Invoking the Tradition: Catholic Social Teaching in Policy Debates

"In fact, the same features that make CST helpful can also make it difficult to invoke the tradition well. Most of the social encyclicals deal primarily with principles and aims rather than specific courses of action, and CST acknowledges a variety of goods in society, such as freedom and justice, that may be in tension and must be balanced. Determining how to do so requires prudential judgments based on particular situations. And, as Rubio notes, CST is not reducible to a particular party platform or ideological persuasion.

These features are salutary, but they make CST amenable to appropriation in support of a variety of policy agendas. There is a temptation to emphasize only the elements of the tradition that appear to support a predetermined policy preference. If that happens, interpretations of CST will become another source of partisan wrangling. Invocations of CST could even exacerbate such wrangling, because partisans might claim that anyone who disagrees on a policy issue is disagreeing with the Church and God."