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.

 

RERUM NOVARUM

QUADRAGESIMO ANNO

MATER ET MAGISTRA

GAUDIUM ET SPES

POPULORUM PROGRESSIO

OCTOGESIMA ADVENIENS

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.

CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY

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

 

FREDERICK 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."

Some 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!

 

Convinced 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

revolution 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.”

 

Widespread 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.”

 

In 1848, during the workers' revolution in Paris, Ozanam wrote this in a public article, "It 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".

2One 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:

"The 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".

Resolutions 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 legislation.

 

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.

 

 In 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.

 

1891, RERUM 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.” 

Cap 54)

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.

Assuredly, 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

 

The 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 injustice."

 

{Comment: 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 encyclical?}

 

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

It 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

oppressed 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...

QUADRAGESIMO ANNO 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 accrue.]

 

The word subsidiarity, the idea that decisions should be made as close to neighbourhood level as possible, made its first appearance in this encyclical. 

 

An 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 Novarum]   

`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 recommended.

 

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

`Peace on Earth', 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 and respect.]

This document:

condemned racism;

looked for an improvement in the situation of ethnic minorities;

encouraged the 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 together.

 

1965, GAUDIUM 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 Christ."

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 corporate responsibility.

 

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 unrealistic expectation!

 

Once again the call for changes in the trading relationships between rich and poor countries was made.

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 colonisation.

 

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:

·                political pressure and economic domination at both international and national levels;

·                the oppression practised by regimes of small numbers of privileged elite holding a monopoly of power and wealth;

·               the 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 caused poverty.

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 West.

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 cause either!

 

If violent revolution was to be avoided how then how will change come about?

WHAT IS NEEDED?

¨             The need is for:

¨              a 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.]

¨              more foreign aid, which should be made available in the shape of money, goods and skilled people;

¨              limits to be set upon competitive international trading to restore some measure of equality between nations;

¨              a concerted plan to promote development and to move towards an effective world authority.

WEALTHY 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.

 

To 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!  Central 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 POLITICALLY?

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 themselves politically. 

It does however commit the Church to a realistic option for the poor.

 

DEVELOPMENT

DEFINED IN POPULORUM PROGRESSIO

'Freedom 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:

STRUCTURAL INJUSTICE

Unjust structures uphold & foster dependency & poverty amounting to institutionalised violence.  Poverty is caused by people, through internal colonialism & external neo-colonialism.

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 them.

 

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.  People 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

The word 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

POPULORUM 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 earnestly desired.

 

1971, 

OCTOGESIMA ADVENIENS , Paul VI

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 solved..

We 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 DEVELOPMENT.

 

WHAT IS LIBERATION?

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 political power.

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 multinationals.

INADEQUATE IDEOLOGIES

Nevertheless, political 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 structural injustice. A controversial message appeared:

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.’

 

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.

 

There was, said SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS, an innumerable

 multitude 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 CONTEMPORARY WORLD;

UNJUST ECONOMIC, FINANCIAL & SOCIAL SYSTEMS

The fault, said the encyclical, lay with the developed nations especially those wielding economic financial & social

mechanisms 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 capitalism.

ANTAGONISTIC POWER BLOCS

The 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 of

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 nations.

 

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 social function.

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 wealthy nations.

 

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

cowardice 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:

·               the subordination of work to man;

·               the primacy of the worker over the whole of instruments and conditioning that historically constitute the world of labour;

·               the rights of the human person as the determining factor of all socio-economic, technological and productive processes;

·               the 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.]

 

 INTRODUCTION

"Human work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question…" Cap 3

 

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 himself.

 

Although technology 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.  The most

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 proletariat." Cap.11

 

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

 

 THE 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 14

TRADES UNIONS

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."

[ Comment:  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

Starting with 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.]

 

SALARIES

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.

In addition, "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

[See 'frugal comfort' in Rerum Novarum]

Besides 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 EMIGRATE

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 the vineyard.

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 poor.

 

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

All 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 technology.  Ecological responsibilities were mentioned as we must pass on the earth's gifts to successive generations.

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,  “..the 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. Congregation 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 universities.”

 

That is our responsibility as it was for Frederick Ozanam and those other first founders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.