Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - August 20, 2020 - 12:00am

This is a book that teachers, Catholic clergy, members of Catholic religious orders and Catholic students and intellectuals should read. It has been described, unfortunately, as the Catholic Church’s best kept secret. I am still surprised that I have met many Catholic priests, brothers, nuns and teachers who are not aware, or at best vaguely aware, of this body of the teachings of the Church.

Today, the world is being ideologically torn apart again by conflicting ideologies. The belief in populism and fascism is increasing world wide. Liberal democracy is losing its attraction because it has failed to address the worsening income inequality in the world. Capitalism has also lost its attraction for the masses who, unfortunately, have turned to worst alternatives like dictatorships and authoritarianism. The business class continues to insist that capitalism and the “trickle down” theory still works. Traditional economists continue to contend that if the economic pie gets bigger everyone, including the poor, will benefit because the wealth of the rich will eventually trickle down to the poorest of the poor. This school of economists continues to insist that economies should focus on increasing Gross Domestic Product and then let the market mechanism take care of wealth distribution.

Pope Francis has already said several times that “trickle down” does not work. Some business leaders have proposed that the solution is to change the purpose of the corporation from being centered on shareholder to one that is centered on all the stakeholders. I have heard these words for the past several years. For those who want to understand why the elite cannot change the world of inequality,  I recommend that you read WINNERS TAKE ALL: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas.

I have been asked what is the alternative to capitalism, communism, populism and all the other “isms” that are destroying the social and economic fabrics of the world. I have a single answer. I always propose Catholic Social Teaching. This is the body of social principles and moral teaching  that is articulated in the papal, conciliar and other official documents dealing with the economic, political and social order.

The first of these social encyclicals was RERUM NOVARUM ( or the Condition of Labor) issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. This addresses the plight of the workers in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. It calls for the protection of the weak and the poor through the pursuit of justice while excluding communism and class struggle as legitimate principles of change. It affirms the dignity of work, the right to private property and the right to form and join labor unions. Several have been issued through the years; the last two by Pope Francis.

There are many books and articles on this topic. For those who are just going to start their learning on this topic, I suggest you begin with the book AN INTRODUCTION TO CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING by Father Rodger Charles. It is only a 111-page book and is a very handy guide to this topic. This would be very helpful to teachers who want to bring up this topic in their respective classes.

The social encyclicals are stand alone readings and lessons since they were written and published by Popes since 1898 to the present Pope Francis. What the author did he explained as: “The literary genre to which the social documents (especially encyclicals) belong does not encourage crispness and conciseness of language. I have added introduction to and commentaries on each section where needed in order to weave the whole together.”

The book is divided into three Chapters: Ethics and Civil Society; Ethics and Political Society; Ethics and Economic Society. Each chapter is further divided into several sub-chapters or sections. As you go through this handbook, you will find passages that will demand discussion and clarifications. For example quoting from Libertatis Conscientia:

“It is perfectly legitimate for those who suffer persecution by the wealthy or the politically powerful to take action through morally legitimate means in order to secure structures  and institutions in which their right will be truly respected.”

The chapter on the Economic Society will definitely raise a lot of debate among the business and managerial class. The social teachings warn against the dangers of consumerism. From the encyclical Centesimus Annus:

“In the earliest stages of development, man always lived under the weight of necessity. His needs were few. The problem today is of consumerism. It is not wrong to want to live better. What is wrong is a style of life which wants more in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. In consumerism, people are ensnared in a web of false and superficial gratification rather than being helped to experience their personhood in an authentic way.”

Catholic Social Teaching does not believe in Marxism or the command economy. This is thoroughly explained in the book. At the same time, it does not see capitalism as the alternative. In Quadragesimo Anno:

“Individualistic economic teaching held that economic life must be considered as free and independent of public authority because the market would have the principle of self direction which governs it more perfectly, but free competition, while justified and useful in certain limits cannot curb itself. Social justice and social charity must govern it firmly and fully.”

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An Invitation for Young Writers, ages 8-15:

Young Writers’ Hangout is back! Zoom with us on Aug. 29, 2-3 p.m. Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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