Here you can find a list of Catholic Social Teaching terms used throughout the website.
An apostolic exhortation is an encyclical written by the Pope, typically after a Synod of Bishops has gathered to reflect on the Church’s teaching in a particular area. Two well-known apostolic exhortations are Evangelii Nuntiandi – “Evangelisation in the Modern World” (1975), which considers how best to proclaim the Gospel in the twentieth century; and Christifideles Laici – “The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People” (1988), which is about the vocation and mission of the laity in the church and in the world.
Authentic development involves a search for a humanism which will enable everyone to find themselves anew by embracing the higher values of love and friendship, of prayer and contemplation. Authentic development is for each and all the transition from less human conditions to those which are more human. Paul VI, Populorum Progressio – “The Development of Peoples” (1967), paragraph 20
The nature of authentic development is such that all the nations of the world must participate – for example through fair trade relationships and international cooperation – or it will not be true development. John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – “The Social Concern of the Church” (1987), paragraph 17
Catechism of the Catholic Church
In his introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, John Paul II describes it as a ‘reference text’ for the Church, giving an accessible account of all the Catholic doctrine to do with faith and morals. It was published in 1994, after almost ten years of preparation. John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – “The Social Concern of the Church” (1987), paragraph 17
Catholic Social Teaching
Catholic Social Teaching (CST) begins from a perspective of faith. CST is the Church reflecting on its mission in the world today, helping us to think about how we relate to the world around us and the problems that we face. In fact it is one of the greatest treasures of the Catholic tradition.
Most would accept that CST in its current form began with the encyclical Rerum Novarum – “Of New Things” in 1891 and has continued until the present with Caritas in Veritate – “Charity in Truth” in 2009. Drawing upon the Old and New Testaments, its traditions and its knowledge of social and economic traditions around the world, the Church has produced a formidable body of principles by which social and economic activity can be judged.
It can be summarised as:
· authoritative Church teaching on social, political and economic issues;
· informed by Gospel values and the lived experience of Christian reflection;
· analysing that experience from different historical, political and social contexts;
· providing principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and guidelines for action;
· thus helping us in our struggle to live our faith in justice and peace.
Drawing on the words of St Paul, Christianity traditionally teaches that there are three virtues that are to be prized over all the others. These are called the theological virtues: faith, hope and charity (1 Corinthians 13:13). Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1822) Charity is most often translated as ‘love’, and its Greek root is agape. This refers to the love that God bestows on his creation and the love that we are commanded to show to our neighbours. This love has its source and ultimate goal in God.
‘Charity in truth […] is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love – caritas – is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace.’ Benedict XVI, Caritas In Veritate – “Charity In Truth” (2009), paragraph 1
The common good is the complete development of all the people of the world. John XXIII describes it as ‘the sum total of conditions of social living, whereby persons are enabled more fully and readily to achieve their own perfection.’ Mater et Magistra – “Mother and Teacher” (1961), paragraph 65
The idea therefore differs from that of pursuing the ‘greatest good for the greatest number,’ with which it is sometimes confused, because the pursuit of the common good entrusts, both to the government and the Church, care for the greatest good of all persons, not just the greatest possible number. No individual is excluded from the common good. It is also therefore linked to the ideas of human dignity and authentic and integral human development, making them central aims of all societies.
The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales describe the notion in terms of interdependency: ‘Because we are interdependent, the common good is more like a multiplication sum, where if any one number is zero then the total is always zero. If anyone is left out and deprived of what is essential, then the common good has been betrayed.’ Choosing the Common Good, paragraph 8.
The common good also provides a balance against too strong an individualism by emphasising the social aspect of the human person. Authentic development is possible only if an individual interacts with and grows within a society. Thus each of us is required to work for the common good which includes all others within society. Even property of its nature also has a social aspect which is based on the law of the common purpose of goods. Gaudium et Spes – “The Joys and Hopes” (1965), paragraph 7
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is a helpful resource that was produced by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004. It draws together the main aspects of Catholic Social Teaching, arranging them by theme, rather than by document, so that a general overview of each topic can be presented.
Distributism is based on the notion that power follows property, combined with a genuine love of freedom and a desire to spread the benefits of freedom and economic initiative as widely as possible. Seen from the point of view of Catholic Social Teaching, it is a real response to John Paul II’s call for ‘a change of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies’. Centesimus Annus – “The Hundredth Year” (1991), paragraph 58. As such, it deserves the serious and prayerful consideration of faithful Catholics everywhere. John C. Medaille, ‘Distributivism and Catholic Social Teaching’
Distributism was the brainchild of such thinkers as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, who wanted to apply the principles of CST, especially as found in Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum – “Of New Things” (1891) and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno – “On the Fortieth Year” (1931). According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralised under the control of the state, a few large businesses or a small number of wealthy private individuals. The nearest social organisations in the UK today resembling the distributive model would be The Cooperative movement and the John Lewis group. There has been a return to some of the ideas of distributism by Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate – “Charity in Truth” (2009) when he calls for the development of new models of enterprise.
Economics should be governed by justice, not simply by the laws of the marketplace. Increasingly, the laissez-faire attitude of market-centred economics is being challenged by the idea that there is, intrinsic to all human activities, an element of responsibility to the wider community. The earliest and most striking argument for economic justice in modern times came in the encyclical Rerum Novarum – “Of New Things” (1891), where Leo XIII argued that wages were not to be decided by what employers or employees could get away with under the working of the market. Instead of a merely economic wage a worker had a right to be paid a ‘just wage’. This would be negotiated by free collective bargaining, but should allow a worker to live in ‘reasonable comfort.’ John XXIII developed these ideas further in Mater et Magistra – “Mother and Teacher” (1961), saying that ‘the Church is called in truth, justice and love to cooperate in building with all men and women an authentic communion. In this way economic growth will not be limited to satisfying men’s needs, but it will also promote their dignity.’ (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, paragraph 94)
Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations
Ecumenism speaks of the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations. Its aim is to promote mutual understanding and to find common areas of collaboration as a response to Christ’s prayer for unity. Roman Catholic relations with other faiths, e.g. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, come under the separate term of Interfaith relations.
Whilst ecumenism and the relationship with other faiths are distinct from Catholic Social Teaching, nevertheless, Catholic Social Teaching also has implications in this area. All Catholics have a duty to engage in ecumenical efforts, as well as having a shared duty to engage in dialogue and proclamation with those of other faiths. In a number of documents, it is noted that such dialogue can often more easily take place in the areas of justice and peace. Infact post Vatican II there has been a cultural shift to address future documents to ‘all people of goodwill’, the church seeking to engage with people of all faiths . In 2010, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales published a document called Meeting God in Friend and Stranger, which gives an excellent summary of the issues in Britain today.
Encyclical (Apostolic Letter)
A Papal encyclical is a letter sent to the Bishops by the Pope to be circulated throughout the world. Encyclicals are pastoral letters written to teach and guide the faithful. The official version of the text is published in Latin, and the title of the encyclical comes from the opening words of the first sentence.
In Catholic Social Teaching, the environment is seen as part of God’s creation which remains in relationship with God. So in the Psalms, we read “Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars […] praise the name of the Lord”. (Ps. 148: 9-13, RSV). Far from merely providing a backdrop for human activity, the environment remains in a profound relationship with God and as such is worthy of reverence. For CST, the concept of stewardship for the earth is central to the idea of care for the environment. In 2002, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales produced a document called The Call of Creation, which speaks of the importance of this theme.
Evangelisation is the term used to describe proclamation of the Gospel, in response to the command of Jesus: ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation.’ (Mk 16:15) The Catholic Church understands evangelisation to be a task entrusted to all Christians, since it is not only what we say, but also the way we live, that bears witness to the values we profess. Through the process of evangelisation, the Church prepares the listener to receive and profess their belief in Jesus Christ, and to live their life as part of the Christian community.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004) points out that globalisation has the power ‘to produce potentially beneficial effects for the whole of humanity’, as a result of the growth that has been made possible through the interplay between economic-financial globalisation and progress in technology. (Compendium, paragraph 362)
Of course, there are both opportunities and risks connected with globalisation. ‘In fact, there are indications aplenty that point to a trend of increasing inequalities, both between advanced countries and developing countries, and within industrialized countries. The growing economic wealth made possible by the processes described above is accompanied by an increase in relative poverty.’ (Compendium, paragraph 362) John Paul II spoke of these negative consequences as sinful aspects of globalisation: ‘Driven by profit and power, it is the structures of sin that mar globalisation. These structures are radically opposed to peace and development.’ Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – “The Social Concern of the Church” (1987), paragraph 40.
Thus in the context of Catholic Social Teaching, globalisation must be driven by the Christian principle of solidarity. ‘The challenge […] is to ensure a globalisation in solidarity, a globalisation without marginalisation.’ (John Paul II, Message for the 1998 World Day of Peace, paragraph 3) As a result everyone will be able to benefit from a global market through the provision of employment and the bridging of the divide between rich and poor. This will encourage the enhancement of public services, and the protection of the environment and natural resources. In this kind of globalisation, fair competition can place all nations on an equal footing. The sharing between communities that it involves will help all of humanity to flourish.
From the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching, every human being is infinitely valuable and loved in the eyes of God, regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion or physical appearance. As a result, the ‘dignity of the human person is a transcendent value’ and to ‘promote the good of the individual is thus to serve the common good, which is that point where rights and duties converge and reinforce one another.’ (John Paul II, Message for the 1999 World Day of Peace, n. 2)
This has implications for the beginning and end of life, well-known emphases in Catholic teaching, but human dignity has just as many implications for the rest of life. In 1965, Vatican II spoke of the ‘growing awareness of the sublime dignity of human persons, whose rights and duties are universal and inviolable. They ought, therefore, to have ready access to all that is necessary for living a genuinely human life: for example, food, clothing, housing, [...] the right to education, and work’. Gaudium et Spes – “The Joys and Hopes” (1965), paragraph 26
Human rights are basic rights and freedoms to which all people are entitled. These are recognised universally and are set down in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’ (United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, paragraph 1)
The understanding of human rights in the context of Catholic Social Teaching is based on the dignity of the human being – that each one is loved and created by God and as such is of great value and worthy of respect and protection. Thus, each person is entitled to their rights in justice, rather than merely in charity. Human rights are inalienable, i.e. they are ours from birth, and cannot be conferred and removed at the whim of any ruler or other powerful individual. There is also a link with the CST notion of true, or integral, human development: persons have a right not only to the basic needs of life – such as food and shelter – but also have the rights necessary to ensure that authentic development is possible.
Integral Human Development (True Human Development)
This idea, in the context of Catholic Social Teaching, stresses that development – something that economics and politics also aims at – is not simply the development of social, political or economic units, but is the development of persons. As a result, integral human development requires the development of all the aspects of the person, including the spiritual. It is often also spoken of as ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ human development. ‘To be authentic, it must be well-rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man.’ Paul VI, Populorum Progressio – “The Progress of Peoples” (1967), paragraph 14
This approach to development rejects the idea that development aims merely at the fulfilling of basic needs, such as food and shelter. It argues, on the basis of human solidarity, that all people should be involved in the integral and authentic development of all. Development, in this sense, gives attention to economic justice, ecological sustainability, and other values that go beyond speaking of development only in terms of economic growth. The idea was at the heart of Populorum Progressio and was further developed by Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate – “Charity in Truth” (2009).
The responsibility we have for our use of nature and its resources reaches beyond the limits of the generation in which we live. The effects of our actions will be felt by those who come after us, so the demands of justice are both international and intergenerational. This theme of Catholic Social Teaching is applicable to economic justice, but has particular resonance with regard to environmental justice and stewardship of the earth.
Benedict XVI pointed out this close link between development and our relationship with the natural environment: ‘The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole. […] Consequently, projects for integral human development cannot ignore coming generations but need to be marked by solidarity and intergenerational justice’. Caritas in Veritate – “Charity in Truth” (2009), paragraph 48
In the Old Testament, the book of Leviticus lays down regulations for Sabbatical and Jubilee years every seven and fifty years. (Lev 25: 1-17) Each Sabbath year, the people of God were to give the land rest from farming, and share whatever it produced equally amongst all those who lived in the land. The Jubilee year, as well being a Sabbatical year for the land, was also a year of freedom for all the people who lived there – debts were to be cancelled, slaves freed and ancestral land returned to its original owners. The concept of Jubilee has become a rich resource for Catholic Social Teaching.
John Paul II announced a Great Jubilee for the year 2000 in Tertio Millennio Adveniente – “As the Third Millennium Approaches” in 1994. In this encyclical he called for a three-year preparation period leading up to the opening of the Great Jubilee at the beginning of Advent 1999. The first year, 1997, was to be dedicated to reflection on the person of Jesus, the second to the Holy Spirit, and the third to God the Father.
In the UK, the period leading up to the year 2000 also saw the flowering of the Jubilee 2000 campaign which aimed for the remission of the insurmountable debt of the poor countries of the world by their creditor countries. Debate continues on the amount of debt remission that took place, and campaigns like Make Poverty History also ran beyond the year 2000 to encourage creditor countries to keep their promises. Partly as a result of these campaigns, the UK remitted all of its debt to poor countries under a series of measures.
In the workplace there should be a balance between the worker and the employer: if a worker is conscientious and industrious, then the employer has a duty to pay a just wage. Such a wage should be enough to support the worker and her/his dependents in ‘reasonable and frugal comfort’. Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum – “Of New Things” (1891), paragraph 45. The negotiation of a just wage is a matter between the employer and the employee (the employee having the right of free association and membership of a union).
However, as Leo XIII stressed, this negotiation should not be directed simply towards the production of goods, but should take into account the intrinsic dignity of the worker: ‘there is a dictate of nature more ancient and more imperious than any bargain between man and man, that the remuneration must be sufficient to support the wage-earner in reasonable and frugal comfort. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accepts harder conditions, because an employer or contractor will give him no better, he is the victim of fraud and injustice.’ Rerum Novarum, paragraph 45.
Thus a just wage would be above the poverty line, and in many cases above the minimum wage. Inevitably, the negotiation process takes into account prevailing economic conditions, but, in that process, the use of brute economic force is unacceptable. Just as the worker has the right to live in comfort, so too the employer has a right to gain – to the extent that she or he is also able to live in reasonable comfort. Income beyond that level is then subject to the laws of fair distribution of wealth which certainly do not allow for such wealth to be used for gross and conspicuous consumption.
This term comes from the Greek ‘laos’ meaning ‘people’, and refers to the Christian faithful. Although, theologically, it refers to the whole of the People of God, it tends to be used practically to speak of those members of the church other than the clergy. It is the vocation of the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging with social, political and economic issues in accordance with God’s will.
‘In union with all people of good will, Christians, especially the laity, are called to [the] task of imbuing human realities with the Gospel.’ John Paul II, Centesimus Annus – “The Hundredth Year” (1991), paragraph 25.
The theology of liberation looks at the world throught the eyes of those living in poverty. It seeks to express faith through action for social justice, working for change alongside the poor, and to speak of God from their viewpoint. It sees Jesus Christ not only as Saviour, but as a liberator and bearer of justice.
Out of the historic 1968 Medellin conference and liberation theology, the Vatican pronounced the ‘Preferential Option for the Poor’ and the Young’. This states that structures must be set up to address the needs of the poor and young, so that they can flourish as human beings. Despite the title, it is not optional! Christians must choose how to lift up poor and marginalised members of society.
One of the ways it did this was by helping people to form Basic Christian Communities, where they came together to study the Bible, to pray, and to support and encourage one another in their struggle for justice.
‘Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.’ (World Synod of Catholic Bishops, Justicia in Mundo – “Justice in the World” (1971), paragraph 6.
The magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church. It is sometimes thought that the term Magisterium applies only to the Pope or to the Vatican, but in fact it refers to any person or body in the Church who is entrusted with the task of teaching authoritatively. Thus, a bishop has magisterium over his diocese and a Bishops Conference has magisterium over the area entrusted to its care. The teaching of the Magisterium is one of the key components of Catholic Social Teaching, alongside Scripture, theological reflection and the practical application of all of these in the daily lives of Catholic Christians.
Migration is the movement of people either across an international border, or within a State. It is a population movement, encompassing any kind of movement of people, whatever its length, composition and causes; it includes migration of refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people and economic migrants.
Source: International Organization for Migration
In Pacem in Terris – “Peace on Earth” (1963), Pope John XXIII clearly articulated the right to migrate and the right not to migrate: “Every human being has the right to the freedom of movement and of residence within the confines of their country; and, when there are just reasons for it, the right to emigrate and take up residence elsewhere.” In Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII also talked about people having the right to work and survive to support their families.
Migrant Worker: A person admitted to a country for the specific purpose of exercising an economic activity which is remunerated from within that country. The length of stay is usually restricted as is the type of employment that s/he can hold. Migrants make a conscious choice to leave their country of origin and can return there without a problem. If things do not work out as they had hoped or if they get homesick, it is safe for them to return home.
Option for the Poor
The idea of the preferential option for the poor is perhaps the most significant legacy of Liberation Theology to be found in Catholic Social Teaching. In his groundbreaking book A Theology of Liberation (1971), Gustavo Gutierrez states that the Old and New Testaments speak of God’s preferential love and care for the poor, who have no-one else to care for them. This preferential love can be seen in Christ’s ministry and teaching, and is essential to the preaching of the gospel and the life of the Church in every age.
John Paul II spoke about the option for the poor in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, written to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio: ‘This is an option, or a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. It affects the life of each Christian inasmuch as he or she seeks to imitate the life of Christ, but it applies equally to our social responsibilities and hence to our manner of living, and to the logical decisions to be made concerning the ownership and use of goods.’ Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – “The Social Concern of the Church” (1987), paragraph 42.
Peacemaking is an integral part of Catholic Social Teaching, inviting each of us to be informed and to act in conscience when demands are made of us that challenge the Gospel of peace. This will involve us looking at inter-personal relations and communities as well as relationships between states.
Because peace is more than just the absence of war we are called to identify the causes of violence, injustice and warfare in our world, challenging the systems and structures that sustain and maintain them. Whether it is violence in the community, the economic violence of poverty, the violence of the deathly trade in arms or the continued production and threatened use of nuclear weapons, we are all called to be active in bringing peace and nonviolence to a broken world.
In the homily he gave in Coventry during his UK visit in 1982, John Paul II said: ‘Peace is not just the absence of war. It involves mutual respect and confidence between peoples and nations. It involves collaboration and binding agreements. Like a cathedral, peace has to be constructed, patiently and with unshakeable faith.’ (Homily for Pentecost, Coventry airport, 1982) Benedict XVI, reflecting on Christ’s command to ‘love your enemies’ (Lk 6: 27), called this passage the ‘magna carta’ of Christian nonviolence, where we learn to respond to evil with good, breaking the chains of injustice. Peacemaking and nonviolence for Christians are not just about tactics and strategies but are a whole way of being. They are the attitude of people who are unafraid of confronting evil and injustice with love and truth, because they are convinced that God’s love and power will ultimately triumph. (Benedict XVI, Angelus message, 18 February 2007)
Catholic Social Teaching views poverty as a scandal, in the face of which Christians cannot remain silent. As John Paul II expressed it: ‘Without going into an analysis of figures and statistics, it is sufficient to face squarely the reality of an innumerable multitude of people – children, adults and the elderly – in other words real and unique human persons, who are suffering under the intolerable burden of poverty. There are many millions who are deprived of hope due to the fact that, in many parts of the world, their situation has notably worsened. Before these tragedies of total indigence and need, in which so many of our brothers and sisters are living, it is the Lord Jesus himself who comes to question us. (Mt 25:31-46).’ Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – “The Social Concern of the Church” (1987), paragraph 13.
Poverty is harmful, according to CST, because it damages human dignity and holds back authentic development. It also isolates people – from one another, from playing their part in the development of Church and society, from what is best in themselves and, often, from God. As such, it damages human relationships, and since we are defined through our interpersonal relationships, this damages people very deeply indeed Benedict XVI, Caritas In Veritate – “Charity In Truth” (2009), paragraph 53. The damage caused by poverty is not limited to the human family, either. Because the poor have very few natural resources at their disposal, there is frequently a link between poverty and harm to the environment: ‘Poverty hurts the whole community of creation, the natural environment as well as the human population.’ (Peter J. Henriot)
Social, technological and economic progress is a good thing, but if these gains are seen as ends in themselves they can become destructive, since they all too easily end up being gains for a privileged few at the expense of others. The abilities and talents that help humankind to develop are gifts from God and ‘Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God’s grace and the flowering of his own mysterious design.’ Gaudium et Spes – “The Joys and Hopes” (1965), paragraph 34; Compendium, paragraph 457) At the same time, however, it is also true to say that the benefits of these triumphs are not equitably shared amongst all the members of the human family.
In the light of this double awareness, Catholic Social Teaching prefers to speak of development rather than progress – and even then to speak of authentic development and integral human development. In this way CST places the good of humanity, and of the human person, right at the heart of progress, allowing Christians to affirm: ‘the men and women of our day strongly desire that progress be directed towards the true good of humanity, both of today and tomorrow.’ (Compendium, paragraph 6)
Development is urgently needed – the longer it falters, the wider the gap between rich and poor becomes: ‘Too many people are suffering. While some make progress, others stand still or move backwards; and the gap between them is widening.’ Paul VI, Populorum Progressio – “The Development of Peoples” (1967), paragraph 29. This development, however, must be motivated by a true and integral humanism, which aims at the development of the whole person and of all people. ‘When we fight poverty and oppose the unfair conditions of the present, we are not just promoting human well-being; we are also furthering man’s spiritual and moral development, and hence we are benefiting the whole human race.’ Populorum Progressio – “The Development of Peoples” (1967), paragraph 76.
Refugee: Any person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted
for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or
political group, is outside of the country of his/her nationality and is unable or,
owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that
country, or who, not having a nationality and being outside of the country of his
former habitual residence as a result of such events is unable or, owing to such
fear, unwilling to return to it.
Repatriate: A person who has returned (either voluntarily or forcibly) to his/her
place of origin or citizenship.
Sanctuary seeker (asylum seeker): A person who files an application for
asylum in a country other than his/her own. He/she retains the status of a
sanctuary seeker until his/her application is considered and adjudicated.
Signs of the Times
Being aware of the signs of the times is about having an understanding of the context in which Christianity is lived today. As a result, an effective and fruitful dialogue can be established, in which the truths of the gospel shed light on how to live a faithful Christian life in that context. Every follower of Christ is called to cooperate in the transformation of the world in which they live – to become both a good Christian and an honest citizen. Thus, all members of the church cannot and should not try to separate themselves off from the realities of the world, aiming to live purely spiritual lives. They must engage with culture, society, politics and economics, bringing their Christian commitment to bear on the task of making a better future for our world: ‘the church has always had the duty of scrutinising the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.’ Gaudium et Spes – “The Joys and Hopes” (1965), paragraph 4.
The Social Agenda
In his preface to The Social Agenda, Cardinal Van Thuân, who was president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace when it was published in 2000, made this statement about the value of Catholic Social Teaching: ‘The social teaching of that remarkable series of Popes since Leo XIII can be, for the Christian of our time, a great source of orientation and a general instrument of evangelization. We all need this teaching.’ (The Social Agenda, Preface)
Because The Social Agenda was produced after the Catechism of the Catholic Church and before the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, it takes another, complimentary approach in its presentation of the material. The riches of Catholic Social Teaching are presented by theme, but rather than summarising the message in each section, as the Compendium does, The Social Agenda presents relevant magisterial texts, which are selected and arranged so as to give a good sense of the Church’s teaching in that area.
The demands of justice and peace have an application at all levels of human life, whether individual, global, or in the context of the society in which we live. Pius XI strongly linked this theme of Catholic Social Teaching with the common good and the dignity of the human person, recognising that the provision of the necessary means for each member of society to flourish is the best way to ensure the development of that society as a whole. Divini Redemptoris – “The Divine Redeemer” (1937), paragraph 51.
The task of developing a more human society is not entrusted to governments and civic bodies alone. All members of society are called to participate in its development, taking part in the social and political structures that are open to them, in order to pursue the common good. (Compendium of the Social Doctine of the Church, paragraph 189) In a particular way, Catholic Social Teaching also encourages Christians to have a global view of social justice, seeking the common good on a global scale.
Solidarity is one of the key principles of Catholic Social Teaching. It arises from a particular way of looking at the interconnectedness of people living in different parts of the world that is a feature of our contemporary human existence. In order to be at the service of the human person, these ‘relationships of interdependence between individuals and peoples, which are de facto forms of solidarity, have to be transformed into relationships tending towards genuine ethical-social solidarity.’ This means that solidarity, in its fullest sense, is both a social principle and a moral virtue. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, paragraph 193)
This establishes a clear direction for action on behalf of solidarity, which ‘is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.’ John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – “The Social Concern of the Church” (1987), paragraph 38. This results in a real desire to build up the unity of the human family, striving for the integral development of all men and women, who are now interconnected by relationships of mutual concern and support. “Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone.” Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate – “Charity in Truth” (2009), paragraph 38.
‘As one called to till and look after the garden of the world (Genesis 2:15), man has a specific responsibility towards the environment in which he lives, towards the creation that God has put at the service of his personal dignity, of his life, not only for the present, but also for future generations.’ John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae – “The Gospel of Life” (1995), paragraph 42. Stewardship is becoming an important way of talking about this responsibility in Catholic Social Teaching. It is able to forge a real and meaningful link between environmental ecology and ‘human ecology’, something that John Paul II did in his encyclicals. In 1987, he wrote that ‘a true concept of development cannot ignore the use of the elements of nature, the renewability of resources and the consequences of haphazard industrialization – three considerations which alert our consciences to the moral dimension of development.’ Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – “The Social Concern of the Church”, n. 34; also see Centesimus Annus – “The Hundredth Year” (1991), paragraph 38.
Benedict XVI has built on this foundation, drawing out the interrelationship between environmental and human ecology in a compelling manner: ‘The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa. […] Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment, just as environmental deterioration in turn upsets relations in society.’ Caritas In Veritate – “Charity in Truth” (2009), n. 51; also see Message for the 2010 World Day of Peace, paragraph 12)
Structures of Sin / Structural Sin
Many of the structures that underpin human society are neutral in themselves, but can be used in a constructive or destructive way. Drawing an analogy with personal action, Catholic Social Teaching refers to actions or patterns of behaviour that harm human dignity and hold back integral human development as social or structural sin. The idea was expressed first by Liberation Theologians and Political Theologians, who drew attention to the fact that the structures of society, of trade and of politics could be used by the rich and the strong to oppress the poor and the weak.
John Paul II was the first to use the notion in an encyclical, where he is careful to point out that the structures of human interconnectedness are never sinful in a literal sense. Whilst it is not at all out of place to speak of structures of sin, these ‘are rooted in personal sin, and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove. And thus they grow stronger, spread, and become the source of other sins, and so influence people’s behaviour.’ Sollicitudo Rei Socialis – “The Social Concern of the Church” (1987), paragraph 36.
He notes that the path to overcoming structural sin ‘is long and complex’, but that a recognition of the interdependence of humanity can help. When it is recognised as a moral category, this interdependence can become the virtue of solidarity, an attitude that is diametrically opposed to structural sin. It is ‘a commitment to the good of one’s neighbour with the readiness, in the gospel sense, to “lose oneself” for the sake of the other instead of exploiting him, and to “serve him” instead of oppressing him for one’s own advantage. (Matthew10:40-42; 20:25; Mark 10:42-45; Luke 22:25-27).’ (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, paragraph 38)
Subsidiarity is one of the key principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Its basic principle is that matters should be dealt with at the lowest and most appropriate authority and that a central authority should perform only those tasks that cannot be carried out at a more local level. The ‘higher authorities’ should ensure the freedom and initiative of local groups and should enable these groups to fulfil their duties towards the community. Local participation is essential to subsidiarity; it places responsibility upon the individual to work towards the common good.
Between the individual and the State, there are many ‘intermediate communities’, of which the family is the clearest example, which can and should ‘develop as real communities of persons and strengthen the social fabric, preventing society from becoming an anonymous and impersonal mass, as unfortunately often happens today. […] The individual today is often suffocated between two poles represented by the State and the marketplace. At times it seems as though he/she exists only as a producer and consumer of goods, or as an object of State administration. People lose sight of the fact that life in society has neither the market nor the State as its final purpose, since life itself has a unique value which the State and the market must serve.’ John Paul II, Centesimus Annus – “The Hundredth Year” (1991), paragraph 49.
These intermediate communities play a crucial role in the life not only of society, but of the Church, too. Through them, people can participate in the building up of those larger realities in ways that are appropriate to their circumstances in life. It is vital, then, that both Church and State adopt an attitude of assistance and help (subsidium) towards these intermediate communities, and do not take away from them roles and functions that they can legitimately play. They should not be ‘required to hand them over unjustly to other social entities of a higher level, by which they would end up being absorbed and substituted, in the end seeing themselves denied their dignity and essential place.’ (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, paragraph 186; also see Centesimus Annus, paragraph 48 and Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno – “On the Fortieth Year” (1931), paragraph 79.
Trafficked person: A person who is illegally recruited, coerced and/or
forcibly moved within or across national borders.
In Catholic Social Teaching, truth is an absolute reality and value. Christians, like all men and women, are called to live in accordance with truth, and ‘have the specific duty to move always towards the truth, to respect it and bear responsible witness to it.’ (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, paragraph 198; Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2467 and 2472). In his encyclical Pacem in Terris, the first one to be addressed not only to the bishops, clergy and faithful of the Catholic Church, but also to ‘all men of good will’, John XXIII spoke of ‘the task of establishing new relationships in human society, under the mastery and guidance of truth, justice, charity and freedom’ Pacem in Terris – “Peace on Earth” (1963), paragraph 163.
As humanity engages in this common task, it is vital to bear in mind the absolute quality of truth, avoiding a relativistic attitude that truth can be whatever we make it to be. John Paul II spoke of this in the context of the development of democracy, when he pointed out that ‘if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.’ John Paul II, Centesimus Annus – “The Hundredth Year” (1991), paragraph 46.
Undocumented migrant: A person who enters a country without the correct
Universal Destination of Goods
The good things of the earth, the fruit of human labour and the benefits of trade are all gifts from God, which are intended to be for the good of all men and women. In Populorum Progressio, Paul VI said: ‘“God intended the earth and all that it contains for the use of every human being and people. Thus, as all men follow justice and unite in charity, created goods should abound for them on a reasonable basis” (Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 69). All other rights whatsoever, including those of property and of free commerce, are to be subordinated to this principle. They should not hinder, but on the contrary, favour its application. It is a grave and urgent social duty to redirect them to their primary finality.’ Populorum Progressio – “The Development of Peoples” (1967), paragraph 22, as found in The Social Agenda, paragraph 202; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2402.
Though there is nothing wrong with gaining as a result of trade and commerce, ‘greediness, be it individual or collective, is contrary to the order of creation.’ (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, paragraph 481) If men and women act in accordance with the principle of the universal destination of goods, the benefits that they bring can help them to respond to the challenges of solidarity and stewardship. The human development that results will be an integral development, leading to ‘the promotion of a more human world for all, a world in which each individual can give and receive, and in which the progress of some will no longer be an obstacle to the development of others, nor a pretext for their enslavement.’ (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Libertatis Conscientia – “Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation” (1986), paragraph 90). A more human world will also be one in which the natural world is abused less, since there is ‘a complex and dramatic set of causes’ that link poverty and the environmental crisis. (Compendium, paragraph 482) God calls us to live simply, sustainably and in solidarity with people who are poor.
“I want to throw open the windows of the Church, so that we can see out and the people can see in” Pope John XXII
The Second Vatican Council, convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962, was a major turning point for the Catholic Church. This was the first time bishops from every continent had sat down to discuss global issues.
The world had changed radically since Vatican I in 1868. Two world wars, the Cold War, decolonisation and social, economic and technical transformations had led to the birth of modern society. The Church felt it had to respond. It did so by emphasising the universality of the Church and bringing it closer to the people. People were also included more, Vatican II promoted the laity as representatives of the Church in the modern world.
On the 6th January 1967, Pope Paul VI established the Pontificial Commission for Justice & Peace. The role of this body would be “to stimulate the Catholic Community to foster progress in needy regions and social justice on the international scene” Gaudium et Spes – “The Joys and Hopes”, paragraph 90. In 1988 Pope John Paul II changed its name from Commission to Pontifical Council and reconfirmed the general lines of its work. Importantly for international development, the Council laid down principles for establishing Justice and Peace commissions across the world.
“The Council will promote justice and peace in the world, in the light of the Gospel and of the social teaching of the Church” (art. 142).
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace