The Catholic Action Network for Social Justice (CAN) was founded in 1999 as a grassroots, action-based organization with a mission to "affirm and act on the living tradition of Catholic Social Teachings in the everyday life of the Church" through the mobilization of "Catholics and other people of faith to enact their religious convictions by working for a more just world." They accomplished this mission through the organization of "opportunities for prayer, education, and advocacy."
The organization was originally formed after the Archdiocese of Saint Louis dismantled the Archdiocesan Human Rights Office; in response, a small group formed to continue and build upon the work of the Human Rights Office, and in the years since organized many grassroots campaigns in promotion of social justice. In particular, CAN focused on five main social justice issues: justice for women, LGBTQ equality, economic equality, dismantling racism, and justice in the Catholic Church. Additionally, the group organized many anti-war protests and other actions in support of international peace and justice, including the weekly peace vigils that were held on the steps of Saint Francis Xavier (College) Church on the Saint Louis University campus every sunday since 11 September 2001.
Made up of both lay and religious Catholics, CAN served to coordinate the various social justice actions of parishes and parishioners throughout the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, as well as to be an "inclusive and independent Catholic voice for social justice in the Saint Louis community. The independent nature of the organization permitted them to advocate for positions against that of the mainstream Catholic Church, including women's ordination and marraige rights for gay and lesbian Catholics, which led to some conflict between CAN and the Archdiocese. Members of CAN frequently spoke out publicly against positions taken by Archdiocesan leaders, including former Archbishop Raymond Leo Burke. For instance, in response to a pro-gay rights billboard sponsored by the Catholic Action Network in 2005, Archbishop Burke barred CAN from meeting on Archdiocesan property. From that point forward, the group began meeting more frequently at Saint Stanislaus Church, which had previously separated from the Archdiocese due to a conflict over trustee ownership of the parish. Some local Catholic media outlets have referred to CAN as a dissident organization due to their positions on women's ordination and gay rights.
CAN was comprised of an executive board, which coordinated the group's planning and organizing efforts, as well as several subcommittees that focused on particular social justice issues with which CAN was concerned. There were six major subcommittees during CAN's existence:
(1) Justice for Women in the Catholic Church (JWCC) - focused on equal rights for women and women's ordination
(2) Racial justice - focused on the eradication of racism
(3) Labor justice - focused on economic equality and unionization efforts
(4) International peace and justice - focused on anti-war efforts, free trade, and international relations issues
(5) Environmental justice - focused on reduction of harm caused by man-made climate change
(6) Our Holy Families - focused on rights for LGBTQ people, both inside and outside the Catholic Church.
Each of these committees organized a number of educational events (lectures, conferences, prayer services, protests, fundraising drives, movie showings, concerts, etc. - see Series 3 of the CAN collection for details) that were aimed specifically at raising awareness about their particular causes. Additionally, CAN held many organization-wide events (convocations, retreats, prayer services, etc. - see Series 3) that sought to emphasize the connectedness of these various social justice ministries, and to raise funds for additional advocacy and action.
With the establishment of the Peace and Justice Commission by the Archdiocese of Saint Louis in 2015, the leadership of CAN decided to close the organization, as the Commission would likely perform much of the same work as CAN (except for efforts in support of women's ordination and LGBTQ rights), but with significantly more operational support.