Will someone buy Melinda Gates a copy of the “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church”?

Do you think Melinda Gates has enough money to buy a copy of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church? If not, perhaps those professors at Georgetown who took it upon themselves to send a copy to Rep. Paul Ryan a couple of months ago could gift her one as well. You’ll recall that the 90 or so faculty members included the Vatican-published volume with a letter lecturing Ryan about his supposed “continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan” they deemed contrary to Church teaching:

“Your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand,” says the letter, which the faculty members sent to Mr. Ryan along with a copy of the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church — “to help deepen your understanding of Catholic social teaching.”

They could simply rework that letter and say to Mrs. Gates:

“Your budget appears to reflect the values of Margaret Sanger rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and so we are sending the Compendium to help deepen your understanding of Catholic social teaching.”

Not that any such thing will happen, of course, as Georgetown professors, in general, don’t have a good record of upholding and defending the Church’s teaching about contraception and related matters. In a recent interview with CNN, Gates once again displayed the tired combination of serene cluelessness and convinced arrogance that is, sadly, all too common for Cathoilcs who talk endlessly about “social justice” without demonstrating a basic grasp of Catholic social teaching in general or justice in particular:

“Part of what I do with the (Gates) Foundation comes from that incredible social justice I had growing up and belief that all lives, all lives are of equal value,” said Gates during a recent interview with CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

About the flak over her Catholicism she said: “We’re not going to agree about everything, but that’s OK.”

Gates is promoting an ambitious family planning program — which includes raising billions of dollars to provide contraceptives to 120 million women worldwide — at the London Summit on Family Planning July 11.

Alas, the “incredible social justice” that Gates learned at a Catholic high school is far more in keeping with the beliefs of Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy Pelosi than anything taught by the Catholic Church. First, however, notice that Gates employs a series of rhetorical tactics that play well with the Contraceptive News Network and those dwelling in the sterile confines of the contraceptive echo chamber:

1. She refers often to “social justice” and how her Catholic education taught her its importance, especially in her public life.

2. Having touted her Catholic resume, she deflects legitimate criticism about her promotion of contraceptives in Third World countries by saying or suggesting its just a matter of personal opinion. One implication of this clever ploy is that makes sincerity, not moral truth, the key criteria for gauging how good and wonderful her philanthropic work really is.

3.  The next step is to suggest that while her critics are politically motivated (and thus cynical and hard-hearted), she is motivated solely by a selfless care for poor, helpless women in need of empowerment: “I think we made birth control and contraceptives way too political in the United States … I think if people understood that 200 million women want this around the world they would start to say, ‘OK that makes sense.’ … We shouldn’t make it such a political issue.”

The surreal but intended result is that Gates is presented as the golden-hearted and benevolent savior of Third World women, even though her work is, ultimately, anti-life—something she admitted (unwittingly, I’m guessing) to Steve Colbert in a recent appearance on his program:

Colbert: “But now you’ve got a new charitable hobby horse you’re on, and it’s not necessarily saving people’s lives, so much as it’s stopping people’s lives from existing. You want to provide family planning to 120 million men and women around the world.”

Melinda Gates: “Right.”

Now, back to the Compendium and social doctrine. It’s important to note that while social doctrine is often presented or perceived as being only about social ethics, it is just as much about personal morality. In addition, the Church’s social doctrine is built squarely on her moral teachings; the two simply cannot be disconnected or sundered. And the ultimate goal of the Church’s social doctrine is not the elimination of poverty, or the destruction of evil social institutions, or the building of a perfect, utopian society. “With her social doctrine, the Church aims ‘at helping man on the path of salvation’. This is her primary and sole purpose.” (Comp., 69). 

This does not mean, of course, that social doctrine is concerned only with heaven; rather, it is completely oriented toward man’s heavenly calling and informed by man’s vocation to eternal communion with God. This orientation, in social doctrine, is essentially the common good, for God is the source of truth, morality, and goodness. True freedom is the ability to do what is true and good, and thus to pursue a godly life, for our lives have meaning beyond the limits of this temporal realm, as the Compendium explains in a key paragraph:

The common good of society is not an end in itself; it has value only in reference to attaining the ultimate ends of the person and the universal common good of the whole of creation. God is the ultimate end of his creatures and for no reason may the common good be deprived of its transcendent dimension, which moves beyond the historical dimension while at the same time fulfilling it. This perspective reaches its fullness by virtue of faith in Jesus’ Passover, which sheds clear light on the attainment of humanity’s true common good. Our history — the personal and collective effort to elevate the human condition — begins and ends in Jesus: thanks to him, by means of him and in light of him every reality, including human society, can be brought to its Supreme Good, to its fulfilment. A purely historical and materialistic vision would end up transforming the common good into a simple socio-economic well-being, without any transcendental goal, that is, without its most intimate reason for existing. (par 170).

Turning the common good into a matter of “simple socio-economic well-being” can involve a number of different errors and falsehoods, among them the promotion and use of contraceptives and abortion. The use of contraception is not only an act of reproductive injustice, it is an affront to a rightly and justly ordered society (and, thus, to the common good):

Also to be rejected is recourse to contraceptive methods in their different forms:  this rejection is based on a correct and integral understanding of the person and human sexuality and represents a moral call to defend the true development of peoples. On the other hand, the same reasons of an anthropological order justify recourse to periodic abstinence during times of the woman’s fertility. Rejecting contraception and using natural methods for regulating births means choosing to base interpersonal relations between the spouses on mutual respect and total acceptance, with positive consequences also for bringing about a more human order in society. (Comp., 223). 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (which could easily be bundled with the Compendium for Gates), states the following about contraception (quoting from Humanae Vitae): “‘every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil'” (par. 2370). It immediately follows that with this quote from Gaudium et spes: “Let all be convinced that human life and the duty of transmitting it are not limited by the horizons of this life only: their true evaluation and full significance can be understood only in reference to man’s eternal destiny.

Get that? In other words, if we are not mindful of the true common good, we will likely be tempted to solve problems or control situations by use of immoral means—that is, means that are sinful and unjust. Thus, much of what is called “social justice” today, especially regarding sexuality and reproduction—is neither social (that is, life-affirming) or just (that is, giving due to what is good and right). 

Finally—and this is the one paragraph that folks such as Gates need to given accounting to—theCompendium states:

All programmes of economic assistance aimed at financing campaigns of sterilization and contraception, as well as the subordination of economic assistance to such campaigns, are to be morally condemned as affronts to the dignity of the person and the family. The answer to questions connected with population growth must instead by sought in simultaneous respect both of sexual morals and of social ethics, promoting greater justice and authentic solidarity so that dignity is given to life in all circumstances, starting with economic, social and cultural conditions. (par. 234)

Translation: What Melinda Gates is doing is condemned by the Church as a affront to the dignity of individuals and the family. Period. That is not an “opinion” or a “political stance” or any such thing, but the clear and direct teaching of the Catholic Church.

Now, Gates is certainly free to pursue her misguided quest to gift the Third World with contraceptives. But if she has any integrity at all, she needs to stop presenting her work as being informed by Catholic social doctrine or implying that it reflects authentic Catholic moral teaching. Not only is she causing scandal, she is helping to spread and promote a contraceptive mentality and a culture of death, and in doing so she is—however unwittingly or with whatever “sincerity”—undermining true social justice, the common good, and the saving mission of the Catholic Church. 

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About Carl E. Olson 1220 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.