By Maureen H. O’Connell
While public outcry about the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin gathers momentum on social networks and in various public demonstrations around the country, it does not seem to be weighing too heavily on Catholic consciences. A cursory Web search does not yield much by way of statements by Catholic leaders or empathetic rituals by Catholic parishes.
But for people of color in this country and the growing number of Catholics among them, the situation in Sanford, Fla., is thejustice issue of the day. So why the apathetic silence? Sadly, we need only look to our own religious teachings to find the answer.
Catholic social teaching, the primary resource for Catholics when it comes to addressing a variety of social questions and often referred to as the church’s “best-kept secret,” began in 1891 with a papal encyclical about the plight of workers in Europe’s industrial revolution. Pope Leo XIII called Western Europe’s attention to the need for fair labor practices, a living wage and the right of workers to unionize. Since then, the institutional church has not hesitated to address a host of justice issues — human rights, nuclear disarmament, economic development and ecological sustainability, to name a few — speaking not simply to Catholics but to “all people of goodwill.” In fact, Pope Benedict XVI offered the most recent addition to the tradition with his 2011 Christmas address about the global economic crisis…