Justice: A Working Definition
Justice-or Charity?
Justice in the Catechism of the Catholic Church

A Working Definition

Early in its deliberations the University Task Force on Education for Justice recognized the need for a common understanding of what is involved in “the service of faith and the promotion of justice.”  After a careful review of Decree Three from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus as well as the growing literature on the subject, the Task Force adopted the following preliminary interpretation of our mission on education for justice: 

Because the University of Scranton is founded on the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is committed to education for and activity on behalf of justice. This commitment is reinforced by the decision of the Society of Jesus to work for “the service of faith and the promotion of justice.” A significant dimension of this commitment is social justice which is concerned with how social, political, and economic structures impact individuals and groups, especially the poor and the less powerful. Thus, the promotion of justice includes:

  • A concern for the rights and welfare of the less powerful in society: the poor, racial and other minorities, women, children, the unborn
  • A concern for the welfare of less powerful nations and communities in an era of global competition, dominated by highly developed economies
  • A concern for the equitable and sustainable use of the environment for the sake of present and future generations
  • A commitment to the promotion of peaceful, nonviolent means of effecting change and resolving conflict

Further study and reflection by the University community may cause modification in this definition.

Justice—or charity?

Various groups within the University sponsor a wide range of activities that serve people in need.  While all of these activities may be valuable, not all of them can be considered education for justice.  In Journey to Justice:  Transforming Hearts and Schools with Catholic Social Teaching (National Catholic Educational Association, 2003), Constance Fourré offers a helpful distinction between actions done out of charity and those done for the sake of justice:

Catholic social thought distinguishes between charitable action and action for justice.  Charity and justice are commonly referred to as the “two feet” carrying individuals on this journey.  Both are necessary for society to move forward; neither is adequate alone.  Charity connotes giving from one’s abundance out of kindness, and encompasses donations and direct service.  . . .

Because of society’s complexity and the size of institutions today, service and sharing alone are not an adequate response.  The root causes of poverty and the unequal distribution of power are built into the world’s systems and institutions.  Significant change, and therefore help for those in need, is impossible without addressing those institutions and systems.

In this context, the term justice refers to action to bring about structural change.  (7-8)

Fourré goes on to note that while they can be distinguished, charity and justice are not distinct, but exist on a continuum that she delineates in five steps: 

  1. collections, which provide resources to recipients but without any personal contact for students 
  2. direct service, which answers immediate needs and provides students with personal contact but does not bring about long-term change 
  3. service for empowerment, which begins to provide recipients with skills and assets they need to make changes in their lives
  4. analysis, which brings about an awareness of the role of structures in the status quo and begins to evaluate strategies for change
  5. advocacy, which works to change structures. (53)

Service learning can be used appropriately with any of the above. To be effective as a vehicle for justice education, the last two stages will need to provide the base for projects. 

The Education for Justice Office seeks to make available resources that enable groups on campus to engage in the kind of analysis that will lead to change. Courses in a variety of disciplines are the prime venue for this kind of analysis.

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