1. Are some human beings superior by nature to others?
"It is not true that some human beings are by nature superior and others inferior. All men are equal in their natural dignity." Pope John XXIII, Peace on Earth (1963) 89.
Reflections on the equality of human beings.
a) Explain the phrase "equal in their natural dignity."
b ) Can you think of something that a person can do to lose his natural dignity and thus become inferior to others?
2. Why are all people equal?
"Since all men possess a rational soul and are created in God's likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ, and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition." Vatican II, Church in the Modern World (1965) 29.
Reflections on why all people are equal.
a) Explain what each of the following means:
--All people have a rational soul-
--All people are created in God's likeness.
--All people have the same nature.
--All people have the same origin.
--All people have been redeemed by Christ.
--All people enjoy the same divine calling and destiny.
b) Show how discrimination contradicts the above statements.
3. Why should everyone have an equal opportunity?
"We are all the children of God. We share the same rights before God and man. All men of good will desire that the doors of opportunity be opened equally to all who are their brothers under our eternal Father." U.S. Bishops, Race Relations and Poverty (1966) 8.
Reflections on equal opportunity for all.
a) According to the bishops, what is the basic reason why society should offer everyone an equal opportunity?
b) Give an example of equal opportunity being denied to each of the following: a black person, a woman, an elderly person, a handicapped person.
4. Why does the Church reject discrimination?
"We cannot in truthfulness call upon that God who is the Father of all if we refuse to act in a brotherly way toward certain men, created though they be to God's image. A man's relationship with God the Father and his relationship with his brother men are so linked together that Scripture says: 'He who does not love does not know God' (I In. 4:8). The ground is therefore removed from every theory or practice which leads to a distinction between men or peoples in the matter of human dignity and the rights which flow from it. As a consequence, the Church rejects, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion." Vatican II, Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (1965) 5.
Reflections on the rejection of discrimination.
a) What do you understand by the Biblical statement that "He who does not love does not know God"?
b ) In the first sentence of this passage the Council declares that if we treat certain people badly, it will interfere with our relationship with God. Do you agree? Why?
c) Give examples of discrimination or harassment because of:
--condition of life
d) Discrimination is said to be "foreign to the mind of Christ." Can you think of something from the life or teachings of Christ which would indicate that he would disapprove of discrimination?
5. Why should discrimination be opposed?
"There are disturbing signs of increased racial and economic segregation in urban areas. We deplore discrimination, still present in our society, against persons because of their race, economic status, sex, or religion. Such attitudes contradict the Christian belief in the equality and inherent dignity of all people and they must be opposed." U.S. Bishops, The Right to a Decent Home (1975) 33.
Reflections on opposition to discrimination.
a) The bishops saw disturbing signs of discrimination in 1975. Describe the situation as you see it at present regarding
--discrimination because of race
--discrimination because of economic status
--discrimination because of sex
--discrimination because of religion
b) Is there a contradiction between discriminating against people and being a Christian? Why?
6. What types of discrimination should be overcome and eradicated?
"With respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language, or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent." Vatican II, Church in the Modern World (1965) 29.
Reflections on types of discrimination.
a) Why do you think people discriminate because of sex?
b) Why do you think people discriminate because of race?
c) Why do you think people discriminate because of social condition?
d) Why do you think people discriminate because of language?
e) Why do you think people discriminate because of religion?
7. Should affirmative action be taken to eliminate the effects of past discrimination?
"Where the effects of past discrimination persist, society has the obligation to take positive steps to overcome the legacy of injustice. Judiciously administered affirmative action programs in education and employment can be important expressions of the drive for solidarity and participation that is at the heart of true justice. Social harm calls for social relief. The nation should renew its efforts to develop effective affirmative action policies that assist those who have been excluded by racial or sexual discrimination in the past." U.S. Bishops, Economic Justice for All (1986) 73,167.
Reflections on affirmative action.
a) What is affirmative action?
b) What reason do the bishops give for supporting affirmative action programs?
c) Why do you think many people are opposed to affirmative action?
d) List the strengths and weaknesses of affirmative action.
e) Do you support affirmative action or are you opposed to it? Give reasons for your stand.
8. Does discrimination affect progress?
"All of our strivings for true human progress will be frustrated if we cannot honestly regard each of our brothers as another self, whose true vocation, like ours, is to love and to seek and embrace the good and the true, and thus attain that higher level of life which is his destiny. This regard must be expressed also in laws and institutions." U.S. Bishops, Human Solidarity (1970) 13.
Reflections on discrimination and progress.
a) How does discrimination frustrate our efforts at progress?
b) Why must our respect for each other be expressed in laws?
9. What is the Christian view of the differences among people?
"For the Christian there is no stranger, no one so different in origin or ways that such a one can be set outside of the true human family. We accept men and women for what they are, created and redeemed by God; we accept them as they are, the product of history and culture. In them and through them, God's grace works among us." U.S. Bishops. Cultural Pluralism in the United States (1980) 53.
Reflections on the differences among people.
a) What does it mean to say that we are "the product of history and culture"?
b) What is the difference between acknowledging our differences and discriminating?
10. Why is racism a sin?
"Racism is a sin, a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father. Racism is the sin that says that some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of race. It is the sin that makes racial characteristics the determining factor for the exercise of human rights. It mocks the words of Jesus: 'Treat others the way you would have them treat you.' Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation." U.S. Bishops. Brothers and Sisters to Us (1979) 9.
Reflections on the sin of racism.
a) List the seven things which the sin of racism does.
b) What is your definition of sin? How does racism fit that definition?
c) Why is it wrong to divide the human family?
d) Why is it wrong to use race as the basis for determining rights?
e) What is "the mystery of the Incarnation"? What does it have to do with racism?
11. Is there racism within our society and our Church?
"Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our Church. Despite apparent advances and even significant changes in the last two decades, the reality of racism remains. In large part it is only the external appearances which have changed." U.S. Bishops. Brothers and Sisters to Us (1979) 1.
Reflections on racism in our society and our Church.
a) Racism is alleged to endure in our society. Tell why you agree or disagree.
b) Racism is alleged to endure in our Church. Tell why you agree or disagree.
c) Give examples of external appearances of racism which have changed.
12. On what basis do we judge our social structures to be racist?
"The structures of our society are subtly racist, for these structures reflect the values which society upholds. They are geared to the success of the majority and the failure of the minority. Members of both groups give unwitting approval by accepting things as they are. Perhaps no single individual is to blame. The sinfulness is often anonymous but nonetheless real. The sin is social in nature in that each of us, in varying degrees, is responsible. All of us in some measure are accomplices." U.S. Bishops. Brothers and Sisters to Us (1979) 13.
Reflections on racist social structures.
a) What do the bishops have in mind when they speak of the structures of our society?
b) What does it mean to say that those structures are "subtly racist"?
c) The bishops assert that our society makes it easier for whites to succeed and for blacks to fail. Tell why you agree or disagree with them.
d) How do we approve of the racism in our society without, knowing or wanting to?
e) What is the difference between personal sin and social sin?
f) How is racism a social sin?
13. How do rights and duties relate to racial discrimination?
"The conviction that all men are equal by reason of their natural dignity has been generally accepted. Hence, racial discrimination can in no way be justified, at least doctrinally or in theory. And this is of fundamental importance and significance for the formation of human society according to those principles which We have outlined above. For, if a man becomes conscious of his rights, he must become equally aware of his duties. Thus, he who possesses certain rights has likewise the duty to claim those rights as marks of his dignity, while all others have the obligation to acknowledge those rights and respect them." Pope John XXIII, Peace on Earth (1963) 44.
Reflections on rights and duties relative to racial discrimination.
a) What does this statement say about the rights and duties of minorities?
b) What does this statement say about the rights and duties of the majority?
14. How may one's stand on affirmative action reflect racism?
"Racism is sometimes apparent in the growing sentiment that too much is being given to racial minorities by way of affirmative action programs or allocations to redress longstanding imbalances in minority representation and government funded programs for the disadvantaged. At times, protestations claiming that all persons should be treated equally reflect the desire to maintain a status quo that favors one race and social group at the expense of the poor and nonwhite." U.S. Bishops, Brothers and Sisters to Us (1979) 18.
Reflections on racism in one's stand on affirmative action.
a) What is wrong with wanting to maintain the status quo?
b) Do you think that at times too much is given to racial minorities?
c) If you are opposed to affirmative action, what do you think should be done about the longstanding imbalances of which the bishops speak?
15. Why should American Catholics be especially sensitive to racial discrimination?
"The members of every racial and ethnic group are beings of incomparable worth, yet racial antagonism and discrimination are among the most persistent and destructive evils in our nation. Those victims of discrimination of whom we are most conscious are Hispanic Americans, black Americans, and native Americans. The Catholic community should be particularly sensitive to this form of injustice because it, too, has experienced prejudice and discrimination in America based national origin and religion." U.S. Bishops. To Live in Christ Jesus (1976) 70.
Reflections on American Catholics and racial discrimination.
a) Tell what you know about discrimination against Catholics in American history.
b) What connection do the bishops make between that part of the American past and the racial discrimination that exists today?
16. Why is racism in our Church a serious matter?
"How great is that sin of racism which weakens the Church's witness as the universal sign of unity among all peoples! How great the scandal given by racist Catholics who would make the body of Christ, the Church, a sign of racial oppression! Yet all too often the Church in our country has been for many a 'white Church,' a racist institution. Each of us as Catholics must acknowledge a share in the mistakes and sins of the past. Many of us have been prisoners of fear and prejudice. We have preached the Gospel while closing our eyes to the racism it condemns. We have allowed conformity to social pressure to replace compliance with social justice." U.S. Bishops, Brothers and Sisters to Us (1979) 31-32.
Reflections on racism in the Church.
a) What are two reasons why racism in the Church is particularly sinful?
b) Have you seen signs of the Church in America being a 'white Church,' a racist institution?
c) When is conformity to social pressure wrong?
d) Consider the case of a Catholic who is not prejudiced and has never done anything to harm minorities. The bishops say that that Catholic "must acknowledge a share in the mistakes and sins of the past." Tell why you agree or disagree with them.
17. How should the Church combat racism?
"The moral and doctrinal heresy called 'racism' works through people and through institutions. The Church's efforts must be two pronged: directed at both 'personal racism' combating it in the minds and hearts of its largely white membership and at 'institutional racism,' cleansing its institutions and organizational life." U.S. Bishops, The Church's Response to the Urban Crisis (1968).
Reflections on the Church combating racism.
a) What is a heresy? Why do the bishops refer to racism as a "doctrinal heresy"?
b) What is the distinction made by the bishops between personal racism and institutional racism? Why are they both wrong? Why must they both be attacked?
18. In view of the racial makeup of the world, what principles should govern our relationship to other nations?
"As it happens, most of the rich, consuming nations are white and Christian; most of the world's poor are of other races and religions. Concerning our relationship to other nations, our Christian faith suggests several principles. First, racial differences should not interfere with our dealing justly and peacefully with all other nations. Secondly, those nations which possess more of the world's riches must, in justice, share with those who are in serious need. Finally, the private sector should be aware of its responsibility to promote racial justice, not subordination or exploitation, to promote genuine development in poor societies, not mere consumerism and materialism." U.S. Bishops. Brothers and Sisters to Us (1979)57-58.
Reflections on our relationship to other nations.
a) State briefly the three principles that should govern our relationship to other nations.
b) Do you agree that our nation must, in justice, share with those who are in serious need? Do you think we are sharing as much as we should?
c) How can the private sector promote racial justice?
Discrimination Against Women
19. Why is discrimination based on sex unjust?
"Discrimination based on sex, because it radically undermines the personal identity of both women and men, constitutes a grave injustice in our society." U.S. Bishops, To Do the Work of Justice (1978) 35.
Reflections on the injustice of discrimination based on sex.
a) Explain in your own words why sex discrimination is unjust.
b) How does sex discrimination undermine the personal identity of women?
c) How does sex discrimination undermine the personal identity of men?
20. How should we characterize the attitude that women are inferior to men?
"Even today some still consider women to be men's inferiors, al most their property. It is un-Christian and inhuman for husbands to regard their wives this way; they ought instead to 'love (them) as Christ loved the Church' (Eph 5:25)." U.S. Bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus (1976) 67.
Reflections on the attitude that women are inferior to men.
a) Why is it un-Christian for husbands to consider their wives inferior to them?
b) Why is it inhuman for husbands to consider their wives inferior to them?
c) How did Christ love the Church? Why is that love a good model for the love that a husband ought to have for his wife?
21. What change is taking place in the area of women in society?
"It is obvious to everyone that women are now taking part in public life. This is happening more rapidly perhaps in nations with a Christian tradition, and more slowly, but broadly, among peoples who have inherited other traditions or cultures. Since women are becoming ever more conscious of their human dignity, they will not tolerate being treated as inanimate objects or mere instruments, but claim, both in domestic and in public life, the rights and duties that befit a human person." Pope John XXl1I, Peace on Earth (1963) 41.
Reflections on the changing place of women in society.
a) Describe in your own words the change that is taking place in the area of women in society.
b) What rights and duties are women claiming in domestic life?
c) What rights and duties are women claiming in public life?
d) Why do you think the rise in women's consciousness of their rights is taking place more rapidly in nations with a Christian tradition?
22. What is a false view of the liberation of women?
"Efforts to win recognition that women have the same dignity and fundamental rights as men are praiseworthy and good. But the same cannot be said of views which would ignore or deny significant differences between the sexes, undermine marriage and motherhood, and erode family life and the bases of society itself. Liberation does not lie in espousing new modes of dehumanization, nor in enslavement to an ideology which ignores the facts of human sexuality and the requirements of human dignity." U.S. Bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus (1976) 68.
Reflections on a false view of the liberation of women.
a) The bishops speak of "significant differences between the sexes." In what ways are males and females significantly different? In what ways are they not significantly different?
b) How can efforts to win recognition for women's rights undermine marriage and motherhood?
c) What is meant by saying that "liberation does not lie in espousing new modes of dehumanization"?
23. What are the conditions for the true advancement of women?
"It is a fact that in many societies women work in nearly every sector of life. But it is fitting that they should be able to fulfill their tasks in accordance with their own nature, without being discriminated against and without being excluded from jobs for which they are capable, but also without lack of respect for their family aspirations and for their specific role in contributing, together with men, to the good of society. The true advancement of women requires that labor should be structured in such a way that women do not have to pay for their advancement by abandoning what is specific to them and at the expense of the family, in which women as mothers have an irreplaceable role." Pope John Paul II, On Human Work (1981) 19.
Reflections on the conditions for the true advancement of women.
a) What is the specific role of women in contributing to the good of society?
b) Do you think that in our society the "irreplaceable role" of women as mothers is an obstacle to their advancement?
c) Tell why you agree or disagree with the conditions laid down in this statement for the true advancement of women.
24. How should the Church relate to the movement for women's rights?
"At this point in history, marked, as Pope John indicated in Pacem in Terris, by the growing struggle of women to achieve full development, it is urgent that the Church give tangible evidence of its commitment to the rights of women, affirming their dignity. as persons, and promoting their expanded participation in ecclesial and civic life." U.S. Bishops. To Do the Work of Justice (1978) 35.
Reflections on the Church and the movement for women's rights.
a) State in your own words what the Church's attitude to the women's rights movement should be.
b) What is your experience of the actual attitude of the Church to women and their rights?
Discrimination Against the Aged
25. What are we doing when we reject the elderly?
"In rejecting the elderly, we do more than perpetuate injustice: When we reject any stage of human life, we are in effect rejecting a part of ourselves and our connections with the human community. Perhaps we react to the elderly as we do because they are an unwanted reminder of our own mortality." U.S. Bishops. Society and the Aged (1976) 5.
Reflections on rejection of the elderly.
a) Why is it wrong to reject the elderly?
b) What do the bishops suggest as the cause of our rejection of the elderly?
26. What are the basic rights being denied many elderly people?
"A brief look at the plight of many elderly people shows that they are in fact being denied (these basic) rights: a) the right to life; b) the right to a decent home; c) the right to a job; d) the right to health care; e) the right to eat; 1) the right to a decent income; g) the right to equal treatment." U.S. Bishops, Society and the Aged (1976) 10-35.
Reflections on the basic rights denied the elderly.
a) Show how many elderly people are denied each of these rights:
--the right to life
--the right to a decent home
--the right to a job
--the right to health care
--the right to eat
--the right to a decent income
--the right to equal treatment
27. Why must we speak out on behalf of the elderly?
"We must raise our voices clearly and effectively as advocates for the elderly on public policy matters. Elderly people cannot compete with well financed interest groups for national resources; like other basically powerless groups, the elderly stand to lose the most in times of economic crisis." U.S. Bishops, Society and the Aged (1976) 50.
Reflections on speaking out on behalf of the elderly.
a) Why do the elderly stand to lose the most in times of economic crisis?
b) Give examples of ways in which public policy affects the lives of elderly people.
Discrimination Against the Handicapped
28. Why is discrimination against the handicapped wrong?
"The disabled person is one of us and participates fully in the same humanity that we possess. It would be radically unworthy of man, and a denial of our common humanity, to admit to the life of the community, and thus admit to work, only those who are fully functional. To do so would be to practice a serious form of discrimination, that of the strong and healthy against the weak and sick." Pope John Paul II, On Human Work (1981) 22.
Reflections on discrimination against the handicapped.
a) Why are the handicapped equal to the rest of us?
b) Why is it wrong to deny them admittance to the life of the community?
c) When the strong and healthy deny rights to the weak and sick, why is it a serious form of discrimination?
29. Does discrimination against the handicapped tend to be conscious and deliberate?
"Few of us would admit to being prejudiced against handicapped people. We bear these people no ill will and do not knowingly seek to abrogate their rights. Yet handicapped people are visibly, sometimes bluntly different from the 'norm,' and we react to this difference. Even if we do not look down upon handicapped people, we tend all too often to think of them as somehow apart, not fully 'one of us.'" U.S. Bishops, Pastoral Statement on the Handicapped (1978).
Reflections on our attitude toward the handicapped.
a) What handicapped people have you known in your life? How "different" were they? How did people react to that difference? Were they looked down upon? Were they fully accepted, or were they thought of as somehow apart?
30. What rights of the handicapped need defense?
"Defense of the right to life implies the defense of other rights which enable the handicapped individual to achieve the fullest measure of personal development of which he or she is cap able. These include the right to equal opportunity in education, in employment, in housing, as well as the right to free access to public accommodations, facilities and services. Those who must be institutionalized deserve decent, personalized care and human support as well as the pastoral services of the Christian community." U.S. Bishops, Pastoral Statement on the Handicapped (1978).
Reflections on the defense of the rights of the handicapped.
a) Tell what society can do to defend each of the following rights of the handicapped:
--the right to equal opportunity in education
--the right to equal opportunity in employment
--the right to equal opportunity in housing
--the right to free access to public places
--the right to decent, personalized care for those who must be institutionalized
--the right to the pastoral services of the Christian community
31. What do the handicapped contribute to the church?
"The leaders and the general membership of the church must educate themselves to appreciate fully the contribution handicapped people can make to the church's spiritual life. Handicapped individuals bring with them a special insight into the meaning of life; for they live, more than the rest of us perhaps, in the shadow of the cross. And out of their experience they forge virtues like courage, patience, perseverance, compassion and sensitivity that should serve as an inspiration to all Christians." U.S. Bishops, Pastoral Statement on the Handicapped (1978).
Reflections on the contribution of the handicapped to the church.
a) Why is it important to have in our community people who "live in me shadow of me cross"?
b) How do handicapped people exhibit each of me following virtues: courage, patience, perseverance, compassion, sensitivity?
32. Are Jews to be blamed for what happened to Christ?
"True, authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf. In. 19:6); still, what happened in His passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as repudiated or cursed by God, as if such views followed from the holy Scriptures." Vatican II, Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (1965) 4.
Reflections on the Jews and the death of Christ.
a) What would you say to someone who accused the Jews of being Christ killers?
b) When Christ established the church as the new people of God, did he reject the Jews?
c) Why do you think some Christians continue to look on Jews as inferior to them?
33. What stand does the Church take toward antisemitism?
"The Church repudiates all persecutions against any man. Moreover, mindful of her common patrimony with the Jews, and motivated by the gospel's spiritual love and by no political considerations, she deplores the hatred, persecutions, and displays of antisemitism directed against the Jews at any time and from any source." Vatican II, Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (1965) 4.
Reflections on the Church and antisemitism.
a) Why does the Church reject antisemitism?
b) What is meant by the Church's "common patrimony with the Jews"?
c ) The Holocaust, that horrible act of genocide resulting in the death of some six million Jews, took place in a Christian nation. What do you think we can do as Christians to insure that such an abomination never occurs again?