Some good Catholics I know belong to ESTHER and JOSHUA. Didn’t Bishop Ricken say that was wrong? (Howard)
Since its very foundation, the church has been engaged in the community to serve the needs of people through works of charity and justice. With that, a body of teaching known as “Catholic Social Teaching” has developed that guides the faithful on how to live the message of Christ in the world.
Catholic Social Teaching is rooted in the fundamental truth that every human is created in the image of God and graced with dignity and deserving of respect. Furthermore, Catholics are called to see all people as their brothers and sisters and to work to promote the common good. In our pluralistic society, the promotion of the common good will necessarily require Catholics to work alongside non-Catholics.
Here in the Diocese of Green Bay, we are blessed with an abundance of organizations that serve people in need. Some, such as St. Vincent de Paul societies, Father Carr’s Place 2B and St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter, have their origins in the Catholic Church. Yet there are other organizations in our communities, doing excellent work to serve people in need, that are not specifically Catholic in origin or mission. Many Catholics support these organizations through their prayers, their time and their donations. Supporting these organizations is an important and honorable way for Catholics to promote the common good in our communities.
Two particular organizations that have done much good work in our communities are ESTHER (Fox Valley) and JOSHUA (Green Bay). ESTHER and JOSHUA are interfaith social justice groups that focus on building grassroots support around issues affecting our local communities such as immigration, prison reform, housing and many others. ESTHER and JOSHUA are part of a statewide and national network of similar organizations.
Several years ago, due to concerns about the relationship between ESTHER and JOSHUA with these state and national organizations, in his “Pastoral Statement on Living Justice in the Diocese of Green Bay,” Bishop Ricken announced that parishes in the diocese could no longer be corporate members of ESTHER and JOSHUA. Specifically, Bishop Ricken was concerned that, through membership in these organizations, parishes might find themselves in conflicts of interest, since there were parallel hierarchies.
Despite his concerns, Bishop Ricken commended the work of these groups: “I want to make it abundantly clear that I am very proud of many of the works that JOSHUA and ESTHER are doing here in Green Bay and the Fox Valley. The living out of the Gospel values of Matthew 25 is truly commendable, an example of living out the call of charity and justice in our day.”
At the same time, Bishop Ricken indicated that parishes could still partner with ESTHER and JOSHUA on specific projects consistent with Catholic Social Teaching. Furthermore, he clarified that individual parishioners were permitted to have a personal membership in ESTHER and JOSHUA.
So to summarize, Bishop Ricken did not say it was wrong for individual Catholics to belong to groups like ESTHER and JOSHUA. Rather, he recognized the good work these organizations do in our communities and left the decision up to the prudential judgment of the individual.
Weiss is program manager for the Office of Living Justice.
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