Monday, 13 December 2010

Catholic Social Teaching

I recently posted about the Joint Public Issues Team (JPIT) and their blog Praxis.  The Roman Catholic Church in England have just launched a new website, Catholic Social Teaching.  Where JPIT expresses its ecumenical commitment through joint working between the Methodist, Baptist and United Reformed Churches, as well as its willingness to work as partners with other churches, Catholic Social Teaching expresses its commitment to unity in this way:

Is this just for Catholics?  Not at all! All of the recent encyclicals are addressed to “all of goodwill”. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says: “the teachings are also for the brethren of other churches and ecclesial communities, to the followers of other religions, as well as to people of goodwill who are committed to serving the common good.” The teachings do though have special significance for Catholics for whom the pursuit of social justice has been stipulated as a faith commitment.

I would hope they will add more links to the work of other denominations, eg JPIT, and ecumenical organisations, eg Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.

With that reservation I have to say the site is excellent, covering six themes and plenty of resources and suggestions for action.  One particular strength is its section on Principles, which offers a detailed history of Catholic Social Teaching and reviews relevant documents.  Here's an excerpt from their Introduction and Principles:

What is Catholic Social Teaching? (CST)

  • authoritative Church teaching on social, political and economic issues
  • informed by Gospel values and the lived experience of Christian reflection
  • analysing that experience from different historical, political and social contexts
  • providing principles for reflection, criteria for judgment and guidelines for action
  • thus enabling us in our struggle to live our faith in justice and peace
CST is not
  • a ‘third way’ between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism… rather it constitutes a category of its own. (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, paragraph 41).
  • an ideology, but rather the result of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in the light of faith and the Church’s tradition… It therefore belongs to the field, not of ideology, but of moral theology. (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, paragraph 41).
  • a model: the Church has no models to present; models that are real and effective can only arise within the framework of different historical situations, through the efforts of all those who responsibly confront concrete problems in their social, political and cultural aspects, as these interact with each other. (Centesimus Annus, pargraph 43).
Ekklesia have posted a review of this site and its worth a look if you are interested.  Here's an excerpt:

CST has been called the Catholic Church's "big secret", amounting to a massive and historic web of ethical and theological thought on social practice.

Recently, controversial Church teaching on contraception and human sexuality, questioned or rejected by many inside and outside the institution, has come across in the media as the main preoccupation of Catholic thinkers, along with hardline stances on abortion and other bioethical concerns.

But commentators and academics rightly point out that this is a very one-sided view of what the Catholic tradition of social thought, rooted in enquiring faith, has to offer.

In recent years, a strongly critical stance towards free market capitalism, militarism and environmental degradation has emerged from moral theologians and the Church's official teaching position, for example.
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  1. What concerns me is not Catholic social teaching, but Catholic social practice..

    Any trip to the Vatican will convince you that regardless of what is taught, what is practiced by the Church has very little to do with the poor, the marginalized or the oppressed. It has too much to do maintaining the power, status, wealth and control of a limited number of elderly men.
    To talk about justice for the poor when a poor catholic pilgrim can't even see the great wealth and the treasures of the Church without having to pay yet again is just hypocrisy.
    The wealth of the Church makes a mockery of any claim it might make to care for the poor.
    What would Jesus expect of the Church - a museum full of statues or hospitals for the sick, schools for the poor, food for the hungry, justice for the oppressed?
    In my humble opinion, only when the Catholic Church puts its great wealth at the disposal of the gospel and starts practicing what it preaches will it be worthwhile attending to what it teaches.

  2. Thanks Angela, I think it boils down to whether you equate the Vatican with the entirety of the Roman Catholic Church. I included the Ekklesia review to offer an external critique of the website. They say:
    'One fascinating exercise (and not merely an intellectual one) would be to review, appreciate and critique the tradition, process and content of Catholic Social Teaching from the perspective of the emerging post-Christendom discourse ( - one which seeks to acknowledge the damage done by the alliance of Christianity with top-down governing authority and subserviently 'civic' religion.'

  3. Dear Angela, teaching v. practice is ever a challenge and there is always room to do more, nevertheless I don't think we can blame Vatican for world poverty. Consider this after Vatican gives everything a way, what then?, - it schould join the poor on the street? We would have so called post-christendom tomorrow. Catholic Church has a lot more to offer than its earthy wealth but rather through its sacraments, authority given to the pope bishops and priests lead people to heaven regardless of their sins. That is God's guarantee where there is no more thirst. I take that offer.

    Thank you for sharing in your blog

  4. Thanks Wojtek, but can't it equally be said that the wealth of any church is not essential for salvation. If the Roman Catholic Church (or the Methodist Church for that matter) were poor, that would make no difference to the message. Wealth is not needed for salvation. The question is whether excessive wealth actively undermines the church's message.