can be an atheist and practice social justice. I actually believe that our world would be a better place if politicians approached their position through a social justice lens. And I also feel that it is not just the politicians of the world that will use ideology to their benefit. And regardless of who is using ideology to their benefit, it truly is those who live in poverty that suffer the most from those actions. Thanks for posting your thoughts Leigh. Sincerely, Giselle


  3. I’m with you Giselle, I was a bit sad to hear that he was not a supporter of Liberation Theology but I’m also hopeful! For a lot of the reasons I’m sure you have heard in the news too, I think he made some very good first choices and I am pleased at his name, I think that it is a start to pick such a humble name. I’m hopeful and maybe me and a lot of other people are focusing on all those things because we want so badly for things to be different in the church. We want to believe that there is still some holiness, some truth, some justice in the Catholic church. I personally want to see a Church that actually lives out the radical social teachings that it writes about. I was actually surprised at my own feelings when hearing the news since I have long given up on anything having to do with church hierarchy, but for the first time in a long time I felt myself hoping and maybe even a little praying that there could be a possibilty for change.
    Yours truly,
    Hoy en dia more closely resembling “jarritos”
    Ps. Very beautiful response princess pagana!


    1. A Tall Drink of Water! Thank you for posting. I’ll be hoping and praying right alongside you for change 🙂 And if you’re feeling the Jarritos, then they need a new flavor called Sexy Mama! 😉 Big Hug, Giselle


  4. In high school (12 years of Catholic school, baby), I took a social justice class to satisfy a Religion credit. I learned about Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and other wonderful, devout Catholics who embraced lives of service. I loved that class even more than I did my next Religion elective, which was (I shit you not) called Prayer, where we got to spend lots of meditative time in the chapel and made our own rosaries. I was so moved by the stories of Catholic social justice warriors, and I still am. I used to pass a Catholic Worker house on my commute home, and always thought of Dorothy Day’s fierce compassion. I am humbled by people who commit to working within a broken system to improve it, with no guarantee that they’ll see any change during their lifetimes. I’m not that strong or brave (I bailed on my Catholic upbringing, as you know), but liberal, down-and-dirty Catholics will always have a place in my heart and at my table.

    BTW, I’m not surprised at my nickname, but I love it! Te amo.


    1. Shannon, gracias for your post. I am extremely humbled and moved as well by the “Catholic social justice warriors” who literally and figuratively gave their lives for the cause. Learning about them changed my life, and I’m grateful to the people who took the time to talk to me about both people and the theology. And I’m glad that you like the nickname! 🙂 Big Hug, Giselle


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