February 1992

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Central Themes... A preliminary summary by the United States Catholic Conference

    1. Centesimus Annus affirms and strengthens the Church's social teaching as an essential part of the gospel message and as a basis for action:

"To teach and spread her social doctrine pertains to the Church's evangelizing mission and is an essential part of the Christian message; since this doctrine points out the direct consequences of that message in the life of society ... The 'new evangelization, which the modern world urgently needs and which I have emphasized many times, must include among its essential elements a proclamation of the Church's social doctrine. (5)

"The Church's social teaching is itself a valid instrument of evangelization..." (54) The Church "devotes herself with ever new energies and methods to an evangelization which promotes the whole human being." (55)

    2. Centesimus Annus reaffirms the dignity of work defends the rights of workers and supports the role of unions:

"The key to reading the encyclical (Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum) is the dignity of the worker as such, and for the same reason, the dignity of work..." (6)

The right to employment: "The obligation to earn one's bread by the sweat of one's brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, nor can the society attain social peace." (43)

Just wage: "A 'just wage'... should be sufficient "to enable" workers to support themselves and their families. (8)

The Pope strongly affirms "the right to establish professional associations" and "the Church's defense and approval" of trade unions.

"The role of trade unions in negotiating minimum salaries and working conditions is decisive..." The Pope also refers to the role of unions, "not only in negotiating contracts, but also as 'places' where workers can express themselves. Unions serve the development of an authentic culture of work and help workers to share in a fully human way in the life of their place of employment." (15)

Trade unions "defend workers rights and protect their interests as persons, while fulfilling a vital cultural role, so as to enable workers to participate more fully and honourably in the life of their nation and to assist them along the path of development." (35)

    3. Centesimus Annus says the market economy appears to be the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources, but says it must be governed by principles of justice, directed to meeting basic human needs, and oriented to the common good:

"The modern business economy has positive aspects (32) ...But there are many human needs which find no place on the market. It is a strict duty of justice and truth not to allow fundamental human needs to remain unsatisfied, and not to allow those burdened by such needs to perish." (34)

"Certainly the mechanisms of the market offer secure advantages: They help to utilize resources better; they promote the exchange of products ...Nevertheless, these mechanisms carry the risk of an 'idolatry' of the market, an idolatry which ignores the existence of goods which by their nature are not and cannot be mere commodities." (40)

"In spite of the great changes which have taken place in the more advanced societies, the human inadequacies of capitalism and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing." (33)

"...What is being proposed as an alternative is ... a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation. Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the state, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.

"The Church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well ... But profitability is not the only indicator of a firm's condition. It is possible for the financial accounts to be in order and yet for the people - who make the firm's most valuable asset - to be humiliated and their dignity offended." (35)

"Can it perhaps be said that ...capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? ...The answer is obviously complex ... If by capitalism is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect o that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative." (42)

Bishops Give Priority to Social Justice Ministry

At a meeting of the Canadian Catholic bishops (CCCB) last August, a day and a half was spent on the Church's Social Teaching. The following recommendations arose from their workshop:

    that social teaching and social justice ministry be priorities at both the CCCB and diocesan levels;
    that the CCCB's Social Affairs office develop a newsletter to communicate information on social justice ministry;
    that a greater focus on social justice concerns be given in homilies and in the catechetical teaching which occurs in parishes.

    4. Centesimus Annus calls for major new efforts to provide opportunity and meet the basic needs of the poor, especially those in the Third World and societies emerging from Communism:

"It is necessary to break down the barriers and monopolies which leave so many countries on the margins of development, and to provide all individuals and nations with the basic conditions which will enable them to share in development ... Stronger nations must offer weaker ones opportunities for taking their place in international life..." (35)

"...A great effort is needed to rebuild morally and economically the countries which have abandoned Communism (27) This need, however, must not lead to a slackening of efforts to sustain and assist the countries of the Third World, which often suffer even more serious conditions of poverty and want ...Enormous resources can be made available by disarming the huge military machines which were constructed for the conflict between East and West. These resources could become even more abundant if, in place of war, reliable procedures for the resolution of conflicts could be set up ... But it will be necessary above all to abandon a mentality in which the poor as individuals and as peoples are considered a burden..." (28)

"...Too many people live, not in the prosperity of the western world but in the poverty of the developing countries amid conditions which are still 'a yoke little better than that of slavery itself..."' (61)

"Peace and prosperity, in fact, are goods which belong to the whole human race: it is not possible to enjoy them in a proper and lasting way if they are achieved and maintained at the cost of other peoples and nations, by violating their rights or excluding them from the sources of well-being." (27)

Ontario Bishops Draft Social Justice Letter

A six-page document, "100 Years of Catholic Social Teaching", was released by the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops (OCCB) to mark the 100th anniversary of the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum.
This document is available at OCCB, 67 Bond St., Suite 304, Toronto, ON, M5B 1X5.

    5. Centesimus Annus calls for the world to find concrete alternatives to war and build a culture of peace:

"I myself, on the occasion of the recent tragic war in the Persian Gulf, repeated the cry: 'Never again war... No, never again war, which destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution of the very problems which provoked the war ... Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that at the root of war there are usually real and serious grievances: injustices suffered, legitimate aspirations frustrated, poverty, and the exploitation of multitudes of desperate people who see no real possibility of improving their lot by peaceful means.

"For this reason, another name for peace is development. Just as there is a collective responsibility for avoiding war, so too there is a collective responsibility for promoting development." (52)

"...True peace is never simply the result of military victory, but rather implies both the removal of the causes of war and genuine reconciliation between peoples." (18)

"The United Nations ... has not yet succeeded in establishing, as alternatives to war, effective means for the resolution of international conflicts. This seems to be the most urgent problem which the international community has yet to resolve." (21)

"May people learn to fight for justice without violence, renouncing class struggle in their internal disputes, and war in international ones." (23)

    6. Centesimus Annus reaffirms and strengthens the Church's option for the poor and calls for authentic liberation and solidarity:

"...The more that individuals are defenseless within a given society, the more they require the care and concern of others, and in particular the intervention of governmental authority." (10)

"Love for others, and in the first place love for the poor, in whom the church sees Christ himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice ...It is not merely a matter of 'giving from one's surplus, but of helping entire peoples which are presently excluded or marginalized to enter into the sphere of economic and human development. For this to happen, it is not enough to draw on the surplus goods which in fact our world abundantly produces; it requires above all a change of lifestyles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies." (58)

"To those who are searching today for a new and authentic theory and praxis of liberation, the Church offers not only her social doctrine and, in general, her teaching about the human person redeemed in Christ, but also her concrete commitment and material assistance in the struggle against marginalization and suffering." (26)


"A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its; functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good."

Centesimus Annus, no. 94

    7. Centesimus Annus outlines the responsibilities and limitations of the state, emphasizing basic human rights, subsidiary, the role of intermediary groups, and the common good:

"...The state has the duty of watching over the common good and of ensuring that every sector of social life, not excluding the economic one, contributes to achieving that good while respecting the autonomy of each sector." (11)

"Rerum Novarum is opposed to state control of the means of production, which would reduce every citizen to being a 'cog' in the state machine. It is no less forceful in criticizing a concept of the state which completely excludes the economic sector from the state's range of interest and action.-The state has the task of determining the juridical framework within which economic affairs are to be conducted...

"In this regard, Rerum Novarum points the way to just reforms which can restore dignity to work as the free activity of man. These reforms imply that society and the state will both assume responsibility, especially for protecting the worker from the nightmare of unemployment...

International Debt

"The principle that debts must be paid is certainly just. However, it is not right to demand or expect payment when the effect would be the imposition of political choices leading to hunger and despair for entire peoples. It cannot be expected that the debts which have been contracted should be paid at the price of unbearable sacrifices. In such cases it is necessary to find - as in fact is partly happening - ways to lighten, defer or even cancel the debt, compatible with the fundamental right of peoples to subsistence and progress."

Centesimus Annus, no.35

"Furthermore, society and the state must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family ... This requires a continuous effort to improve workers' training and capability ... as well as careful controls to block shameful forms of exploitation, especially to the disadvantage of the most vulnerable workers, of immigrants and of those on the margins of society." (15)

"Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society." (48)

The Pope warns against a "social assistance state" which leads to a "loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies..." (48)

"It is the task of the state to provide for the defense and preservation of common goods such as the natural and human environments, which cannot be safeguarded simply by market forces." (40)


"Sharing the Tradition, Integrating the Message, Shaping the Future ", A Report on the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum to the Catholic Bishops of the United States. For copies write to the United States Catholic Conference, Dept. of Social Development & World Peace, 3211 Fourth Street, NE, Washington, DC 20017.

Leaven of Hope: 100 Years of Catholic Social Teaching. This new video traces some of the major themes in Catholic social teaching over the past century. It emphasizes key statements that relate directly to our lives today. Order from the Communications Centre, 9761 - 47 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, T6E 5M7. (403) 437-0830. $29.95 plus 8% postage and handling.

Development In Catholic Social Teaching

    From concern with charity to concern with justice. The effort to help victims led to an effort to change the situations that created victims.
    From a grassroots movement to official teaching.
    From a reaction to evils to positive proposals for a better economy...
    From concern with industrialized countries to concern with world poverty.
    From a focus on economics to a theology of this world.
    From an authoritarian attitude to one of dialogue...
    From a concern with development to a concern with liberation...
    From an alliance with authority to an option for the poor...

The more recent social documents are prophetic ...coming from a Church profoundly aware of her right and duty to speak out loudly on social questions. She is consciously and deliberately applying the Word of God to these questions...

Recent social documents use more "social facts"...this brings the documents closer to the real world, and introduces a note of dialogue with people of good will.

Taken from "SOLIDARITY: Christian Social Teaching and Canadian Society", by Professor Michael Ryan, (1990) Guided Study Programs, Box 2400, London, Ontario, N6A 4G3.

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