Context Issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891, this encyclical letter explores the conditions of the working classes in the wake of the industrial revolution. Critics say the Church arrived a little late and out of breath on this issue. Pope Leo XIII’s response was not quick, but this meant he was able to draw on experience. Catholic thinkers such as Archbishop von Kettler and various Catholic social movements had been responding to the poverty and exploitation of wage labourers for several decades. Their work and their thinking informed the Pope’s teaching. Main Issues Leo XIII criticised both the individualism of liberalism and the subordination of the person to society by socialism. Leo XIII set out the rights and duties of employers and employees. Critique of Socialism Taking issue with the socialists, Leo XIII affirmed the right to private property. He opposed State interference in the life of the family, except where a family was suffering from ‘extreme necessity’ or in case of a ‘grave disturbance of mutual rights’(n 4 – 12). He rejected class conflict and saw a strong role for the Church in bringing the classes together, reminding each of their duties to the other (n 15 – 17). Critique of Liberalism He was also critical of liberalism and free market economics. He said employers should respect the dignity of their workers instead of treating them as slaves or looking on them “merely as so much muscle or physical power” (n 16). They should ensure that workers have time for religious duties, and for rest, and not be taxed beyond their strength or employed in “work unsuited to their sex or age.” (n 16) One of the most important teachings in Rerum Novarum is that employers should pay workers a just wage. Leo XII defined a just wage as sufficient to support the worker and their family (n 34). Employees on the other hand should carry out their work honestly, not damage capital or “outrage the person of an employer”, or use violence in pursuing their cause (n 34). Leo XIII saw the role of the State as providing laws and institutions that would foster the common good. The State should protect the rights of individuals, especially those who are “poor and helpless” (n 25 – 30). He affirmed the right of workers to create their own associations for mutual assistance and to defend their interests, even, as a last resort, by striking (n 36 – 41). Methodology In Rerum Novarum Pope Leo XIII uses a natural law approach. He deduces positions and guidelines for action from natural law principles using reason. Contribution to Catholic Social Teaching Rerum Novarum is considered the first social encyclical of the modern period. It placed work issues at the centre of justice in society. Several major Catholic Social Teaching documents celebrate significant anniversaries of Rerum Novarum and update its teaching. Read Rerum Novarum Full text
Populorum Progressio turns fifty! Fifty years after Blessed Paul VI issued Populorum Progressio, Pope Francis has created a Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. As our introduction to Populorum Progressio explains, it was this encyclical that first introduced the language of integral human development into Catholic Social Teaching. Pope Francis’ action shows that this major concern of Populorum Progressio remains a key priority for him today. As Michael Costigan writes in La Croix Populorum Progressio gave a notable impetus to the Catholic Church’s participation in the effort to reduce and eventually eliminate poverty and discrimination in the world. Its message retains its relevance today where aspirations for global justice are still so far from being realized. Revisit Populorum Progressio Populorum Progressio is one of the most important modern Catholic Social Teaching documents. In fact, Benedict XVI says that it is as important as Rerum Novarum! If you haven’t read Populorum Progressio lately – or at all – you might be surprised just how relevant it is to our day. You can find the full text here.
Some Catholic Social Teaching Themes Integrating Principles, Criteria & Guidelines for Action Catholic Social Teaching themes bring together principles for reflection, criteria for judgement and guidelines for action. Often they address issues or particular areas of concern, such as work or the rights of indigenous peoples. They may also develop from the Church’s reflection on key concepts in the light of experience over time. For example, Catholic Social Teaching’s understanding of the role of structures in injustice or of the role of the state. Find out about: – A Preferential Option for the Poor – Civil Society & the State – The Death Penalty – Integral Ecology – Integral Human Development – People on the Move – Social Sin – Structures of Sin, Structures of Grace – The Rights of Indigenous Peoples A Preferential Option for the Poor Making a preferential option for the poor is a way of following the example of Jesus. It is an option in the sense of being a conscious choice to be in solidarity with those who are poor, marginalized or disrespected, and to work for structural change to transform the causes of poverty and marginalization. Our preferential option for the poor is a core commitment – it is not optional! It is preferential because through this option we give preference or priority in our love to those who are poor. Find out more… Civil Society & the State Catholic Social Teaching holds that the state exists to serve the human person by organizing and promoting the common good. As far back as Rerum Novarum (Leo XIII, 1891) the church taught that the state has a duty to intervene in economic and social life to defend the interests of those who cannot defend themselves. Political authority exists to serve people and communities. Find out more … The Death Penalty The death penalty is an extreme measure. In modern times Catholic Social Teaching has upheld the right of the State to use it only in very limited circumstances. Conditions for its acceptable use have been progressively tightened by recent Popes. Pope Francis now says that the death penalty is in itself contrary to the Gospel because it involves the wilful suppression of a human life. He has called for the content of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on this topic to be revised. Find out more … Integral Ecology The Catholic Social Teaching theme of integral ecology is becoming more urgent and important. Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, on care for our common home, stresses that everything is connected. This means that our approach to ecology must be holistic. Ecology goes beyond care for the natural environment. It embraces the vast network of relationships between all that is. Integral ecology requires “an integrated approach to combatting poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” Find out more … Integral Human Development Economic development alone is not enough to create a just society. People and communities have material needs, but human flourishing and wellbeing have spiritual, social, cultural and political dimensions too. Catholic Social Teaching takes a holistic or integral approach to development. It places people, rather than the economy, at the centre of development. Development is for people. We are made by God out of love and called to develop our God-given gifts, to grow as persons, and to seek our fulfilment. That is why we describe our thinking about development as integral and human. Find out more … People on the Move – Migrants, Refugees & Asylum Seekers Catholic Social Teaching approaches questions of human mobility from the point of view of human dignity rather than legal status or national interest. It’s key questions are not about legal obligations or defending sovereign territory, but rather how right relationships with self, God, others and creation, would call us – as individuals, communities, nations and international bodies – to respond to people on the move. Find out more about Catholic Social Teaching on refugees here. Find out more about Catholic Social Teaching on migration here. Social Sin – Structures of Sin & Structures of Grace Things, such as structures, can’t really sin. People sin, but our freedom to choose what is good can be influenced or conditioned by social structures, processes and institutions. Structures or situations can be described as sinful when they reflect, reinforce or even encourage personal sins. They make it harder to do what is right and good and easier to choose another path. Read a reflection by Sandie Cornish here Read a reflection by Bishop Peter Cullinane here. Consider the link between sexual abuse and structures of sin here. The Rights of Indigenous Peoples What does Catholic Social Teaching have to say about the rights of Indigenous peoples? In the Catholic human rights tradition, human rights and the duties that go with them are grounded in the dignity of the human person. They apply to all persons and all peoples in every kind of situation or type of activity. The rights of Indigenous peoples are human rights. Find out more …
A Reflection for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker Sandie Cornish Pope Francis made headlines this week calling the disparity between the pay received by men and women for the same work a “pure scandal”. And today Bishop Christopher Saunders weighed in on work issues, roundly criticizing the economic policy of the Australian government. The Feast of St Joseph the Worker is a good time to reflect on how these issues are connected with our faith, our family life, and efforts to make the Reign of God present in the world. Is Work Central to a Just Society? For a very long time the ‘worker question’ was seen as the center of Catholic Social Teaching. Disrespect for the dignity and rights of workers was the central concern of Leo XIII’s landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum. Rerum Novarum has a special place in Catholic Social Teaching as the first social encyclical of the modern period. Social justice teachings are often issued on anniversaries of Rerum Novarum. While work issues like fair pay remain very important in a Catholic vision of a just society, Blessed Paul VI framed them within the context of the concept of integral human development in his encyclical Populorum Progressio. Populorum Progressio is the only other social encyclical to be marked by anniversary encyclicals – Benedict XVI perceived it to be so important that he called it the “Rerum Novarum of the present age” in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (n 8). Integral human development – the development of the whole person, and of all persons and communities – is bigger than workplace relations, and requires policies that extend beyond economic objectives. Why the history lesson? The development of Catholic thinking around issues of work is important for understanding the positions being taken by Pope Francis, and by local Bishops like Bishop Saunders. These are not ideological positions but principled stances grounded in Christian anthropology, and the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. They evolve as we place our faith resources, such as Scripture and tradition, in dialogue with changing social, and economic situations. Pope Francis and Bishop Saunders aren’t playing politics – they are doing public theology. Work is for People and Communities Bishop Saunders spoke out today because he is the Chair of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council. The Chair of the Council customarily issues a pastoral letter for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker. You can read the full text here. https://www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au/publications/pastoral-letters/574-2015-the-dignity-of-work-when-it-matters-most Bishop Christopher Saunders reminds us that the dignity of work is found in its capacity “for individual and family fulfillment, for building up the community and for securing the wellbeing of future generations”. In his Pastoral Letter for the Feast of St Joseph the Worker this year he stresses that “society fails its citizens at these three levels where the economy does not generate sufficient employment and when government does not adequately intervene to promote job creation and maintain basic wages and income support.” He critiques the Australian government’s economic policies on a number of fronts. Building up the Community Bishop Saunders argues that a person-centered economy would seek to build up vibrant communities rather than refusing to provide basic services for remote Indigenous communities, effectively shutting them down and pushing people off their ancestral lands because they are ‘economically unviable’. Job creation and income support are required to enable these communities to continue to care for their country and community members. As the Bishop of Broome, Bishop Saunders responds to these members of his Diocese as people and communities with problems and potentials, and most importantly, an inherent God-given dignity, rather than as economic units or line items in a budget. Our families and communities should not be torn apart by economic forces. The economy exists to serve people, not the other way around – a point that Pope Francis continually draws our attention to. Work and Family Life Pope Francis’ comments about equal pay were made in the context of an address on family life and the economic pressures experienced by families. Many factors contribute to the growing income disparities between women and men in Australia, but in the end it comes down to the lack of value attributed to the work that women typically do, whether in the workplace or the home. Scandal is not too strong a word for this! Before Vatican II, Catholic Social Teaching tended to equate work with paid employment. More recent teachings have begun to consider unpaid work in the family and community in more detail. The traditional response was to argue for a minimum wage for one spouse that is sufficient to support a family. This may not be the best way to support family life in the context of a modern state with a sophisticated tax transfer system. Nor does it meet the integral human development needs of all women. Saint John Paul II argued in his Letter to Women that women have a right to participate in the workforce and that their contributions are needed there. In Laborem Exercens he hinted at some kind of social wage for the work of rising children saying that women should not be economically disadvantaged for choosing to raise children (n 19). In other words, he argued for the freedom to follow one’s vocation, whatever that may be. In the “pure scandal” address, Pope Francis also made a point of saying that family breakdown cannot be blamed on women’s participation in the paid workforce. Many individuals and families struggle to find life-giving ways of combining sufficient paid employment to support the family with unpaid work in the family and community – and how this work is distributed among family members at any given time. It is not a matter of one size fits all. The goal of integral human development leads us to consider what will enable the full realization of the potential of each member of the family, and their contribution to the common good of the community as well as that of the […]
Catholic Social Services Australia invited me to reflect on recent developments in civil society from the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching. Here’s what I said to their Leadership Forum in Canberra on 21 October 2014. The Evolving Model of Civil Society – A Perspective from Catholic Social Teaching Catholic Social Teaching has a lot to say about recent developments in the relationship between civil society and the state. I will comment on three matters: the notion of entitlement; what Catholic Social Teaching has to say about the role of civil society and of the state; and Benedict XVI’s thinking on the logic of gift in the market.