Catholic Social Teaching is "a Work in Progress"

by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Descriptive Title

Msgr. Diarmuid Martin Intervention on the "New Policies and Life-Styles in the Digital Age”


On April 18, 2018, in the Holy See Press Office, a press conference was held to present the activity of the “Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice” Foundation (to promote awareness of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church) on the occasion of its 25th Anniversary and of the International Convention “New Policies and Life-Styles in the Digital Age”, which will take place in Rome in Palazzo della Cancelleria from 24 to 26 May 2018. The speakers were: H.E. Msgr. Diarmuid Martin, archbishop of Dublin; Dr. Domingo Sugranyes Bickel, president of the Board of the “Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice” Foundation; and Professor Anna Maria Tarantola, member of the Administration Board of the “Centesimus Annus – Pro Pontifice” Foundation and delegate of the Board of the Foundation’s Scientific Committee.

Publisher & Date

Vatican, April 18, 2018

One of my mentors, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who was President of the then Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, during my time as Under-Secretary and later Secretary of that Council, used to say that with the publication of a social encyclical of the Pope the work of the preparation of the next social encyclical begins on the following morning.

The social teaching of the Church is by its nature always a work in progress. This is not to say that there are not some fundamental principles of the social teaching that are permanent in their nature. However, its application can vary in the face of the different social and political conditions of the times. The principles of the social teaching need to be applied and constantly deepened.

The social teaching of the Church is part of the discipline of moral theology, but moral theology cannot produce a handbook with all the answers to the social challenges of the times.

The social teaching inevitably involves dialogue with the social sciences and with economic and financial reflection, with political science and today more and more with ecological reflection. This is not to say that somehow the fundamental principles of the social teaching can be relativized by the development of the social sciences. The dialogue with the human sciences if anything brings about an enrichment of the social teaching. At times, this will involve a process of verification of some of the principles of the social teaching. In other cases, the social sciences will illustrate new areas of research that the social teaching needs to take into consideration. In further cases, the social sciences can be called on to reach out and attempt to present concrete paths for the application of the social teaching in concrete situations.

This is one of the original contributions of the Foundation& Centesimus Annus - Pro-Pontefice& as a vehicle of dialogue between the social teaching of the Church and the social sciences.

Ethics is a real dimension of the real social and political world. Ethics is not a sort of embellishment of social reflection that we can either take into account or ignore. The Foundation& Centesimus Annus& has since its establishment been a bridge between ethical principles and the teaching of the Church and the day to day challenges that policy makers and practitioners have to make in their decisions in the area of reform and governance of the international finance situation.

Pope Francis has consistently called for an urgent process of correction in the way the world economy works, especially to look at the causes of exclusion of the poorest and the development of economic models of inclusion.

Moral principles require pathways of application. These go beyond the necessary mandate of the moral teacher. Let me give one example. A perennial challenge regarding the current international financial climate is to focus on questions of equity. Many countries register sustained economic growth with overall benefit to the national economy. All too often, however, this growth is accompanied by increased inequality and huge and ever-growing differences between the richest and the poorest. Indeed one of the specific marks of today’s international system is the growth of the extremely wealthy whose share in the world’s wealth is staggering.

The challenge of generating and sustaining growth with equity is not just a challenge for the moralist. It is the task of economists and policy makers to develop and test new models of economic growth that will generate equity.

Another striking characteristic of our current model is the level of corruption that can permeate economic activity worldwide. The fight against corruption requires moral condemnation and legal measures to repress those responsible. Economists could also propose models of transparency that would reduce the opportunities for corruption. The poor pay the cost of corruption.

The dialogue between social teaching and economic models cannot just be one of top-down approaches. We have to invest in people. We talk of creativity and innovation as the backbone in the construction of a knowledge-based economy. Too often, however we tend to identify such creativity and innovation with the great protagonists of information technology. Too often, we overlook the one group that shows extraordinary innovation, namely, the poor, who show ingenuity simply through survival.

A fundamental principle of economic activity must be to allow the poor to have voice. Having voice is the key to inclusiveness and is also the key to a healthy, sustainable and participative economy.

In recent years, the Foundation& Centesimus Annus& has been involved in a process of consultation and reflection on the challenge of making the international financial architecture more focused on the common good. This became known at the& Dublin Processas the first session of that consultation took place in Dublin in 2014.

Ethics is a real dimension of economic activity. Behinds the technical examination of economic models lies a deeper debate about the ethical and socio cultural foundations of systems. This was stressed by Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical& Centesimus Annus& from which this Foundation draws its name. He noted:

“The economy in fact is only one aspect and one dimension of the whole of human activity. If economic life is absolutized, if the production and consumption of goods become the centre of social life and society's only value, not subject to any other value, the reason is to be found not so much in the economic system itself as in the fact that the entire socio-cultural system, by ignoring the ethical and religious dimension, has been weakened, and ends by limiting itself to the production of goods and services alone… Economic freedom is only one element of human freedom. When it becomes autonomous, when man is seen more as a producer or consumer of goods than as a subject who produces and consumes in order to live, then economic freedom loses its necessary relationship to the human person and ends up by alienating and oppressing him”

The Church has an original contribution to bring to the reality of our contemporary globalized economy. The Church is by its own nature global. It is global not just because of its geographical extension in every country of the world. The Constitution& Lumen Gentium& of the Second Vatican Council affirms something much more profound already in its opening paragraph:

“Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race”

The Church is a sign of the unity of the human race. This universal mission of the Church reminds us how the way in which the Church lives out her fundamental unity in Christ fosters the unity of humanity within its various technical and cultural ties.

Let me mention three special areas of reflection on economic life that the social teaching of the Church will always require a more central role in reflection on economic development.

The first is work. Alongside growth with inequality, the question of growth without jobs is a growing challenge in today’s world and will become so even more in the future. Youth unemployment has become a characteristic of many Western economies. We also have to address the challenge of the working poor, men and women who go out each day to work and yet do not earn what is needed for the survival of themselves and their families.

The second area is the family itself. The social teaching of the Church has always placed the role of the family in a central place in reflection on development. Pope John Paul noted in& Centesimus Annus:

“The first and fundamental structure for "human ecology" is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and thus what it actually means to be a person.

The place of the family within the complex modern economy will be one of the themes that will be developed at the World Meeting of Families that will be held in Dublin in August next which Pope Francis will attend.

The third theme is one that is very dear to Pope Francis and that is migration. Migration is an inbuilt component of a globalized world and of responsible global governance of a world economy. In that reflection the good of people and of families must be a key element.

The Church’s teaching and the social science are not in conflict. The social sciences must retain their autonomy but there is a sense in which Christians can be special protagonists within the social sciences. Lay Christians, men and women, have the specific responsibility for advancing the values of the kingdom in the secular world. Those who have collaborated in the activities of the Foundation& Centesimus Annus& since its establishment show how this is possible.

© Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2018

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