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Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic Theological Society of America
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240 CTSA Proceedings 50 / 1995 calls us to a radical love and justice for all, including black people and those who are marginalized by racism, sexism, and classism. JAMIE T. PHELPS, O.P. Catholic Theological Union Chicago, Illinois CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING THE EVIL OF VIOLENCE Presenters: William P. George, Rosary College M. Cathleen Kaveny, University of Notre Dame The two presenters each read a brief paper. In his paper, "Gun Violence in the United States: A Catholic Moral Perspective," George asked what the Catholic moral tradition might make of the common retort: "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." The slogan implicitly severs moral agency and inten- tionality from moral environment and effect, thus muting questions about the sort of social environment we create through the proliferation of guns. The slogan's emphasis on individual choice and presumed good intention also obscures the intentionality built into technology. In a sense, guns do what they are designed to do. The good or evil intentions of the user aside, empirical evidence connects gun violence to massive bodily harm, often death. The slogan, however, treats guns as though the damage they do is extrinsic to their design. It treats guns more like breadknives than weapons. George called for a creative retrieval of several elements in the Catholic moral tradition, most notably "material sin" and the "occasion of sin." A focus on "material sin" encourages a description of certain actions and patterns of behavior with such thickness that material sin might be raised to the level of "formal sin." We have seen such a transformation in our awareness of the sinful- ness of slavery. The Hill-Thomas hearings brought the material sin of sexual harassment to the level of full moral consciousness. There can be a comparable examination of gun violence. "Occasion of sin" implies that, while environment is not morally determinative, certain identifiable environments greatly increase the proba

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