What is a "preferential option"?

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Oct 14, 2005

We've heard a lot in the last few decades about the Church's "preferential option for the poor." It sounds like a good thing, and in what follows I am not questioning the Church's social teaching. I am questioning the grammatical construction of that phrase.

What is a "preferential option"?

I certainly can understand how someone might get "preferential treatment." Someone receives such and such treatment, which is preferable to other treatment he might receive. That usage makes sense to me. But to say someone gets a preferential option: what does that mean? Doesn't "option" imply at least two choices? I've tried replacing the word "option" with the word "choice." A preferential choice for the poor? Choice of what for the poor? And then what is a non-preferential option? Musing on that problem, I tried a Google search of "preferential option for the poor," to see if I'd find an explanation. One helpful site told me that the phrase alludes to the Church's "special care for the poor."

OK; fine. "Special care for the poor." Now that I understand. It's good social teaching and also good grammar. I have a preferential option for that usage.

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