At a meeting of the Council General of the Society of
Saint Vincent de Paul in Paris during the early part of the year 1989, various fraternal delegates discussed DEVELOPMENT
AND SOLIDARITY as they were set out in the various Papal social encyclicals.
Amin de Tarrazi, then International President of the SVP, asked members of the Society to do their best to acquaint themselves with the contents and aims of the Church's social teaching, especially as it is expounded in the three encyclicals: POPULORUM PROGRESSIO, SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS & CHRISTIFIDELES LAICI.
MATER ET MAGISTRA
GAUDIUM ET SPES
SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS
MATER ET MAGISTRA
GAUDIUM ET SPES
SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS
During the Paris meeting, SOLIDARITY, was defined for members of the Society as: the
instant reaction in brotherly/sisterly care for all members of the Society
worldwide and those they assist. It
is a state of mind which inspires the Society members to Development and also
causes members to respond to emergencies through the Society.
Pope John Paul
wrote that solidarity is not a vague feeling of compassion but a firm and
persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say
the good of all and each individual because we are all really responsible for
all. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Cap38
OZANAM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
In 1848, our founder, Frederick Ozanam had this to
say to his friend Foisset,"I ask
you: let us occupy ourselves with people who have too many needs and not enough
rights, who call out rightly for a greater involvement in public affairs, for
guarantees of work-and who cry out against misery."
forty years or more before the first papal social encyclical, Frederic was calling for both a just wage and compensation for
industrial injuries. He was also well aware that to be an effective instrument
of justice for the poor it was often necessary to represent them to the
local authorities and the government of day and that is what he and his
colleagues did. In fact, he was once a candidate for political office.
Twenty-seven years after its foundation, with 50,000 members throughout the
world, the Society was representing the poor so effectively that the public
authorities within the French Empire took measures against the SVP accusing it
of acting as political opposition!
of the necessity of Christian intellectuals engaging with the social and
political problems of the time, Ozanam, in a lecture given in Lyons, condemned
the social injustices created by the industrial
with these words, “There
is exploitation of man by man, when the owner treats the worker not as an
associate or auxiliary, but as an instrument through which he can derive the
maximum service possible for the lowest possible price.”
corruption during the last years of the reign of Louis Philippe appalled him as
did the advice of the politician Guizot with his cry of , “Enrichez
-vous!” Enrich yourselves!”
Ozanam then wrote to his friend
Janmot: “ The question which divides men
today, is whether society will be an immense exploitation for the benefit of the
strongest or a consecration of everyone for the service of all. There are many
people who own too much and want to have even more; there are many others who
have nothing and want to grab if they are not given anything. A struggle between
these two classes is brewing and this struggle risks being terrible: on one side
the power of gold, on the other the might of despair.”
1848, during the workers' revolution in Paris, Ozanam wrote this in a public
is time to prove that we can plead the cause of the poor, to pledge ourselves to
the solace of the working classes, to seek the abolition of poverty without
adopting the ideas which unchained the tempest of June and which are still
spreading their dark clouds about us".
hundred and twenty five years later at the 1973 International Plenary Assembly
of the St. Vincent de Paul Society held in Dublin, two important statements on
justice were made:
Society seeks in a spirit of justice and charity to help those who suffer" and, "The Society is concerned not only in
relieving need but also in redressing the situations that cause it".
agreed at that landmark meeting in Ireland included:
We should listen to the voice of the Church which
demands that we participate in creating a more equitable social order.
Where injustice is due to oppressive, unjust
social, economic or political structures or insufficient or bad legislation, the
Society should contribute to try to change these structures or improve the
Society may use an effective form of political action by expressing opinions on
situations of injustice e.g. denouncing suffering or the conditions of the poor.
seeking to achieve these aims, the Society has at its disposal, ‘the
Church’s best kept secret’, the papal social encyclicals. Here follows a
summary of them to guide us on our way.
NOVARUM, The Workers' Charter, was the first mile stone, on the road of Catholic
social teaching. Its very title is taken from the first two words of the Latin
text translating as ' of
revolutionary changes'. The title
was apt, following as it did the Communist Manifesto of 1848. This 'charter'
condemned the excesses of both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism whilst
defending the rights of workers to form
unions and the rights of property owners. The rights and duties of the family
over the State were defended whilst people were urged to accept their lot since
hard work and suffering were part of the human condition. Whilst asking the poor
to be patient the encyclical asked industrialists to be more caring in their
treatment of workers. “Wherefore,
since wage workers are numbered among the great mass of the needy, the State
must include them under its special care and foresight.”
Fearing revolution which only brought more misery and
death, the Pope sought stability by insisting that the State should defend the
rights of people without property as a matter of justice. Oppressed workers,
above all, ought to be liberated from the savagery of greedy men, who
inordinately use human beings as things for gain.
neither justice nor humanity can countenance the exaction of so much work that
the spirit is dulled from excessive toil and that along with it the body sinks
crushed from exhaustion. The working energy of a man, like his entire nature, is circumscribed by
definite limits beyond which it cannot go.Cap 59
State had a vital role to play in ensuring the payment of
'a just wage' and in ending
the exploitation of the poor. "Let
it be taken for granted that workman and employer should, as a rule, make free
agreements, and in particular should agree freely as to wages; nevertheless,
there is a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any
bargain between man and man, that remuneration should be sufficient to maintain
the wage-earner in reasonable and frugal comfort. If through necessity or fear
of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or
contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and
Today, in the year 2001, the concepts of a ‘just wage’ and ‘frugal
comfort’ will bear
re-examination. Governments tend to fix on a minimum wage but that is not what
is meant here. The just wage is called for and it is related to frugal comfort.
Back in the 1950’s, I remember
asking a Vincentian priest, college lecturer, what might be understood by frugal
comfort. He answered in terms of workers being able to own their own modest
homes, to be able to have weekends off work, to afford education, to afford
modest recreation and to put money by for their old age! Can we persuade
governments to aim that high today, a hundred and ten years after the
This encyclical encouraged the laity to take Catholic Social Teaching seriously asking all to examine their own social conditions, to evaluate the principles involved and to decide how to act. The role of lay people in establishing good practice in 'temporal' affairs was encouraged.
1931, QUADRAGESIMO ANNO ‑Pius XI
was in `The Reconstruction of the Social
Order' that the term social justice was first used. In a later document, Divini
Redemptoris, it was written, "
The function of social justice is to require of the individual whatever may be
required for the common good." Cap 53.
Comment: In society today there is a tension between the personal and the
communal; we live at a time when the personal has taken precedence over the
communal. Catholic teaching has always insisted that whatever is surplus to the
requirements of the person should be thought of as belonging to the common
stock, the commonweal. In
discussions on social justice it would be worth taking a look at the church's
teaching on 'occult compensation', situations in which the
and exploited would be justified in taking secretly from the oppressor. ]
Published on the 40th
anniversary of Rerum Novarum, during the Great Depression, a time of mass
unemployment and the rise of communist and fascist dictatorships...
asserted the Church's duty to speak out on economic and social affairs warning
against the concentration of immense political and economic power in the hands
of a few. The State was in danger of becoming a 'slave' to human passion and
greed within a system of unregulated competition. Communism with its recourse to
violence and its pursuit of class warfare and the abolition of private property
was condemned. Nevertheless, this
encyclical recommended the redistribution of wealth.
[ Comment: Seventy years later, we
live in a time when we should discuss the immorality of
the payment of huge salaries to directors of companies. Surely these
would be condemned as breaches of distributive and commutative justice. In
Church parlance, the term 'distributive justice' is used to refer to the duties
of society towards its members; whereas 'commutative justice' refers to just
exchanges as, for example, buying and selling where no illicit advantage should
word subsidiarity, the idea that decisions should be made as close to
neighbourhood level as possible, made its first appearance in this encyclical.
end to the abuse of women and children in the world of work was called for.
1961, MATER ET
MAGISTRA ‑ John XXIII [On the 70th anniversary of Rerum
`Christianity and Social Progress' was a radical
development in the Church's Social Teaching marking the end of a long alliance
between Roman Catholicism and socially conservative forces. Rerum
Novarum had warned Catholics against increasing State intervention were it
fascist, socialist or communist, whereas, Mater et Magistra whilst recognising the danger of
excessive encroachment by the State recognised the
process of socialisation as the material from which
Christians could contribute towards a new and more just society presenting new
opportunities for the full development of the individual.
THE JUST WAGE
The notion of a just wage was re-affirmed. In
the world of work, it was recommended that employees should have some share of
the company for which they worked and have a share in its management. The
State should have some control over major companies, and play a larger part in
solving social problems. The right to private property was re-stated but with it
the duties of ownership towards the public good. The growth of public
ownership was acknowledged.
FEAR OF NEO-COLONIASM
Concern, about poor classes of people within
individual countries, moved on to concern about poor nations in a rich world.
Justice called for in the relationships among nations of different levels of
power. The encyclical expressed a fear that aid to developing countries would
become neo-colonialism. Greater
international co-operation would be needed.
JUST DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH
People could, and should, co-operate to achieve a
greater distribution of wealth. Improvements in social structures were
The wealthy had previously found comfort in the
Church's insistence on the right to private property and the rights of
individuals but now Church began a process of disentangling itself from
supporting the very rich and very powerful. A preferential option for the poor had begun in the Church's teachings.
The laity were asked to take Catholic Social Teaching
seriously. All should examine their social condition, evaluate the principles
involved and decide how to act. 1963 ,
PACEM IN TERRIS , John XXIII
following upon the Second Vatican Council of
October 1962, was addressed to 'all people of good
will'. [See also,
the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights & duties necessary for good order
looked for an
improvement in the situation of ethnic minorities;
pooling of resources for the development of those in need ;
and demanded a
cessation of the arms race.
Catholics must take an active part in public life and
institutions and strive to change them from within. Faith and action go
ET SPES ‑VATICAN COUNCIL II
`The Church in the Modern World'
"The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties,
of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,
these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of
GAUDIUM ET SPES
asks us to scrutinise the 'signs of
the times' and interpret them in the light of the Gospel identifying
technological changes which can help or hinder the fullness of life and 'right
relationship' between people.
GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR CONDEMNED
The gap between
rich and poor is revealed as totally wrong.
The intrinsic and eternal value of every single human
being is affirmed, not just an individualistic morality at work in us and our
Church. We should all develop a sense of
The fundamental reality of family life and the right
to life as well as everyone's right to strengthen and develop their own culture
is essential. GAUDIUM
ET SPES re-affirms the
rights of workers to manage and share profits.
Faith in the 'trickle‑down'
theory of development seemed to hold sway, i.e. the hope that if you support the
wealth creators in a country, the benefits will eventually seep down to the
workers. Later encyclicals saw this as an
Once again the
call for changes in the trading relationships between rich and poor countries
1967, POPULORUM PROGRESSIO
1967, POPULORUM PROGRESSIO(The Progress of People), Paul V.
The writers of
POPULORUM PROGRESSIO set out
to discover why there are such great differences between rich and poor
countries. It identified some of the injustices caused by this disparity.
THE LASTING EFFECTS OF COLONIALISM
Among those causes was cited
the evil effects of a legacy of colonialism which shattered the existing
political and economic structures of the
conquered nations together with
their social, cultural and religious frameworks, leaving them utterly dependent
upon the conquering nations. This
encyclical challenges the view that former colonies have benefited by being
brought into modern civilisation; no indeed, much ruin had resulted from
Among other, related causes of
poverty in former colonies, was the present
neo-colonialism, a legacy of the
conquerors' former presence.
There was criticism of:
pressure and economic domination at both international and national levels;
oppression practised by regimes of small numbers of privileged elite holding a
monopoly of power and wealth;
present system of international trading relations which resulted in poor nations
become poorer while rich ones become still richer.
An important,observation was made that poverty did not arise purely from
natural causes nor from the laziness of the people living in poorer parts. Injustice
THE NEED TO CHANGE UNJUST STRUCTURES
There was a pressing urgency
for change. Bold transformations
were needed. This encyclical broke
new ground in asking for reforms of structures
. Earlier encyclicals asked for moralistic change.
It was now recognised that changes of attitude are not sufficient, the unjust
structures themselves must be altered.
Oppression caused by Free Trading
The rule of free trade, taken
by itself, was no longer able to govern international relations.
The injustices arising out of unchecked capitalist trading are condemned.
World Government Planning is Needed
International trade is unjust
so long as there are gross inequalities between partners.
A planned approach on a world scale was needed to protect the weak and to
stabilise markets. A suggestion appearing in this encyclical may well have been
the basis of a 'New International Economic Order' an initiative developed by the
A Papal Warning to the Wealthy
The Pope can appeal to us all
by pointing out for instance that, the rich will benefit by sharing their wealth
with others. The wealthy jeopardise
their own values by giving into greed. They call down upon themselves the judgement of God; and they
also call down upon themselves the wrath of the poor.
Violent Action May Result
The pope warns that the
oppressed may take violent action to bring about change. "When whole populations destitute of necessities, live in a state
of subjection barring them from all initiative and responsibility, and from all
opportunity to advance culturally and to share in social and political life, men
are easily led to have recourse to violence as a means to right these wrongs to
human dignity. Injustices must be
opposed and overcome but violence should be averted."
SOLIDARITY AMONG AND FOR THE POOR There was no outright rejection
of revolution in this encyclical, rather there was a hint that in extreme
circumstances revolution may be justified in circumstances when there are
flagrant, long standing violations of human rights.
While the document does not
approve of the use of violence there is no blanket condemnation of it for a just
If violent revolution was to be avoided how then how will change come
WHAT IS NEEDED?
The need is for:
world fund to relieve destitution; [ Comment:
Supporters of a Tobin Tax would like to see a world government tax on
speculative deals in the money market.]
foreign aid, which should be made available in the shape of money, goods and
to be set upon competitive international trading to restore some measure of
equality between nations;
concerted plan to promote development and to move towards an effective world
PEOPLE WITH POWER
People with power yield that
power reluctantly; but the Pope hopes that, by consensus, they will help to
bring a measure of justice for others. In
the end, confrontation could result and the rich may be forced to yield, if they
do not take part in dialogue now to improve lot of the poor.
some extent consensus and confrontation are not incompatible, converging when
the poor are educated in their rights.( The encyclical fails to
mention that kind of education which merely domesticates without awakening
people!). The document missed an opportunity to make clear links
between basic education and a heightening of political awareness.
THE AGENTS OF CHANGE
Who then will be the agents of change?
Development is something people
will have to do for themselves. The provision of basic education and literacy
may help in this process.
A VAIN HOPE!
The Pope hoped that the central role in change would be from the top down!
roles could be played by the internationally rich countries & leaders, by
international- agencies such as the FAO & the UN. Statesmen, journalists,
educators & the learned would be expected to take the lead.
In poorer countries it was
expected that the elite studying in advanced countries would take a lead in
bringing about change.
THE CHURCH’S DUTY
The Church itself would make
appeals, offer arguments & utter warnings.
WOULD THE POOR ORGANISE THEMSELVES
The encyclical does not expect
that pressure from below could act as a potentially positive force.
It offered no strong encouragement to the poor and oppressed to organise
It does however commit the Church to a realistic option for the poor.
DEFINED IN POPULORUM PROGRESSIO
from misery, the greater assurance of finding subsistence, health and fixed
employment, an increased share of responsibility without oppression of any kind
and in security from situations that do violence to their dignity as men; better
education in brief, to seek to do more, know more and have more in order to, be
more: that's what men aspire to now when a greater number of them are condemned
to live in conditions that make this lawful desire illusory.'
THE MEDELLIN DOCUMENTS
Twenty years ago, and a short while after the publication of
POPULORUM PROGRESSIO, the bishops of South America ,at the second general
conference at Medellin in Columbia, in 1968, were deeply affected by discussions
on social justice. Their findings
were published under several headings. They were:
structures uphold & foster dependency & poverty amounting to
institutionalised violence. Poverty
is caused by people, through internal colonialism & external
A POOR CHURCH
A deafening cry for liberation rises from the poor so we must listen to
them because material poverty is an evil caused by injustice.
The poverty of those peoples is involuntary.
To help them we must practise voluntary spiritual poverty, which entails
opening ourselves up to God. Voluntary
poverty is practised when one lovingly assumes the condition of the poor to help
A Church that is poor denounces material poverty caused by injustice and
sin. It preaches & lives
material poverty and is bound by it to evangelise the poor. This means that within the Church itself should come a
redistribution in line with an option for the poor. The Church should be in solidarity with the poor by
criticising and opposing injustice and oppression.
We must make their problems our problems. We must conscienticise
the Church. CONSCIENTISATION
Action at grassroots level must be promoted so that
ordinary people may be encouraged to put pressure on authorities to attain
social justice. We must all help
the poor to be agents in their own integral development as there can be no
genuine peace which is not based upon social justice.
can be responsible for injustice by remaining passive & by failing to take
courageous & effective action for fear of personal risk or sacrifice.
THE STRUGGLE FOR
liberation is frequently used in the Medellin documents where it is linked with
humanisation. The question of how
far Church leaders & others should go in the struggle for liberation was
discussed and the Medellin papers themselves, quoted from the Papal advice in
PROGRESSIO in seeking an answer. They
put the Papal statements in reverse order, pointing out that revolutionary
insurrection can be legitimate but can give rise to new injustices.
The Bishops presented not so much a firm and explicit moral judgement
that revolution would be wrong but a statement that peaceful solutions are
Commemorating the eightieth anniversary of Rerum
Novarum , this encyclical
consciously addresses itself to political problems involved in
implementing an equitable order in society.
This document used the word ‘development' much less
frequently than did POPULORUM PROGRESSIO.
The term can be misleading. If
development is taken as an integrating concept in the treatment of social issues
there is a tendency to view poverty, apathy and the poor distribution of
resources as problems which have not yet been solved but given time will be
can not assume that the world is developing!
The encyclical questions this notion of developmental progress because
this kind of development has proven to be a myth; powerful groups actually
prevent that kind of progress. Development
theories liken the poor to those at the bottom of a ladder who can actually
climb out of their problems. The
image is misleading for the sad truth is that the poor are prevented from
climbing or have in fact been thrown down the ladder by those in power!
The solution therefore lies in LIBERATION not in
WHAT IS LIBERATION?
is shaking off oppression imposed from above. Globally, the oppression is
that of economic and political domination by a rich and powerful minority, as
exemplified in the actions of the nations of the NORTH ( the wealthy nations) on
the SOUTH ( the poor nations) and their resultant poverty.
Liberation from this kind of oppression requires a political solution.
Development points to an economic solution, the means suggested in
POPULORUM PROGRESSIO but that approach is not working!
OCTOGESIMA ADVENIENS uses
the word ‘liberation’ much less frequently than the does the Medellin
document , but, the focus has shifted from the earlier encyclical having moved
from economic solutions to political ones. It
had by then been realised that political decisions underlie economic ones, all
over the world. For example,
the US policy Alliance for Progress for Latin America would ostensibly have
improved the lot of the Latin American nations but it did, in fact, actually
impoverish those nations further, worsening their economic state and increasing
dependence upon the western banking systems.
POLITICAL ACTION IS NEEDED
Economic activity is seen as a
necessary activity but it runs the risk of disproportionately absorbing human
energies and limiting freedom so there is a need to pass from economics to
politics because ultimate power is
ORDINARY PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE ...
A GREATER SHARE IN DECISION MAKING
Ordinary people should have
shared responsibility in political and economic spheres, in the exercise of
authority and in consultation and decision making. The Pope questions the present models of growth operating
within rich nations by saying that they are unjust. He expresses concern over
the growing and uncontrolled power of multinational corporations.
Their economic power should be controlled by political action, so too
should abuses of the power of the mass media in furthering the aims of the
activity is not in itself an ultimate. It
must be based upon a proper understanding of what being human is.
It is no business of the State to impose ideologies.
Many ideologies are inadequate, and none of them presents a solution of
universal validity, and, the Church proposes none.
For example dialogue with Socialism should cautiously continue while
bearing in mind regional differences and circumstances.
In Latin America, for instance, co-operation with the political left wing
would be more appropriate than in Europe or North America.
OCTOGESIMA ADVENIENS points out that Rome has given up passing on
solutions to specific socio-political questions. The Pope will respect discernment done at regional and local
levels. We must all learn from a
variety of approaches. The right of
Latin American Bishops to make moral evaluations appropriate for their nations
must be recognised.
The Gospel calls for a preferential option for the poor.
A Word on Trades Unions
The encyclical is vague on the
role of trades unions in the process but some mention is made of their abusing
power by asking for more than society can afford. The Pope is cautious about their involvement in politics, as
he wants to avoid polarisation along class lines; fruitful dialogue is thought
better than confrontation.
A SYNOD DOCUMENT
JUSTICE IN THE WORLD: 1971
At a synod of bishops in Rome, held a few months after the publication of
OCTOGESIMA ADVENIENS in October, 1971 and following shortly upon the Latin
bishops dialogue with other bishops, came a document called:
JUSTICE IN THE WORLD, a brief but very important social documents.
Medellin was its inspirational basis as there was an emphasis on
A controversial message appeared:
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.’
Some time after publication,
controversy focused about the word
constitutive because it meant that action for justice could
never be merely incidental in the work of the Church. It would have a central place!
This has shown the Church
officially rejects the idea that action to bring about a more just society takes
second place to more “spiritual” or “religious” matters. ( O’Brien
and Shannon in their introduction to a commentary on the Synod document)
Controversially, those who see the Church's role
as primarily 'spiritual' would have liked to have seen the word integral replace
constitutive because integral could have meant that action for justice was not
essential merely optional! EVANGELII
NUNTIANDI, Evangelisation in the Modem
World, a later document, is regarded as vindicating the use of the word constitutive.
1988, SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS, SOCIAL CONCERN,
John Paul II,
DEVELOPMENT: AN INADEQUATE TERM!
It was felt that a fuller & more nuanced concept of
‘development' was needed
than was given in POPULORUM
PROGRESSIO so this encyclical discussed the word further.
was, said SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS,
of people suffering under an intolerable burden of poverty & the gap between
the rich & poor was widening. Why
was this? Could ‘development'
help solve problems of poverty'?
A SURVEY OF THE
ECONOMIC, FINANCIAL & SOCIAL SYSTEMS
The fault, said
the encyclical, lay with the developed nations especially those wielding
economic financial & social
which although manipulated by people often function automatically, with a life
and power of their own, accentuating wealth for some and poverty for others. By
contrast, and in other other ideologies, the right to economic initiative was
often suppressed in the name of equality, putting people into a state of
dependency similar to the traditional dependence of the worker proletarian under
ANTAGONISTIC POWER BLOCS
existence of two antagonistic blocs of power, the East & the West, each with
its own forms of propaganda and indoctrination and each opposed in growing
military confrontation, had overwhelmed some developing countries entrapping
them in ideological conflicts. Both
systems are imperfect, so the Church adopts a critical attitude towards them
both, liberal capitalism on the one hand and Marxist collectivism on the other.
THE INTERDEPENDENCE OF PEOPLES
The Pope applauded the growing
realisation that people and nations were radically interdependent, linked by a
common destiny & the need to respect limited natural resources and the
cycles of nature.
SUPERDEVELOPMENT IS UNJUST
Human happiness was not to be found in the mere accumulation of goods.
If underdevelopment was to be avoided
its opposite super-development was inadmissible, because it led to the excessive
availability of material goods for the benefit of certain social groups.
It made people in those groups slaves of possessions acting in blind
submission to consumerism. It led
to crass materialism and to the stifling of unsatisfied deeper human
aspirations. Mere "having' is useless unless it helps 'being".
This cult of 'having' contrasts radically with those who have too little
to realise their basic vocations as humans.
PROPER USE OF THE CHURCH'S GOODS
The Church itself, has an
obligation to relieve the misery of the suffering, not only out of her abundance
but out of her necessities too! The
Pope says that faced by crises of need, one cannot ignore those needs in favour
superfluous church ornaments
and costly furnishings for divine worship!
The Church and its members would be obliged to sell those goods to
provide food, drink, clothing and shelter for those who need them.
DEVELOPMENT AS OPPRESSION
Development confined to its economic element is an intrinsic
contradiction, for such development subjects the human person and his/her
deepest needs to the demands of economic planning and selfish profit.
Scripture says the human vocation was to have dominion over things but
throughout history humankind's achievements have been tainted by the idolatry of
material goods. Moral content
extends to respect for the natural world and we must realise that the world's
resources are limited and that many of them are non -renewable.
POLITICAL OPPRESSION OF THE POOR
Oppression of the poor was caused not only by
economic injustices but principally by political ones.
There was a critical need to
replace misguided political mechanisms with new ones which were more just
conforming to the common good of humanity.
In order to do that effectively, political will was needed.
We must seek out the moral causes which underlie the economic and
political oppression and transform them.
STRUCTURES OF SIN
These oppressive economic & political mechanisms,'structures of sin',
arise out of different forms of imperialism but all have their basis in personal
sin [See: Encyclical,
RECONCILIATIO ET PAENITENTIA] One can speak of economic 'shortsightedness',
'selfishness', ‘mistaken political decisions’, all of these ethical or
socio-political terms, but one can more appropriately use the terms 'sin' and
'structures of sin'.
THE IDOLATORY OF POWER AND MONEY
God has a plan for humanity,
exemplified in the Commandments relating to our neighbour, ignoring these
counsels offends God and hurts our neighbour. Sin and structures
of sin introduce into the world obstacles which go beyond the brief lifespan
of an offending individual, influencing and interfering in the development of
peoples for generations.
Sin can be detected in the all
consuming desire for profit and for the power of imposing one’s will upon
others at any price. Not only do individuals fall victim to this sin but also
whole nations fall victim, as do power blocs. Hidden within these oppressive
structures of sin, hidden under the guise of economics or politics are real
forms of idolatry: the idolatry of money, of class, of technology. In these lie
the true nature of the evil which faces us in the development of people and
CONVERSION IS DESPERATELY NEEDED
Other obstacles to development
rest profoundly upon ways in which we define our attitude to self, to neighbour,
to the remotest human communities and to nature itself. We need conversion, a
proper relationship with God to recognise sin committed against our neighbours.
Hope was to be found in the
growing awareness of the interdependence of peoples. we can now feel personally
affected by injustices and violations in distant countries. We need a growing
sense of SOLIDARITY, a firm and persevering determination to commit ourselves to
the common good, because ultimately we are all really
responsible for each other. The
structures of sin, directed towards profit and power, should be replaced by a
commitment to the good of our neighbours. We should serve them instead of
oppressing them for our own advantage.
We must recognise one another
as persons. The influential and powerful, those with a greater share of goods
and services should practise responsibility for the weaker, sharing their
possessions generously with the poor. Nor should the weaker adopt a passive
role; they should claim their rights while working, striving still for the
common good. Solidarity among the poor is growing and their
public demonstrations on the social scene are welcomed by a Church which will
take its stand among them to discern justice for them and to help satisfy their
longings. The goods of creation are meant for all, across the nations, and the
stronger, richer nations must exercise moral responsibility for the other , the
weaker nations. These weaker
nations must be assisted to help themselves and to promote the welfare of their
peoples. People are not to be seen
as some kind of instrument to be used and then discarded.
Solidarity and charity have
much in common. One's neighbour must be loved as the living image of God as
Christian communion is the unity of people, with each other, in God.
The Church does not show preference for any one economic system over
another but it is expert in humanity so it will extend its missionary field
where needed to promote that humanity.
THE CHURCH’S SOCIAL DOCTRINE
The Church's social doctrine is
not a ‘third way' between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism; nor
even a possible alternative to other solutions less radically opposed.
It is in a category of its own, not an ideology but an accurate
formulation of reflection on the complex realities of human existence as they
conform with the Gospel in moral theology.
Spreading the Church's social doctrine is part of evangelisation.
The condemnation of injustices and evils is part of that evangelisation.
An option for the poor has a special primacy in imitating the life of Christ and
it concerns the ownership and use of goods. The goods of the world were meant
for all so private property is under social mortgage, having an intrinsically
OPPRESSIVE INTERNATIONAL TRADING
International trade is mortgaged to protectionism and to increasing
bilaterism, so reform of the world monetary and financial system is desperately
needed. International organisations
need reviewing and reforming so does international juridical order.
International trade discriminates unfairly against the young industries
of developing countries. Low cost products of countries which lack labour laws are
sold at considerable profit elsewhere while the people who produced the goods
are thereby exploited. The
international monetary system works against the poorer countries placing them
into debt while the developing countries are denied technological aids by the
SINS OF FEAR, INDECISION & COWARDICE
This encyclical says that while one may sin through selfishness and the
desire for excessive profit & power, one may also sin seriously through
fear, indecision and basically through
in disregarding the urgent needs of multitudes of human being submerged in
conditions of underdevelopment.
1981, LABOREM EXERCENS, John Paul
II , On Human Work.
Now, twenty years later, this encyclical still supports
the worker against the worst aspects of the growing process of globalisation and
the increasing powers of transnational corporations.
The Pope's defends the person's
dignity in work by asserting:
subordination of work to man;
primacy of the worker over the whole of instruments and conditioning that
historically constitute the world of labour;
rights of the human person as the determining factor of all socio-economic,
technological and productive processes;
identification of people with Christ through their work.
Comment: There is much quotable material in this encyclical so I shall use those
I think most appropriate as bases for summary.]
work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question…"
WORK AND MAN [Let's take it as the generic term!].
John Paul II underlines the Church's conviction: that
work is a fundamental dimension of man's existence on earth: that the proper
subject of work continues to be man and that the finality of work is always man
fosters an increase in the things produced
[in modern parlance 'creating wealth'], sometimes it "can
cease to be man's ally and become almost his enemy, as when the mechanisation of
work 'supplants' him, taking away all personal satisfaction and the incentive to
creativity and responsibility, when it deprives many workers of their previous
employment, or when, through exalting the machine, it reduces man to the status
of its slave." Cap 5
"Workers not only want fair pay, they also want to share in the
responsibility and creativity of the very work process. They want to feel that
they are working for themselves -- an awareness that is smothered in a
bureaucratic system where they only feel themselves to be "cogs" in a
huge machine moved from above." Cap 13. work."Cap 6 [This
echoes the expression, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.]
Work itself can have greater or lesser objective value, but all work should be
judged by the measure of dignity given to the person who carries it out.
“Work …expresses and
increases the worker's dignity. Through work we not only transform the world, we
are transformed ourselves, becoming "more a human being." Cap 9
UNEMPLOYMENT A MORAL PROBLEM
Laborem Exercens discussed the
need to take action against unemployment, a true social calamity and a problem
of a moral as well as an economic nature.
“Work is a duty, because our
Creator demanded it and because it maintains and develops our humanity. We must
work out of regard for others, especially our own families, but also because of
the society we belong to and in fact because of the whole of humanity. “Cap16
[Comment: In the light of this let us consider the loss of face and
dignity suffered by those who want to work but are deprived of the opportunity!]
By their work, people share in God's creative activity.
profound motive for our work is this knowing that we share in creation.
CONFLICT BETWEEN LABOUR AND CAPITAL
It was remarked that since the
publication of Rerum Novarum , the
issue of work has been posed on the basis of the conflict between capital and labour that emerged - an "ideological
conflict between liberalism, understood as the ideology of capitalism, and
Marxism, understood as the ideology of scientific socialism and communism, which
professes to act as the mouthpiece for the working class and the world-wide
THE PRIMACY OF LABOUR OVER CAPITAL
"But above all we must
remember the priority of labour over capital: labour is the cause of production;
capital, or the means of production, is its mere instrument or tool."
Cap 12. Labour is always, "a primary
efficient cause, while capital, the whole collection of means of production,
remains a mere instrument or instrumental cause. Thus appears the error of
economism, that of considering human labour solely according to its economic
purpose." Cap 12
MEANS OF PRODUCTION
The means of production cannot become a separate
property, called capital, as opposed to labour. “They cannot be possessed
against labour or to exploit labour, they cannot even be possessed for
possession’s sake because the only legitimate title to their possession -
whether in the form of private ownership or in the form of private ownership-is
that they should serve labour, and thus, by serving labour, that they should
make possible the achievement o the first principle of this order, namely, the
universal destination of goods and the right to the common use of them.“Cap
We must consequently continue to study the situation
of the worker. There is a need for solidarity movements among and with the
workers. The church is firmly committed to this cause, in fidelity to Christ,
and to be truly the "church of the
poor. Cap 8
UNIONS ARE INDISPENSABLE
The unions are here called "an indispensable element of social life." Catholic social
teaching does not see unions as reflecting only a "class"' structure,
and even less as engaged in a "class" struggle. They are indeed
engaged in the struggle for social justice, but this is a struggle for the
common good, and not against others. Its aim is social justice and not the
elimination of opponents. See Cap20
THE RIGHT TO STRIKE
"One method used by unions in pursuing the just
rights of their members is the strike or work stoppage.... This method is
recognised by Catholic social teaching as legitimate in the proper conditions
and within just limits. ...It must not be abused.” Cap 20THE JUST WAGE
"...the justice of a socio-economic system ...deserve[s]
in the final analysis to be evaluated by the way in which man’s work is
properly remunerated in the system.”Cap
19. According to the principle of the common use of goods, it is through the
remuneration for work that in any system most people have access to these goods,
both the goods of nature and those manufactured. A just wage is a concrete measure - and in a sense the key one - of the
justice of a system.Cap 19
RIGHT TO PRIVATE PROPERTY
The papal encyclicals repeat that the right to
property is always contingent upon its place in the common good. Here again John
Paul II refers to the right to private property, emphasising that the Church's
teaching regarding this principle "diverges
radically from the program of collectivism as proclaimed by Marxism,"
and "the program of capitalism practised by liberalism and by the
political systems inspired by it."
Do we not agree, in 2001, that the
time has come to look at the moral implications of : intellectual property, to
migrating capital within the money markets and to the patenting of life itself?
Let alone the notion of a handful of shareholders owning water!]
The position of 'rigid' capitalism continues to
remain unacceptable, namely the position that defends the exclusive right to
private ownership of the means of production as an untouchable 'dogma' of
economic life. The principle of respect for work demands that this right should
undergo a constructive revision, both in theory and in practice.
RIGHTS OF WORKERS
“....Workers' rights cannot be doomed to be the
merely a result of economic systems which on a larger or smaller scale are
guided chiefly by the criterion of maximum profit. On the contrary, it is
respect for the objective rights of the worker...that must constitute the
adequate and fundamental criterion for shaping the whole economy...” Cap 17
RESPONSIBILITIES OF INDIRECT EMPLOYERS
the concept of the "indirect employer," in other words, all the agents
at the national and international level that are responsible for the whole
orientation of labour policy. This includes governments whose task it is to look
after its citizens in the labour market.
The Pope asks that in order to solve the problem of unemployment, these agents "must make provision for overall planning" but this "cannot
mean one-sided centralisation by the public authorities. Instead, what is in
question is a just and rational co-ordination, within the framework of which the
initiative of individuals ... must be safeguarded."
[Comment: In a
sense we are all indirect employers. 'Consumers', as we are often called, act as
indirect employers when we buy. It is our responsibility to buy from just
employers. We can demand that good conditions of work prevail and that just
wages be paid by the producers and providers. We can choose to buy more goods
from Fairtrade, Traidcraft and co-operative ventures.]
As for the matter of salaries, the Pope writes,
"the key problem of social ethics in this case is that of just remuneration
for work done."
WOMEN IN WORK: AT HOME AND OUT OF IT
It is fitting that women should be able to fulfil
their tasks in accordance with their own nature, without being discriminated
against and without being excluded from jobs for which they are capable, but
also without lack of respect for their family aspirations and for their specific
role in contributing, together with men, to the good of society.
"there must be a social re-evaluation of the mother's role." Specifically,
"the whole labour process must be
organised and adapted in such a way as to respect the requirements of the person
and his or her forms of life, above all life in the home, taking into account
the individual's age and sex."
The encyclical was looking at a broad definition of
work, at the outset, in the introduction says that "any activity by human beings, whether manual or intellectual,
whatever its nature or circumstances; it means any human activity that can and
must be recognised as work, in the midst of all the many activities of which
people are capable and to which they are predisposed by their very nature, by
virtue of humanity itself."
RIGHT TO LEISURE TIME
comfort' in Rerum Novarum]
wages, there are other social benefits whose objective is
"to ensure the life and health of workers and their families." In
this regard, he notes the right to leisure time, which should include weekly
rest and yearly holidays. RIGHT TO
In the matter of emigration for work reasons, the encyclical affirms that people have the right to leave their country to seek better living conditions in another. "The most important thing is that the person working away from his native land, whether as a permanent emigrant or as a seasonal worker, should not be placed at a disadvantage in comparison with the other workers in that society in the matter of working rights." The Pope recalls the dignity of agricultural work and the need to offer jobs to disabled people.
ELEMENTS FOR A SPIRITUALITY OF WORK
"…the knowledge that
by means of work man shares in the work of creation constitutes the most
profound motive for undertaking it in various sectors."
[Comment: I am pleased to say that I see no sign in this encyclical of the expression creating wealth. This is a recent profane coinage and it has too many negative overtones for me. Contemporary society and government attitudes suggest that they who do not 'create wealth' are lesser beings so let us challenge the expression and with it the attitudes that arise from it.
Think of a woman
having a baby, surely she is helping to 'shape creation' and the process is
called 'being in labour'. The same
woman nurturing the child is shaping creation; she is working in both instances
but she is not 'creating wealth' in that narrow economic sense. She and her
child contribute towards the commonwealth.
Accordingly , even the expressions "in work" or "at
work" could be more precisely defined "in paid work" or "at
paid work" so as not to exclude this very valuable unpaid work which a
parent does.] THE VOCATION AND
MISSION OF THE LAITI, under
Pope John Paul II
The key concept is expressed metaphorically in this
apostolic exhortation; strictly speaking not a social justice encyclical.
The people of God are labourers in
LONGING FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE
The Pope remarked upon the
conflict between persons, between groups, between categories, between nations
and blocs of nations saying that the conflict could be counteracted by the
irrepressible human longing for peace and justice.
A RIGHT TO LIFE
Human rights, such as the right
to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture, were illusory if the right
to life was not defended. Human
beings were entitled to such rights in every phase of development from
conception to natural death whether healthy, sick, whole or disabled, rich or
CATHOLICS MUST TAKE PART IN PUBLIC LIFE
Charity is inseparable from
justice. Catholics must take part
in public life, in the economic, social, legislative, administrative and
cultural spheres to promote the common good.
The lay faithful must be active in the face of all that denies and
compromises peace, namely violence, war, torture, terrorism, concentration
camps, the militarisation of public life, the arms race and the nuclear threat.
PRIVATE PROPERTY SHOULD HAVE
A SOCIAL DIMENSION
the goods of the earth, including private property, have a social dimension in
helping to promote truly human life. People
must work in the forefront in solving problems of unemployment, to improve
places of work, to develop solidarity among those who work, to raise up new
forms of entrepreneurship and to examine again systems of commerce, finance and
responsibilities were mentioned as we must pass on the earth's gifts to
SPIRITUAL LIFE AND SECULAR LIFE ARE INSEPARABLE
There cannot be two parallel lives among the
faithful, the spiritual life and the secular life. The Second Vatican Council expressed this with,
split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be
counted among the more serious errors of our age.”
This Apostolic exhortation of His Holiness ,
JOHN PAUL II on THE VOCATION AND THE MISSION OF THE LAY FAITHFUL IN THE CHURCH
AND IN THE WORLD said that above all, it was indispensable that the
lay have a more exact knowledge of social justice issues, and this demands a
more widespread and precise presentation of the Church's social doctrine as
repeatedly stressed by the Synod Fathers who refer to the participation of the
lay faithful in public life in the following words:
“But for the lay faithful to take up actively this
noble purpose in political matters, it is not enough to exhort them. They must
be offered a proper formation of a social conscience, especially in the Church's
social teaching, which contains principles of reflection, criteria for judging
and practical directives (cf.
for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation,
72), and which must be present in general catechetical
instruction and in specialised gatherings, as well as in schools and
That is our responsibility as it was for Frederick Ozanam and those other first founders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.