Catholic Social Teaching
Critical Comments Selected by Gerald Darring
Barbara Ward. Dublin Review (1939) 98. "The social program of the Church aims above everything else at balance, the balance achieved by combining planned economy with individual freedom, state control with private ownership, economic independence with political needs and social justice. But it would be a gross misinterpretation of Catholic teaching to assume that the outline given in the encyclicals of a structural change in economic life is all that is necessary to bring about a change in society."|
John A. Ryan. American Catholic Sociological Review (1941) 86. "The number of Catholics who feel morally obliged to carry the teaching of the encyclicals into practice in their economic relations is small and disappointing. How many Catholic employers honestly strive to apply that teaching in the wages that they pay? Or in their attitude toward labor unions? 'Good' Catholics, 'prominent' Catholics, 'pillars of the Church,' still disregard the papal injunctions on these matters.... How many Catholic employees consider adequately their duties to their employers, as laid down in the encyclicals?... Finally, I would raise the question whether the number of Catholic institutions which deliberately strive in their relations with their own employees to apply the teaching of the encyclicals on wages and labor unions is of such magnitude that we can contemplate it with complacency."
Philip Hughes. The Popes' New Order (1943) v. "Experience seems to show that, of the encyclicals of Leo XIII, comparatively few copies have really got into circulation; and that of the later, more elaborate letters of Pius XI, there are more who buy and begin to read than ever finish."
Melvin J. Williams. Catholic Social Thought (1950) 39. The combined principles relative to labor and property are, in the Catholic view, directly opposed to socialism and communism. "Social Catholicism not only advocates a group of social principles which are directed toward the establishment of more harmonious relations in the economic sphere, but it also opposes those socioeconomic and autonomous views which tend to discredit the Catholic view."
John F. Cronin. Review of Social Economy (1952) 16. "As a broad statement, we might distinguish three elements in the social encyclicals. Primarily they contain basic moral principles, usually derived from natural law but also partly founded on divine revelation, which pertain to the socio-economic sphere. Secondly, they indicate programs for action or lines of social policy. Finally, they pass judgment on contingent historical situations."
Joseph N. Moody, ed. Church and Society (1953) 50-61. The popes have sought to formulate moral directives, and have stayed away from purely technical aspects. They have spoken for a worldwide audience, confining themselves to general directives. They carefully avoid the extreme positions of outright individualism or outright collectivism. Their basic assumptions are: the human person is necessarily a social being; every person has a dignity that raises him above all creation; human rights are inherent, inalienable, and linked to corresponding duties; the primary objective of a social order is justice. Social justice is to be achieved on the basis of: reform of morals; self-help through organization; wider ownership of productive property; sound social legislation; organization of international economic life.
Mary Lois Eberdt and Gerald J. Schnepp. Industrialism and the Popes (1953) 23. "Respect for human rights and the promotion of the general welfare have suffered from abuses in the present socio-economic system. Reform is urgently called for by the Popes a reform based on reason and on principles flowing from the nature of man and society.... This reform does not imply a revolution or overthrow of the present system but rather an evolution toward an ordered, organic society."
Daniel A. O'Connor. Catholic Social Doctrine (1956) 78-85. The great value of the social teaching of the Church is based on the following characteristics: 1) the authority of the pope; 2) its universality, since it "seeks to embrace all truth and extends to all aspects of reality"; 3) its equilibrium, since all truths fit harmoniously and in order of importance; 4) its practical utility. Some of the limitations of the social doctrine of the Church are: 1) it confines itself to the moral aspects of social questions and neglects their technical aspects; 2) the message is universal and cannot take into account the social and economic differences in various parts of the world; 3) social conditions are constantly changing and this makes it impossible to give definitive solutions to social problems.
George Meany, when given St. Peter's College Institute of Industrial Relations Rerum Novarum Award on 14 May 1956. "I would like to say that the encyclicals, beginning of course with the one of May 15, 1891, by Leo XIII, have guided the American labor movement down through the years, because they fit in perfectly with the American scheme of things."
"Magistra, Si." America (1961) 822. The encyclicals have won the respect of world opinion, and Mater et Magistra is seen as "an exemplary and entirely proper exercise of moral guidance given to perplexed minds. If there is any criticism to be made of papal social teachings, it is that they were late, rather than precipitate; too tolerant of existing evil, rahter than restrictive of freedom; too respectful of honest disagreements, rather than trenchant in an hour of decision."
D.A. Livingston. "Liberal or Conservative: The America-National Review Debate." Social Justice Review 54 (December 1961) 272. As a result of the National Review-America debate over Mater et Magistra, we can draw these conclusions: "First, a regard for the inviolability of fundamental social doctrine does not imply that the Church recognizes only one socially and morally acceptable policy solution to each political, social or economic problem within a given country at a given time. Second, the social encyclicals are neither conservative nor liberal. Therefore, if a Catholic is to adhere to the mind of the Church he will judge issues not by the slippery yardstick of shifting conservative or liberal concepts but by the dual criteria of social justice and social charity.... Third, it is about time that Mater et Magistra and the other Papal social declarations 'begin to receive the kind of consideration they deserve.'"
John Bligh. "Eschatology and Social Doctrine." Heythrop Journal 3 (July 1962) 262. "Since the publication of Rerum Novarum in 1891, there has been an ever-growing awareness among Catholics that the Church has a social mission, but recent events in Africa and South America have shown that it has not grown fast enough. The encyclical Mater et Magistra has been something of a jolt to many of us who were content to leave Catholic social teaching to a few experts. Now that we are belatedly waking up to this issue, we cannot but wonder why the universal Church was so slow. Das Kapital was first published in 1867, a quarter of a century before Rerum Novarum. Why did the Church need the stimulus of competition from socialism and communism before developing a clear consciousness of her social mission? Entering the field somewhat belatedly, the Church has rarely been able to do more than give her blessing to reforms initiated by others."
A.F. McKee. Kyklos (1964) 81. "'Official' Catholic thought has repeatedly affirmed the necessity of guarding private property, initiative and freedom, and urged limiting the role of the state; so that basic, though duly qualified, support for the private enterprise economy is the clear and inescapable consequence."
Peter J. Riga. "Liturgy and Action." Commonweal 78 (25 December 1964) 445-448; at p. 445. "Since Leo XIII (Rerum Novarum) up to and including Pope John's two earthshaking documents, Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris, the Church has developed fully a whole new dimension to her being: the corpus of social thought. In our seminaries, we have treated this corpus as a type of adjunct 'added on' to the 'regular courses' of dogma, moral, Scripture, etc. This, of course, is not only to lessen its importance, but it fundamentally distorts the incarnational mission of the Church. Dogma and social principles are not two entities which exist along side of each other. On the contrary, they are two sides of the same coin. Worship of God and service of the brethren are what makes Christianity to be what it is."
Benjamin L. Masse. "The Pope's Plea for Poor Nations." America 117 (5 August 1967) 131. "Beginning with Rerum Novarum in 1891, the Church has consistently rejected economic liberalism (laissez-faire capitalism) as irreconcilable with divine law.... What this means is that the Church condemned: 1) a concept of private property that denied its social character; 2) a concept of competition that made it the sole directive force in the economy; and 3) a concept of society that made of government a sort of passive policeman, with no authority to intervene positively in the economy in behalf of the common good."
Peter J. Riga. The Church and Revolution (1967) 83-84. "What definition can we give socialism? State ownership of large capital investments or the means of production? The popes have justified the nationalization of major industries by government when this is truly required by the common good. Group national insurance against old age, unemployment, security, medical needs? The popes have advocated these measures time and time again as parcel of the common good in our day. Man has the right to these and government is to aid him to secure these rights. If this is what is meant by 'socialism,' then the popes are the greatest socialists who ever lived."
Hugo Assmann. "Political Commitment in the Context of the Class Struggle." Political Commitment and Christian Community. New York: Herder and Herder, 1973, pp. 98-99. The euphoria after Vatican II and Medellin has rapidly evaporated as groups have seen how the central and apolitical position of Vatican II is adapted to the present stage of capitalism. They have become disappointed with 'progressive' North Atlantic theologians, their support of the system and their 'withdrawal from history.' Social action in the churches has become restricted to mere 'modernizing.' "That heterogeneous body of work called the 'social doctrine of the Church' has now reached a crisis of impotence in its general denunciations and particularly in its blessing of 'interclassism' and 'third positions.'"
Charles E. Curran. Catholic Moral Theology in Dialogue (1976) 125. "Very often the papal social encyclicals leave the reader with the impression that reason alone is the only element in establishing the proper social order and reason alone is sufficient to bring about the necessary changes in this order. A failure to recognize the reality of sin plus an overly idealistic or rationalistic understanding of reality combine to give a somewhat inadequate view of the social order and of effecting social change. The existing social order is never the product of pure reason but results also from the power struggles existing within the society itself."
Henry Townsend, S.J. Society and the Gospel (1976) 112. "Certainly, the Catholic Church has changed in attitude to state control. It now advocates rather more than less of it, but only because in contemporary circumstances a large measure of state direction and control is a necessary means to a wide and fair sharing out of property in the form of wages, profits, pensions, social insurance and active participation in the management of industry by all who give their services to it."
Bernard Haring. Free and Faithful in Christ. New York: Crossroad, 1979-84, III:269. "One of the basic functions of Catholic social doctrine is the ministry to genuine liberty, to the education of people for freedom, its liberating use to the benefit of all, and concern for institutions that preserve and favor freedom for all."
Penny Lernoux. Cry of the People. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980, p. 201. "The papal encyclicals Mater et Magistra, Populorum Progressio, Gaudium et Spes, and Pacem in Terris form the basis of the Church's answer to the Doctrine of National Security, together with the Medellin documents and the personal witness of the Latin-American Church's martyrs. And the message is entirely clear: that the state exists to serve the people, not the other way around; that the individual's dignity and rights must be respected; and that totalitarianism, in whatever form, is inhuman. By upholding this doctrine, priests and bishops are saying, for the first time in history, that the Latin-American Church cannot coexist with military regimes--and, more, that it must actively oppose dictatorship. But they are also saying something of profound religious significance: that the Gospel is a mandate to join in the struggle for human rights, the first imperative of which is to speak out."
Christine E. Gudorf. Catholic Social Teaching on Liberation Themes (1981) x. "The discontinuities in the papal tradition are remarkable against a usual background of intentional continuity on the part of those persons charged with safeguarding the tradition of the Church."
Clodovis Boff. "The Social Teaching of the Church and the Theology of Liberation: Opposing Social Practices?" (1981) 19. "When one approaches the social teaching of the Church, one finds that it agrees with practically everything. But once its texts have been studied, practically nothing stays in the mind. This is true of public opinion when a social encyclical comes out; opinions are aroused, positions taken. But it does not take long for the document to be consigned to oblivion, with the exception of one or two paragraphs, and these continue to be its only links with the mind.... The fact is that the encyclicals and social documents gradually became identified with a certain number of inspirational nuclei.... So instead of appearing as a completely assembled machine (system) the social teaching of the Church rather resembles a box of spare parts, from which just these teachings, these historically significant abbreviations, can be picked out. The rest vanishes from consciousness and from history, though it clings on in books and lectures."
Michael Harrington. Cross Currents 31 (Winter 1981-82) 412. "The Catholic Church was not only anti-modernist but anti-socialist from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. Such ideological intransigence was sometimes modified in national practice ... but it was a major factor in European--and Canadian--political life. In America, one of the reasons why a mass socialist movement never developed was the hostility of the church, particularly as it was transmitted through Irish-American workers in the labor movement."
Donal Dorr. Option for the Poor (1983) 261. "Despite its criticism of unjust structures and systems, Catholic social teaching has not, on the whole, been radical: it has not acted as a powerful force for social change, at least until quite recently. On the contrary, it has tended to set a high value on stability and order--and it continues to do so even today."
Stanley Hauerwas. "Work as Co-Creation: A Critique of a Remarkably Bad Idea." J. W. Houck and O. F. Williams, eds., Co-Creation and Capitalism: John Paul II's 'Laborem Exercens.' Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1983, p. 43. Vatican encyclicals are general in their analysis: concrete implications remain unclear or uncertain, and when they try to become concrete, they are either wrong or they condemn positions that no one holds. "That such stylistic deficiencies characterize the encyclicals no longer seems surprising, since they remain paradigmatic documents of a Constantinian church always wanting to mount social criticism while continuing to seem supportive of the powers that be."
Phillip Berryman. The Religious Roots of Rebellion. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1984, p. 326. The whole Catholic tradition from Leo XIII onward seems to be kibitzing from the sidelines, with popes and bishops proposing grand-sounding ideals in generic terms without ever having the responsibility for running a state. Catholic social teaching proposes no clear economic model and makes no clear-sighted, principled critique. It often seems to reflect nostalgia for some ancient 'organic' type of society, and following the lead of the encyclicals has resulted in attempts at a 'third way' between capitalism and socialism. "Thus Catholic social teaching seems to be untested and untestable."
Gregory Baum. Theological Studies (1984) 701. "The more recent Catholic social teaching has been produced by an extended dialogue of the older Catholic social teaching with the religious experience of the oppressed struggling for justice, with the prophetic tradition of the Scriptures, and with Marxist social theory. The final result, in my opinion, is an original Catholic contribution to social theory, one that has much to offer a troubled world at this time."
Leonard J. Weber. Horizons (1984) 137. "Some of the significant differences between the dominant American social ethics and mainline Catholic social ethics" are: 1) "Catholic theology is communitarian while the American tradition is individualistic." 2) "An economic system is not to be viewed as successful simply because it is productive.... A more important measure of success is the condition of the least advantaged. It cannot be assumed (nor is the evidence very persuasive) that, as the rich got richer, the poor get richer as well. Justice requires that the needs of the poor take priority." 3) "While the dominant American value system defines human rights almost exclusively as civil-political rights (freedom of religion, press, assembly, etc.), Catholic ethics recognizes, as well, social-economic rights (right to food, to work, to adequate health care, etc.)."
"Faith and the Economics of Inequality." Commonweal (2-16 November 1984) 582. "Historically, one function of the 'third way' of Catholic social thought, for all the vagueness of its rejection of both pure capitalism and pure socialism, has been simply to provide some open space for new ideas, to fan the embers of dissatisfaction, and to keep the search for justice alive."
John Langan, S.J. "The Bishops and the Bottom Line." Commonweal (2-16 November 1984) 587. The documents of Catholic social teaching "provide a rich body of material, largely conceived in response to the problems of industrialization, social strife, and decolonization as these affected Western Europe over the last hundred years. But this material lacks the clarity and concision of the classical presentations of just-war theory. Many of its specific recommendations have become outmoded, many were designed to address the problems of European societies; some, particularly those in the recent encyclical of John Paul II on human work, Laborem Exercens, are really so generic that they are compatible with a wide variety of institutional arrangements."
Drew Christiansen, S.J. Theological Studies (1984) 674. "The social teaching of the conciliar and postconciliar period, of John XXIII, Paul VI, and Vatican II, radically altered Catholic thinking on social ethics in an egalitarian direction. Catholic egalitarianism emerged out of two theological developments: the methodological shift to signs of the times and the retrieval of the patristic idea of human solidarity. In combination, the application of signs of the times to contemporary developments revealed inequality as the central social problem of the period, and the appeal to solidarity gave theological warrant to egalitarian social policies."
Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B. "The Economic Pastoral: Draft Two." America (21 September 1985) 132. Catholic social teaching grew out of the industrial revolution with a concern for workers and their rights. It has perhaps not reflected sufficiently on such questions as natural resources, agriculture, the practical consequences of trying to fulfill the basic necessities of all the people on this entire globe, the fulfillment of economic rights, and the ramifications of such concepts as private ownership and the common good as they affect a world economy.
David Hollenbach, S.J. "Global Human Rights"(1986) 374. "It is one of the deep biases of the Catholic tradition to respond to basic intellectual and social choices by saying both/and rather than either/or."
Gregory Baum. "Recent Roman Catholic Social Teaching" (1986) 58. "When I speak of the 'shift to the left' in Catholic social teaching I mean the introduction of new arguments critical of contemporary capitalism, the new recognition of socialism as a Catholic option, the doctrinal link established between Christian faith and human emancipation, and the declaration of the Church's solidarity with the struggling poor."
Stephen Tonsor. Walter Block and Irving Hexham, eds., Religion, Economics and Social Thought, Vancouver, BC: The Fraser Institute, 1986, p. 88. "What Gregory Baum recommends is not a shift to the left. What has happened is not a shift to the left. Any leftist would cry out in agony if he were told that current Catholic social teaching was a shift to the left. It's rather a shift to the past. It's medievalism all over again. Except it is medievalism with a 'human,' or at least a different face. It is a perennial Catholic pre-capitalist social theory. And it has not the remotest contact with social and economic reality as it exists at the present time."
R. Bruce Douglass. "First Things First: The Letter and the Common Good Tradition"(1986) 30-31. "The great strength of Catholic social teaching in the past--a strength which has always compensated for its tendency to give short shrift to Scripture--has been the stress placed on philosophical coherence. For this reason Catholic social thought has tended to have greater philosophical plausibility than Protestant thought.... But now, as Catholic teaching begins to incorporate themes deriving from Scripture in a more direct and complete manner, the danger is that it will be afflicted with the same tendency to sacrifice philosophical coherence for scriptural dogmatism from which Protestant thought has so long suffered."
Keith A. Breclaw. "From Rerum Novarum to the Bishops' Letter" (1986) 108. "The profoundly conservative outlook that informs the church's social thought has no counterpart outside of the church itself. This is, of course, especially true of its economic philosophy. No genuinely conservative economics developed alongside the liberal and socialist economic traditions. Modern conservatives who reaffirm the primacy of the spiritual life and insist that social organization should reflect a hierarchy of values, have for all practical purposes made an alliance with liberalism in economic matters. Some are more uneasy with that alliance than others, but at the least, capitalism, however much it may encourage the hedonism and secularism of the modern age, is understood by conservatives as the one effective dike against the even worse excesses of collectivism. This leaves the church and its social teachings, as it were, out in the cold.... The church's social teachings represent the residue of a conservative economics that never truly was."
Daniel Rush Finn. "The Church and the Economy in the Modern World" (1986) 145. "Of all the presumptions of Catholic social teaching that irk its North American critics, probably the most fundamental is the conviction that even impersonal institutional relationships should occur in accord with moral principles. Phrases like 'the distribiution of goods should be directed toward...' are fundamentally inimical to a view that the distribution of goods (or income or wealth) takes place through an impersonal market where no individual or group decides how it is to happen. Church teaching has always presumed that all human activity should occur in accord with moral norms. In the extension of moral theology to include a vigorous social ethic for institutional life in the modern world, the application of this persevering conviction to economic policy has led more 'conservative' economic critics to assert that stressing moral standards too strictly in the economic realm will endanger the economic productivity that the moralists take for granted."
Paul F. Lakeland, S.J. Thought (1987) 63. "When all good things have been said about today's CST, and there is plenty to say, we are still left with the feeling that, deep down, the Church is simply not ready to learn from the world. There are innumerable ways, large and small, in which the Church has learned from secular sources and authorities, but there is scant or no recognition of this fact, despite the implications of Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes." For example, "papal social teaching has in John Paul's writings finally arrived at an unequivocal identification of the Church with the needs of the world's poor. This has certainly been an emerging theme since Rerum Novarum, but for many centuries the nonidentity of church and poor was more apparent than the opposite. Nowhere in CST is this past deplorable record ever referred to. Nor is what the Church owes on this and innumerable other matters to extra-ecclesial cultural advances ever explicitly recognized."
Oliver Maloney. Studies (1987) 289-90. "The Church has had difficulty in adjusting the formulation of its teachings to the growth in the size and complexity of modern business and economic activity. Even in the most recent of the social encyclicals--Laborem Exercens--an abstruse and subtle work--there are hints of a yearning for the pastoral economy, where life was simple and community and family values supreme."
Jean-Yves Calvez, S.J. "Economic Policy Issues in Roman Catholic Social Teaching" (1987) 23. "Strictly speaking, the tradition of Catholic social teaching is not egalitarian. There was even a time when it was anti-egalitarian. However, Catholic teaching has persistently linked justice with a demand that society provide at least minimum living standards for those left out or crushed by the economic system. In other words, even before assessing other aspects of an economy, the church insists that all members of a society must be ensured a decent standard of living. Its underlying assumption is that without such a minimum standard, no genuine society can be formed."
Dennis P. McCann. "The Good to be Pursued in Common" (1987) 162-63. "Modern Catholic social teaching in fits and starts has gradualloy abandoned Leo XIII's traditional and Thomistic understanding of the 'ethical society-state.' Typically, the church's struggle with the modern totalitarianisms of both the Right and the Left is credited with facilitating this transition; but honesty requires us to give equal emphasis to the protracted and, apparently, unfinished struggle for religious liberty within both the church itself and society as a whole."
Thomas J. Maloney, S.J. Thought (1988) 124-46. "No sooner have the papal encyclicals won out over the forces of the traditional right in the Latin American Church than they are being challenged from the Catholic left by liberation theology. The two now compete among Church leaders, educators, and activists for preminence as the theoretical basis for pastoral organization and action."
David Hollenbach. Justice, Peace, and Human Rights (1988) 4. The social encyclicals issued by Leo XIII, Pius XI, and John XXIII were almost exclusively framed in concepts and language of the natural-law ethic of scholastic philosophy. There was no consideration in the writings of the popes during the hundred years before the council of the biblical, Christological, eschatological, or ecclesiological basis of the church's social role.
Peter Henriot, Edward DeBerri, and Michael Schultheis. Catholic Social Teaching (1988) 20-22. The key emphases which characterize Catholic social teaching today are: 1) link of religious and social dimensions of life; 2) dignity of the human person; 3) political and economic rights; 4) option for the poor; 5) link of love and justice; 6) promotion of the common good; 7) subsidiarity; 8) political participation; 9) economic justice; 10) stewardship; 11) global solidarity; 12) promotion of peace.
Enrique Dussel. Ethics and Community (1988) 207. "The social teaching of the church has condemned Nazism and Fascism, oblivious of the fact that these distortions of the extreme right are simply capitalism pursued to its ultimate consequences."
Gregory Baum. Baum and Ellsberg, eds., The Logic of Solidarity, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989, p. 116. "Social sin has a voluntary and a nonvoluntary dimension. The papal encyclicals emphasize the voluntary aspect."
Mary E. Hobgood. Baum and Ellsberg, eds., The Logic of Solidarity, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1989, p. 171. Papal documents have advocated strategies for social reform that assume the capitalist model. "In most of the documents of the Catholic social justice tradition, the prescribed social change agents are primarily those who already hold power in the system--that is, governments, international agencies, and corporate elites."
Maria Riley, O.P. Transforming Feminism. Kansas City, MO: Sheed & Ward, 1989, pp. 88-89. Catholic social teaching has been the province of the patriarchal church: men write the documents and only men sit in a decision-making capacity in the deliberative bodies of the church while women at most they have a consultative role to play, if they are present at all. "If women's rising consciousness is a manifestation of God's design for the world, as both John XXIII in Pacem in Terris and the Puebla Document declare, can Catholic teaching continue to be authentic if the voices of women are kept silent and/or circumscribed by men's interpretation?"
Dennis P. McCann. "'Accursed Internationalism' of Finance" (1989) 137. "On the whole, the Vatican's position strikes me as reactionary, but unless we are simply to dismiss it from our deliberations, it can and ought to be understood sympathetically as an important protest against the social costs of modern industrial development, whether capitalist or socialist in its origins. By the time Pope Leo XIII initiated the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching, the ancient Papal condemnations of usury had already been allowed to slip into oblivion; nevertheless, the overall impression created by these modern encyclicals is medieval.... Papal social teaching has yet to come to terms fully with modernity. But what is at stake concretely in this observation is the tradition's inability or unwillingness to transcend a bias inherent in the feudal, agrarian society of Medieval Europe. This bias identifies morality with stability, fixed social classes and generalized cultural immobility."
B. Andrew Lustig. Harvard Theological Review (1990) 445-46. "I would argue that the requirements of the common good espoused by recent papal teaching are based upon appeals to justice rather than charity.... invocations of both charity and justice may plausibly lead to identical conclusions regarding duties to provide for basic welfare needs. Yet, Catholic teaching has long spoken of such duties as matter of justice. Given the usual notions of 'discretion' involved in charity as an imperfect duty, the vocabulary of justice more accurately captures the 'obligations' incumbent upon persons and institutions to meet the needs of all, as dictated by primary natural-law directives."
Sean McDonagh, S.S.C. The Greening of the Church (1990) pp. 175, 187. "It is a fact of recent history that the Catholic Church has been slow to recognize the gravity of the ecological problems facing the earth.... It is not easy to find any reference to the environment among the mountains of documents that have come from Rome in recent decades.... Happily, in 1988 Sollicitudo Rei Socialis did introduce the issue in papal teaching in a fairly substantial way. Nevertheless, it is as well to remember that almost every other institution in the world had moved on the issue before the Catholic Church."
Liam Ryan. Furrow (1991) 90. "Each Pope likes to present his teaching as in direct continuity with his predecessors; indeed it is not the practice of any kind of government to admit that it has changed its policy. What the Popes have done over the past one hundred years is to establish a tradition of social concern, a strong and compelling commitment to certain basic values. These values are grounded in basic truths about the human person, the nature of society and the role of the Church. Beyond this there is little evidence to suggest that the Popes followed a unified strategy in pursuit of social reform. The evolving social, political and economic circumstances, as well as the personalities of the Popes themselves, have brought changes in teaching that are more than clarifications or adaptations."
Joe Nangle, O.F.M. Sojourners (1991) 6-7. One anomaly facing the Catholic Church as it celebrates 100 years of social teaching is the almost total ignorance of these teachings on the part of U.S Catholics. Another anomaly is the contradiction between the church's social teaching and its official policy toward women within the church. "The very church that in many ways has provided leadership against social ills carries out a system of apartheid within its own ranks."
Peter J. Henriot, S.J. National Catholic Reporter (1991) 28, 20. "Integral development is a religious task, the work of ongoing creation. Because of its full vision of the human person, Catholic social teachings have a perspective on development that could be called decidedly religious, i.e., a faith perspective. I believe this perspective is rooted in the clear rejection by Catholic social teachings of any sort of dualism. Christians simply deny their faith in the Incarnation when they make artificial and unnecessary splits between this world and the next world, between the material and the spiritual, between the temporal and the eternal, between the secular and the sacred, between body and soul."
William A. Rusher (20 May 1991). "To American conservatives, one of the most frustrating facts of political life has long been the steadfast refusal of the Roman Catholic Church to extend its wholehearted approval to the concept of capitalism.... Especially since the onset of the Cold War, which for all practical purposes offered mankind the alternatives of a future under capitalism or a future under communism, conservatives have felt hurt that the church, while condemning communism roundly enough, refused to confer its unqualified blessing on capitalism.
Charles K. Wilber. "Argument That Pope 'Baptized' Capitalism Holds No Water." National Catholic Reporter 27 (7 June 1991) 10. "Implied in Catholic social thought is a preference for a regulated market economy that protects the poor, defends human rights, allows all to participate in social groups such as trade unions and controls market failures such as environmental pollution. The degree of regulation is not a matter of principle, but rather a case of prudential judgment in particular cases."
Paul Surlis. National Catholic Reporter (21 June 1991) 22. "At present, the pope's power--modeled on that of the ancient emperor--is universal, producing doctrine, appointing nuncios and bishops and aligning itself at will with power and wealth even while verbally maintaining aspects of an option for the poor and marginalized."
Fred Kammer, S.J. Doing Faithjustice (1991) 115-16. Two shifts have taken place in Catholic social thought. In the earlier decades the focus was upon the plight of the industrial workers of Europe and North America; this focus has now shifted to the nations of the southern hemisphere. Secondly, there has been a shift away from an 'acceptance,' without formal endorsement, of capitalism. Pope Leo XIII's initial acceptance was gradually changed by the doubts of Pius XI, by Pius XII's recognition of capitalism's tie to egoism, and by John XXIII's call for its reform. Paul VI seemed to take a posture of greater neutrality on both capitalism and communism, and John Paul II has attempted to distance the church from the dominant political and economic schools of both east and west. "The church endorses no third way between the two dominant systems, but assumes a prophetic stance vis-a-vis all systems."
Donal Dorr. The Social Justice Agenda (1991) 93. "The Church does not have a 'blueprint' for the ideal society. What the Church has to offer is not a system but certain values and principles that must be respected in any system that claims to be truly human."
Michael J. Schuck. That They Be One (1991) 134-35. "Whereas earlier encyclicals presented God through the pastoral image of Christ the Good Shepherd and the cosmological image of a creating and sustaining Father of the Universe, (the later) letters accentuate the image of God as dialogical Spirit." This "encourages a new papal perspective on the world. Unlike earlier images of the world as a necessary, yet ominous, pasture and a cosmic structure of divinely actuated causes and entities, (the later) letters regularly present the world as the cultural, physical and historical context for God's conversational pilgrimage with humanity."
S. Prakash Sethi and Paul Steidlmeier, in O. F. Williams and J. W. Houck, eds., The Making of an Economic Vision (1991) 357. "When John Paul II was elected in 1978, the capitalist world generally breathed a sigh of relief. The business community was clearly out of sorts with Paul VI, especially since 1967 when he criticized historical patterns of 'development' as unjust and seemingly veered to the left. The issue now as then is world poverty and what causes it. The business community resents being associated with causing or exacerbating poverty. It would much prefer the approach of Pius XII in 1950 when he wrote On Human Misery. Pius XII wrote a clear condemnation of poverty but remained clearly aligned with the political economic institutions of the West prevailing at the time. Since Pius XII the Catholic Church is no longer the steadfast ally of capitalism (and) Pope John Paul II criticizes it for its imperialist tendencies."
Pamela K. Brubaker. "Economic Justice for Whom? Women Enter the Dialogue" (1991) 103-05. "The primary conceptual reason for the marginality of women's needs and experiences within Roman Catholic papal teaching and liberation theology is the perpetuation of a static, natural-law view of women's nature.... Earlier papal teaching, which Pope John Paul II has recalled, legitimates and perpetuates women's economic vulnerability and dependency by insisting that nature destines women to be mothers and that this role is incompatible with participation in the labor force.... In this view of womanhood the ability to give birth totally defines a woman's personhood.... Furthermore, neither the economic value nor the physical character of household labor and child care is generally recognized.... Such views prevent Roman Catholic social teaching from recognizing women's economic inequality, because women's economic dependency is seen as 'natural.'"
John S. Pobee. Ecumenical Review (1991) 418-19. "It is striking that neither Rerum Novarum nor Centesimus Annus were made in union with other churches even though the issues faced both parties in the one world.... I am happy for the land-marking social statements by the church of Rome. But since injustice and violence administered to Protestants and Roman Catholics are not different, I submit it will be a greater witness to the one God to have all churches speak with one voice on social issues. For on those there is but one question: 'Thou shalt have no other gods but me.' That is the basic ecumenical issue around which all social issues should be faced."
Gregory Baum. "An Ethical Critique of Capitalism" (1991) 80-81. "Catholic social teaching is not without its ambiguities. Because of the effort to preserve a certain continuity with past teaching, there are passages in the contemporary documents that continue to promote a corporatist approach to society. Conflict and struggle then appear as brief interruptions of an underlying harmony, to be repaired by concessions on the part of the powerful, compromises on both sides, and the creation of a new consensus. Another ambiguity is the fact that in most situations the Catholic Church applies its own social teaching in neither its internal organization nor its social counsel. Many bishops nominated by John Paul II in Third World countries and in the developed countries have tended to be conservative personalities, defenders of the status quo, indifferent or hostile to the new social teaching."
J. Bryan Hehir. "Catholic Social Teaching: Content, Character and Challenges" (1991) 10-11. "Because the letters of Leo XIII and Pius XI explicitly contrasted Catholic social teaching with Liberal Capitalism and Marxist Socialism, many commentators concluded that the social teaching sought a 'Third Way' between the available alternatives for organizing a social system. Paul VI sought to dispel this notion in Octogesima Adveniens as he depicted the role of social teaching more in the style of a normative framework. The teaching would indicate key values to be pursued, establish criteria and rules of judgment and enter into dialogue with every social system. John Paul II has been explicit in his rejection of a 'Third Way,' describing the social teaching as a theological guide which can be used to assess the limits of any social system and provide a direction for change and reform."
Hugh Lacey. "Catholic Social Thought and Economic Systems: Capitalism and Socialism" (1991) p. 153. "Catholic social thought has come to accept the irreversibility of the central developments of modernity and to celebrate some of its achievements (but) it keeps before us important 'moral facts' including that vast numbers of people live under grossly inhuman conditions, and that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening.... For Catholic social thought, it is not important to address the question, 'Which of the two systems, capitalism and socialism, enables the fullest embodiment of the social values of the traditions?' That question removes attention from the 'moral facts,' and posing it risks linking the Kingdom of God with a particular system. The important question is: 'What possible systemic reforms, developments and transformations are available to redress the moral facts in their concrete detail?'"
Arthur Jones. Capitalism and Christians: Tough Gospel Challenges in a Troubled World Economy. New York: Paulist Press, 1992, p. 41. "The century of papal writing since Leo XIII's landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891, and culminating in John Paul II's centennial response to it, Centesimus Annus, rejects capitalism's benevolent view of itself and dismisses without qualification that it has a claim on the Judeo-Christian heritage."
George E. McCarthy and Royal W. Rhodes. Eclipse of Justice (1992) 185. "The encyclicals, even the current ones, omit references to notable laity who have written on and worked for social justice, including the noble laymen who inspired Leo XIII. And while footnoting the Fathers of the Church, no mention has ever been made of the Mothers of the Church who have also contributed significantly to the church's thinking on charity and justice."
Denis Goulet. Cross Currents (Winter 1992-93) 514. "The Catholic Church has shifted attitude in its social teaching: it now condemns political apathy and is actively committed to the humanization of life and to world justice. These shifts in attitude are paralleled by changes in methodology. Encyclicals and pastoral letters have evolved in how they present their teaching, moving away from an extrinsic, deductive, unidisciplinary method to a more intrinsic, inductive, and pluridisciplinary one. The church presents itself, no longer as a perfect society, but as the people of God inserted in history and engaged in reading the signs of the times.... One also discerns a move away from a narrow interpretation of natural law to a broader search for whatever is true in all human sciences: anthropology, medicine, political science, or the testimony of experience.... And Catholic social teaching centers ever more on pastoral planning and action."
George G. Higgins, with William Bole. Organized Labor and the Church: Reflections of a "Labor Priest." New York: Paulist Press, 1993, pp. 194-195. "It has become rather fashionable in neo-conservative circles to denigrate the social encyclicals and related documents." At a seminar some years ago "several participants, Catholic scholars among them, repeatedly charged that the encyclicals of Leo XIII and Pius XI and especially those of John XXIII and Paul VI betray a thorough misunderstanding of contemporary capitalist economic theory and practice.... Some neo-conservatives, mainly Catholics, have taken a different tack. They have rummaged the social documents for anything that may sound like an endorsement of American-style capitalism. A few have gone further by trying to play the popes, especially John Paul II, off against the American bishops in the area of Catholic social teaching."
Oliver F. Williams, C.S.C.. Williams and Houck, eds., Catholic Social Thought and the New World Order (1993) 8-16. There are four features of Catholic social teaching which clearly embody a moderate communitarianism: 1) "Rights, while important, are not always viewed as absolute but are seen in the context of their role of promoting and protecting human dignity in community." 2) "The market has an important though limited function in society." 3) "The state has an important though limited function in society." 4) "Individuality is shaped by social institutions, and institutions that corrupt people's character need to be reformed while those engendering desirable character traits ought to be strengthened."