Bishops' Longtime Social Justice Spokesman Retires

By Filteau, Jerry | National Catholic Reporter, September 28, 2012 | Go to article overview

Bishops' Longtime Social Justice Spokesman Retires


Filteau, Jerry, National Catholic Reporter


WASHINGTON * John Carr--arguably the most important spokesman for Catholic social teaching in the U.S. today--retired Aug. 31 as director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

Carr has guided the past two generations of American bishops through the intricacies of connecting Catholic social and moral teaching with U.S. public policy.

The Washington Post Sept. 1 called Carr "the most important policy adviser to the country's Catholic bishops, their Karl Rove on everything from health care to clergy sex abuse," in the past 25 years.

One of Carr's favorite rhetorical (and practical) paradigms is the thoroughly Catholic "and." The church's social teaching, he would regularly say, backs the right to life of unborn children and their rights after birth; workers' rights and responsibilities; employers' rights and responsibilities. For Carr, Catholic teaching on human rights and correlative responsibilities is an almost endless list of responsible human relationships in society.

Carr told NCR in an interview just before his retirement that he considered it "a privilege" to have worked for the bishops and regarded his interaction with them as an opportunity to help them align their public policy decisions with Catholic social teaching taken in its entirety.

For the fall semester Carr will hold a fellowship at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University in Boston. After that, he will head a new Center on Catholic Social Teaching and Public Engagement that he is in the process of forming at The Catholic University of America in Washington. The center aims to encourage younger Catholic lay men and women to engage in public life within the framework of Catholic social. teaching.

He said that today, especially because of the "enormous impact" of Pope John Paul II, "Catholic social teaching is at the center of the church's life."

"It's not the church I grew up in," he said. Today, "the church's social mission is not fringe, it's central--it's not optional."

A Minnesota native, Carr's first job after graduating from the College (now University) of St. Thomas in St. Paul with a degree in sociology was program coordinator of the Twin City Area Urban Corps in 1972. At the same time, a former high school and college seminarian, he worked for the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese as legislative coordinator for its Urban Affairs Commission.

He moved to Washington in 1975 to serve as the U.S. bishops' coordinator for urban issues.

From 1977 to 1981 he moved back into the public social justice sector, first as executive director of the National Committee for Full Employment, a coalition of more than 85 national religious, civil rights, labor and other organizations, and then (1979-81) as executive director of President Jimmy Carter's White House Conference on Families.

As Washington archdiocesan secretary for social concerns, 1981-87, Carr was Cardinal James A. Hickey's chief advisor and decision-maker on archdiocesan social justice, pro-life and human service prgrams and activities. He led a major overhaul of the archdiocese's Catholic Charities operations, decentralizing services and giving new emphasis to partnerships with parishes.

Next Carr rejoined the bishops' conference as secretary of its Department of Social Justice and World Peace--a job whose title changed and responsibilities expanded in 2007, to executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

The main difference is that since 2007 Carr has had responsibility not only for coordinating the U. …

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