by Annemarie Paulin-Campbell
Anyone who has been following the recent headline news is well aware of the student protests taking place on most campuses countrywide. Teaching has also been suspended at a number of institutions in response to student protests (some of them violent) calling for free education.
If we want to think critically about the issues involved, what does Catholic Social Teaching (CST), Catholic Moral Theology and our understanding of discernment offer us?
One of the key principles of Catholic Social Teaching is the church’s concern for bringing about a more just distribution of wealth and access to resources. It asks us to engage in activism aimed at improving the situation of the poor and the marginalized. It stresses the vital importance of education in helping people escape the cycle of poverty. We know that many deserving students are excluded from access to tertiary education because they cannot afford it. To protest and to raise these concerns is strongly supported by CST.
However, Catholic Moral Theology teaches that the ends do not justify the means. However noble the cause, a good intention does not make behavior that is intrinsically wrong good or just. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church “a morally good act requires goodness of the object, of the end and of the circumstances together” (CCC 1755). Destruction of property, the endangerment of life, violent intimidation of others and denying others the right to complete their studies are acts which are in no way made acceptable by the noble cause of access to education.
In Christian discernment we look at the fruits of the spirit. If something is of God, then the fruits will be good. There will be an increase in faith, hope and love. The fruits of the current situation are not good. There has been diminishment of faith, hope and love as the anger escalates. Even people who support the ideal being fought for are becoming increasingly polarized. The consequences of violent protests undermine the very important cause they are trying to forward. People are becoming entrenched in positions which do not allow them to put a positive interpretation on the intention of the other. There is distrust, hostility and a lack of respect for the dignity of others.
We need a way forward: A non-violent solution rooted in dialogue that seeks to truly understand the other. As people of faith, watching this extremely concerning situation, what are we called to do? I suggest, based on these principles, we are called to uphold the call for accessible and sustainable access to education and to use our gifts and creativity to find ways to access more funding for education. We must also strongly condemn violence and damage to property and the denial of the right to education for students who are currently about to write exams. We must pray urgently in our homes, communities and parishes for a way through the impasse. In our conversations we must too engage in constructive dialogue and the seeking of solutions to what is our collective problem.