The Social Mission of the U.S. Catholic Church

A Theological Perspective

Charles E. Curran

"Curran has given us a book to motivate and guide us in this mission. Anyone who wants to see how the social teaching of the church can come to life ought to read it."
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How does the Church function in the world? What is it called to do, and what does it actually do? Charles E. Curran explores the social mission of the U.S. Catholic Church from a theological perspective, analyzing and assessing four aspects: the importance of social mission, who carries it out, how it is carried out, and the roles that the Church and individual Catholics play in supporting these efforts.

In the early and mid-twentieth century the Catholic Church in the United States tended to focus its social mission on its own charities, hospitals, and schools. But the Second Vatican Council called the Church to a new understanding of social mission, deepening its involvement in and commitment to civic, social, and political life in the United States and abroad. Curran devotes particular attention to three issues that have reflected the Church's strong sense of social mission since that time: abortion, war and peace, and labor.

The Social Mission of the U.S. Catholic Church describes the proper role of bishops, institutions, and movements in the Church, but insists that the primary role belongs to all the baptized members of the Church as they live out the social mission in their daily lives.

Table of Contents


1. Early Historical Context and Taking Care of Our Own

2. The Social Mission of the Church in the First Part of the Twentieth Century

3. The Understanding of the Church after Vatican II

4. Vatican II and a New Understanding of the Social Mission

5. Post-Vatican II Development of Three Earlier Instances of the Social Mission

6. Three Significant Issues in the Post-Vatican II Church

7. Roles of the Church in Supporting the Social Mission

8. U.S. Bishops and Abortion Law

Conclusions: Looking Backward and Forward


"Curran has given us a book to motivate and guide us in this mission. Anyone who wants to see how the social teaching of the church can come to life ought to read it."—America Magazine

"More than 2500 years ago the prophets reminded Israel that there could be no righteous worship of God without justice toward the neighbor and stranger. Father Curran reminds us that any church that would call itself Catholic must first preach and practice justice."—U.S. Catholic

"Thoroughly researched and documented, featuring reliable judgements at every turn, this volume belongs in every Catholic library. Displaying a lively style of presentation and extremely clear organization, this eminently readable work deserves a wide audience."—American Catholic Studies

"A new book by theologian Charles Curran is always eagerly received. This volume is no exception: a brief social history of the theology and praxis of the social justice tradition in the US Catholic church-its hierarchy, its communities and organizations and its individuals-does not disappoint."—Conscience

"The ideal text for laying out the basic historical issues, movements, and questions taken up in an introductory course on, for instance, 'Catholicism in America'."—Reviews in Religion and Theology

"A work of fine scholarship that skillfully ranges over a complex set of topics. It is clearly and accessibly written and geared toward a general theological readership."—Missiology

"Does a great service in tracing the history of the church’s social mission in the U.S. and indicating the significant landmarks in the church’s evolution and its changing presence in society. We are all enriched by his study."—THEOFORUM

"Invaluable for readers interested in engaging more deeply with the Catholic social ."—Theological Studies

"An invaluable synthesis of how catholicity has structured the Church’s social mission in historical and contemporary contexts. With a characteristically lucid and inclusive approach, Curran navigates the complex methodological assumptions and political tensions driving distinct Catholic responses to entrenched and evolving social issues."—Kristin Heyer, Santa Clara University

"Charles Curran is the foremost Catholic moral theologian in the United States and one of the Church’s leading moral theologians worldwide. His latest book is a comprehensive theological analysis of numerous issues, controversies, and developments in the U.S. Catholic Church, highlighting the changing aspects of the Church’s social mission over time. I strongly recommend this book."—Richard P. McBrien, professor of theology, University of Notre Dame

"Father Curran opens up the trajectories of the social mission of the Catholic Church over the last 300 years with the goal of clarifying the theological and ecclesial challenges before us at the present time. A 'must read' for Catholics who would venture into the fray of public policy debate."—Marvin L. Mich, STD, director of social policy, Catholic Family Center


Supplemental Materials


2012 Catholic Press Association Book Award for Social Concerns, Third Place

About the Author

Charles E. Curran, a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Rochester, New York, is Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University. He was the first recipient of the John Courtney Murray Award for Theology and has served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Society of Christian Ethics, and the American Theological Society. He is the author of Loyal Dissent: Memoir of a Catholic Theologian, The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II, and Catholic Moral Theology in the United States: A History, which won the 2008 American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence in Theology and Religion.

208 pp., 6 x 9

Dec 2010

208 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-743-6
Dec 2010

208 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-764-1
Dec 2010

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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