A few months ago, I was on a panel at my university on the topic of evaluating American liberalism and conservatism in light of Catholic social teaching. The panel was asked what that teaching would say about affirmative action—defined by a leading law dictionary as the conferring of special rights in hiring or advancement to ethnic minorities to make up for past discrimination. The social encyclicals, the authoritative sources for the magisterial teaching on social questions, have never addressed this subject. (The USCCB has addressed it—for example, in its 1979 pastoral letter on racism, where it claimed that “racism is

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