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Rerum Novarum
Vatican Library
Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, on the Condition of Labor, May 15, 1891 The Modern era of Catholic social teaching begins with Rerum Novarum. With varying success, Catholic clergy and laity had attempted to apply the teaching of the Church to problems of poverty and justice in the nineteenth century world of industry and labor. When he was a papal diplomat in Belgium, the future Pope Leo XIII had seen the abject condition of working people, so often caught between exploitation by unbridled capitalism and the temptation to submit to the rising power of socialism, or revolutionary Marxism or anarchism. On a natural law foundation, Pope Leo XIII defends the rights of workers, the need for justice and solidarity, but at the same time he affirms the natural right to private property — a balance that will carry Catholic social teaching through the economic and social crises of the twentieth century and the rise and fall of communism.
Quadragesimo Anno
Vatican Library
Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, on the Reconstruction of the Social Order, May 15, 1931 In the midst of the great depression, in the age of dictators and ruthless totalitarian systems of the right and the left, Pope Pius XI celebrates the fortieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum. He reaffirms the principles set out by Leo XIII and applies them to the current situation. His teaching shows how Catholic social doctrine develops and becomes more specific, even as it maintains its great principles: peace and justice, solidarity, the common good, subsidiarity, the right to property, the right to associate and the fundamental role of the family in society. But by affirming human rights, Quadragesimo Anno paved the way this courageous Pope’s attacks on Nazism (Mit brennender sorge, 1937) on Soviet communism (Divini Redemptoris, 1937), Italian fascism (Non abbiamo bisogno, 1938) and masonic anticlericalism in Mexico (Nos es muy concida, 1938).
Mater et Magistra
Vatican Library
Encyclical of Pope John XXIII, on Christianity and Social Progress, May 15, 1961 Published at the end of the post-war era, on the seventieth anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Mater et Magistra expresses the deep concern of a beloved Pope for justice. The Church was preparing for the Second Vatican Council in a decade of prosperity and hope, mingled with cold war tensions. Pope John XXIII welcomes new systems of social welfare and social security, while rejecting inordinate state control. He repeats the teaching of Pope Pius XII in favor of small business enterprises, based on the principle of subsidiarity. But he raises the problem of the growing disparity between rich and poor nations, a trend too evident amidst rapid developments of industry, trade and technology in the second half of the century.
Pacem in Terris
Vatican Library
Encyclical of Pope John XXIII, on Peace on Earth, April 11, 1963 Teaching on peace and war is an important recurring theme in the social magisterium of all the modern Popes. Several months before his death, in the midst of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII appeals for peace. He speaks in the year following the Cuban crisis, perhaps the most dangerous phase of the cold war, when a global nuclear holocaust was a real threat. This was also an era when colonial systems were being dismantled in many nations, at times with tragic strife, involving racism, tribalism, and the brutal application of Marxist ideology. To advance a peaceful social order, Pope John favors the participation of people in decisions affecting the common good, especially through democratic processes.
Dignitatis Humanae
Vatican Library
Vatican II, Declaration on Religious Liberty, December 7, 1965 The Declaration on Religious Liberty later became one of the most widely discussed documents of the Council. A major purpose behind Dignitatis Humanae was to affirm the right to religious freedom for Christians and members of other religions who were suffering persecution in communist countries. However, people of widely differing opinions saw it as a complete break with the past model of a Catholic state. Nevertheless, this important declaration has also been prudently interpreted as a development which would maintain the right of a nation to establish and promote a Catholic social order while expecting the religious freedom of all citizens.
Gaudium et Spes
Vatican Library
Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, December 7, 1965 With the optimistic opening words “Joy and hope…,” the Fathers of the Council brought together in a distinctive pastoral constitution their considered reflections on the Church in the world of the mid-twentieth century. At the same time, they applied the moral and social teachings of the Church to the hopes and challenges they experienced in their own nations at that time.
Populorum Progressio
Vatican Library
Encyclical of Pope Paul VI, on the Development of Peoples, March 26, 1967 Pope Paul VI speaks on behalf of the millions of peoples of developing nations, the men and women of the third world. Confronting the ever-widening disparity between rich and poor nations, he affirms that justice is inseparable from development. The encyclical encouraged many Catholics to make a preferential option for the poor and to take up the cause of the helpless and the oppressed. Populorum Progressio also includes a rejection of population control, an unfashionable position to take in the years when demographic trends were still largely interpreted in an alarmist way.
Octogesima Adveniens
Vatican Library
Apostolic Letter of Pope Paul VI, Commemorating Rerum Novarum, May 15, 1971 Continuing the tradition of marking major anniversaries of Rerum Novarum with a papal document, Pope Paul VI takes up problems characteristic of the seventies in an apostolic letter to Cardinal Maurice Roy. The letter compliments the strong appeal for social justice in Populorum Progressio by taking into account the continuing menace of communism and other serious preoccupations such as urbanization, racial discrimination, new technologies and the role of the Christian in politics.
Justice in the World Synod of Bishops, Second General Assembly, November 30, 1971 The bishops, gathered in Rome for the 1971 Synod, gave voice to the desire of millions of people in developing countries not only for an end to poverty and oppression, but for everlasting peace and true justice. In the Church, as in the world, justice is to be maintained and promoted. The call of the bishops includes references to the right to life, the rights of women and the need for education for justice.
Laborem Exercens
Vatican Library
Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, on the Dignity of Work, September 14, 1981 In Poland, the future Pope John Paul II experienced the world of manual labor himself and the suffering of his people under Nazism and communism. Drawing on Catholic social teaching and his profound Christian personalism, he sets forth the dignity of human work in the divine plan as well as our problems with work and ways to resolve them. This encyclical was written after the Pope had survived an assassination attempt and when the Solidarity movement was directly challenging communism in Poland, events which opened the way for the collapse of a system based on a false doctrine of human nature and a misunderstanding of the purpose of work.
Theology of Liberation
Vatican Library
Instruction by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 6, 1984 Notwithstanding its decay in the communist states, Marxism was still regarded as a viable option in situations of poverty and oppression in Latin America. In fashioning a liberation theology, some Catholic theologians used Marxism to re-write Catholic social teaching and promote revolutionary action and social practice. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explains the errors inherent in such an attempt to combine Marxism and Christianity.
Christian Freedom and Liberation
Vatican Library
Instruction by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, March 2, 1986 Completing the task begun in the previous document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explores the deeper meaning of freedom and liberation in Catholic theology and social doctrine. Theologians are to offer a consistent interpretation of freedom and liberation in the light of the Gospel. Avoiding Marxist dogma and dialectic, they must respond to the needs and injustices suffered by the poor and the oppressed.
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis
Vatican Library
Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, on the Twentieth Anniversary of Populorum Progressio, December 30, 1987 Just before the startling social and political changes in Eastern Europe, Pope John Paul II delineates the need for solidarity and freedom, for true justice and a better way beyond either socialism or free-market capitalism. He re-focuses Catholic social doctrine around the meaning and value of the human person. With a global vision of the social changes he observed among the nations, the most widely-traveled Pope in history also denounces the burden of debt incurred by developing nations and the new imperialism of population control which was being imposed on them. (cf. n. 25)
Centesimus Annus
Vatican Library
Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Commemorating the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, May 15, 1991 The chapter headed “1989” provides the dramatic historical context for the encyclical marking the centenary of Rerum Novarum. The year 1989 was a turning-point in world history. The world marveled at the sudden collapse of communism, first in Eastern Europe and then in the Soviet Union which broke up into separate sovereign states soon after a failed communist coup in August 1991. The key figure in the midst of the most dramatic political and social change of the century was Pope John Paul II himself. The Pope does not hesitate to go to the roots of the failure of Marxist ideology, but at the same time he strongly criticizes the prevailing economic rationalism of the liberal west. This was one of the most widely discussed papal documents of the late twentieth century.
Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life
Vatican Library
Instruction by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, November 24, 2002 This doctrinal note recalls some principles broadly set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part III, Chapter 2, The Human Community, Article 1, Article 2 and Article 3, to recall some principles proper to the Christian conscience, which inspire the social and political involvement of Catholics in democratic societies. Cardinal Ratzinger states: 2 “A kind of cultural relativism exists today, evident in the conceptualization and defence of an ethical pluralism, which sanctions the decadence and disintegration of reason and the principles of the natural moral law.” This is the Catholic politician who says, “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but cannot impose my religious beliefs on my constituents.” Cardinal Ratzinger emphasizes, 4 “John Paul II, continuing the constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a «grave and clear obligation to oppose» any law that attacks human life.” The document makes clear that a Catholic politician is not faced with an all-or-nothing dilemma. As John Paul II has taught in his Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae regarding the situation in which it is not possible to overturn or completely repeal a law allowing abortion which is already in force or coming up for a vote, «an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality».”
Address of John Paul II to the Members of the International Catholic Union of the Press
Vatican Library
Address by Pope John Paul II, December 6, 2002 This brief but important address explains what it means to be a Catholic journalist. “Quite simply, it means being a person of integrity, an individual whose personal and professional life reflects the teachings of Jesus and the Gospel. It means striving for the highest ideals of professional excellence, being a man or woman of prayer who seeks always to give the best that they have to offer. It means having the courage to seek and report the truth, even when the truth is inconvenient or is not considered “politically correct”. It means being sensitive to the moral, religious and spiritual aspects of human life, aspects which are often misunderstood or deliberately ignored. It means reporting not only the misdeeds and tragedies that take place, but also the positive and uplifting actions performed on behalf of those in need: the poor, the sick, the handicapped, the weak, those who are otherwise forgotten by society. It means offering examples of hope and heroism to a world that is in desperate need of both.”
Views of the Holy See on Human Cloning
Holy See Mission Library
The Holy See Mission, February 2003 The Holy See firmly supports a world-wide and comprehensive ban on human cloning, no matter what techniques are used and what aims are pursued. Its position is based on (1) biological analysis of the cloning process and (2) anthropological, social, ethical and legal reflection on the negative implications that human cloning has on the life, the dignity, and the rights of the human being.
Caritas in Veritate
Vatican Library
Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, on Integral Human Development in Charity and Truth, June 29, 2009 Caritas in Veritate reflects on Pope Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio 40 years ago and John Paul II’s Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 20 years ago, discussing the global financial crisis in the context of the widespread relativism rampant in today’s world. Pope Benedict XVI summarizes: 4″In the present social and cultural context, where there is a widespread tendency to relativize truth, practising charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development.” In brief, with Christ as the center of our understanding, we have a firm basis in truth to understand the universal destination of goods CCC 2402-2406. Benedict looks beyond the traditional categories of market power on the right and state power on the left. Observing that 37 “every economic decision has a moral consequence,” Benedict emphasizes economic arrangements focused on the dignity of the ordinary man. He declares that 40 “there is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference.”But he adds that 66 “the consumer has a specific social responsibility, which goes hand-in- hand with the social responsibility of the enterprise. Consumers should be continually educated regarding their daily role, which can be exercised with respect for moral principles without diminishing the intrinsic economic rationality of the act of purchasing.” He cites as examples, 65 “credit unions” and 66 “forms of cooperative purchasing like the consumer cooperatives that have been in operation since the nineteenth century, partly through the initiative of Catholics.” I would also suggest the Ave Maria Mutual Funds as reflecting Benedict’s perspective. Overall, Caritas in Veritate is now the definitive summary of Catholic social teaching in the world today.

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