Cardinal Turkson: World Is Hungry for Catholic Social Teaching

«Catholic social teaching intends itself to be a gift that stimulates a profound and creative social conversation»

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Here is the full text of Cardinal Peter Turkson’s address at the conference «Giving Europe a Soul – European Unification in reconciled Diversity – Foundation of a social ethical network for Eastern and Central Europe.»

The conference is underway through Thursday in Poland.

Cardinal Turkson is the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

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Catholic Social Teaching: A beacon and leaven for Europe


On the eve of the new millennium, St John Paul II directed our attention to the Second Vatican Council as “a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.” Indeed, that great gathering of Bishops and others under St John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, recommended that the Church enter into dialogue with the world about its many different problems, as an expression of her solidarity and respectful affection for the human family to which she belongs.  For nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in the hearts of the followers of Christ.  

Accordingly,  Pope Paul VI created the Pontifical Commission «Iustitia et Pax» in 1967 to focus on justice and peace. In 1988, John Paul II renamed it Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and among its objectives he included «the deepening of the social teaching of the Church and an attempt to make it widely known and applied». I have the honour of serving as President of this Dicastery.

At the invitation of St Pope John Paul II, this Pontifical Council compiled the millennia-long social moral tradition of the Church, which published it in 2004 as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Two biblical images serve well as we explain to the world the gift that Catholic social teaching (CST) offers. Amidst changing times, CST shines like a beacon on the hill, radiating forth a transcendent vision of human dignity and fulfilment. CST is also “like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened» (Lk 13:21).  As leaven in the mass, CST brings vigour and growth to the efforts of all who seek together the common good.  It is a common point of reference that helps us to listen to each other; to appreciate our differences and speak beyond them; and to raise a common future. 

It is, therefore, a great pleasure for me to be with you today to consider how the Church’s social teaching can be a source of wisdom, inspiration and guidance. We shall first look at the fundamental values of human dignity and common good. Then come the principles which guide how we live together: solidarity and subsidiarity and, most profoundly, Pope Francis reminds us, fraternity. In practice, how do we appreciate and evaluate, how do we implement and process, the fundamental values and guidelines of CST?

Catholic Social Teaching – what can it offer? 

As a language of faith and reason, rooted in the Scriptures and in dialogue with the human sciences, the Church’s social tradition is as old as the Scriptures and the Church herself. It has grown over the centuries in response to society’s challenges, and it continues to do so today.

The biblical starting point of social teaching is the goodness of God’s creation, damaged but not destroyed by the Fall. In coming to save us, the God-man Christ entered into our world. Called to co-operate with God, we are likewise sent out into the world to cultivate and care for it, and to bring the new life of the redemption into all those areas marked by abuse, degradation and death. God’s grace enables us to resist whatever dehumanizes and to promote the greater good. 

Today, in order to re-humanize our fragile societies, we must begin to imagine economics and politics worthy of the human person. Accordingly, Pope Francis, addressing the participants of the 2014 World Economic Forum at Davos, emphasized 
… the importance that the various political and economic sectors have in promoting an inclusive approach which takes into consideration the dignity of every human person and the common good. I am referring to a concern that ought to shape every political and economic decision, but which at times seems to be little more than an afterthought. Those working in these sectors have a precise responsibility towards others, particularly those who are most frail, weak and vulnerable. 

What is needed, then, is a renewed, profound and broadened sense of responsibility on the part of all, including the business, financial and political sectors represented at Davos. The Pope continued: “Business is – in fact – a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life”  Here Pope Francis was building on the thought of Pope Benedict XVI who called for “a transcendent vision of the person”.  I am convinced that from openness to the transcendent, a new political and business mentality can take shape, one capable of guiding all economic and financial activity within the horizon of an ethical approach which is truly humane.

My dear friends, the concerns about the social context of human existence which motivated Pope Francis’ address were similar to those that inspired earlier Pontiffs to articulate the social tradition of the Church in various teachings. When Pope Leo XIII wrote Rerum Novarum his first social encyclical in 1891, the industrial age presented the Church and society with profound challenges. The conditions of work, the family and the poor were all rapidly changing. Pope Leo did not aim to invent a new Church project but to awaken responses to crying needs. 

Since then, the Church has developed an unparalleled body of reflection on the human good for our world of today. New challenges keep emerging, including global inequalities, the environment, and the effective defence of human rights. But CST continues to shed the unchanging light of faith and reason on the changing experiences and contexts of human existence.

Thus, drawing social moral principles and spirituality out of Scripture and Tradition, the Compendium identifies several foundations or pillars which serve as “primary and fundamental parameters of reference for interpreting and evaluating social phenomena.”  These permanent principles lie at the heart of CST. They are summed up in a chapter entitled “The human person and human rights”. The pillars include: 

– the dignity of the human person, which is the foundational principle (§§ 105-59)
– the common good, which includes the universal destination of goods (§§ 164-84)
– subsidiarity, which includes participation (§§ 185-91)
– solidarity (§§ 192-96), to which we should add reconciliation.  
As baptised Christians we are called to use these guidelines for practical responses. With them, Church teaching offers guidelines for a response to challenges such as the stubborn realities of poverty, exclusion, and suffering. 

Human Dignity 

The idea of human dignity began in the Roman Empire. Originally, dignitas was offered to victorious generals and emperors when they returned to Rome, hailed as heroes for the battles they had won. But the great Christian thinkers such as Popes St. Leo the Great (440–461) and St. Gregory the Great (590-604), basing themselves on the Gospels, turned this concept on its head.  They taught that all human beings had dignitas by virtue of being created by God – each one his unique gift to the others. From this seed, the concept of human dignity grew to be the foundation of all legal systems in today’s Europe and especially the European system for the protection of human rights. And yet, we still have so far to go in truly recognising and protecting human dignity. I would like to focus on one aspect of this: the link between fraternity and human dignity.

In the beginning, the Book of Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve had two sons. Cain and Abel were brothers; the Greek word, adelphos, means “to come from the same womb” (cf. Gn 1:27). We a
re created social, made for freedom and interdependence with others in human communities. We are not first and foremost islands, not wolves to each other, not merely conflict-driven creatures. Of course we are capable of destructiveness; the fact of being born siblings did not automatically lead Cain and Abel to act fraternally. On the contrary, out of jealousy, Cain murdered Abel. The first crime, therefore, was fratricide. Every taking of an innocent life – whether it is called abortion, murder, or euthanasia –whether it is called crime or starvation or war – is, in fact, fratricide, is it not? Pope Francis has reminded us that the commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’ extends to every area of human life, including our economic system.  

How can we fail to recognize that we are brothers and sisters, since we all have the same Father? Before facts of nationality, ethnicity and citizenship, our kinship with each other is established through a common brother: Jesus Christ. By his Cross and Resurrection, he repaired a broken humanity and continually offers everyone the promise of salvation!

Male and female God created us, brother and sister he called us to be. Fraternity – treating each other as the brothers and sisters that we are – is our true vocation. We are free to embrace it or reject it. God our Creator has freely made human beings equal in dignity, but not the same. Each one of us is fully loved, not more or less but infinitely, fully, uniquely, and unconditionally. Is this understanding the grounds for our public discussion? Or are these truths of our nature pushed to the margins? How can our language of autonomy and competition be translated into a desire for fraternity? 

Common Good

Discussion of fraternity leads seamlessly to another great foundational principle of CST: the common good. In Evangelii Gaudium, in a section titled “The common good and peace in society”, Pope Francis has asked us to place a vision of the common good back at the centre of our human projects: 
In a culture which privileges dialogue as a form of encounter, it is time to devise a means for building consensus and agreement while seeking the goal of a just, responsive and inclusive society. The principal author, the historic subject of this process, is the people as a whole and their culture, and not a single class, minority, group or elite. We do not need plans drawn up by a few for the few, or an enlightened or outspoken minority which claims to speak for everyone. It is about agreeing to live together, a social and cultural pact. 

The Holy Father proposes four specific principles to achieve the common good and peace in society. The first, under the heading “Time is greater than space” (§§ 222-225), requires us to challenge all forms of short-termism. A politics of short-termism seeks immediate results that secure dominance within the present structures of influence, control and earthly rewards. This focus on the current configuration or space of power ignores the greater aim, which is to “enhance human fullness” (224). Action for the common good, however, prioritises time over space:
Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. … What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity. 

The Holy Father’s second specific principle for achieving the common good bears the heading “Unity prevails over conflict” (§§ 226-230). Pope Francis is especially clear that conflict over goods in our society is very real. He insists:
Conflict cannot be ignored or concealed. It has to be faced. But if we remain trapped in conflict, we lose our perspective, our horizons shrink and reality itself begins to fall apart. In the midst of conflict, we lose our sense of the profound unity of reality. 

Two temptations face us in handling conflict. One is to wash our hands of it and just get on with our lives. The other is to become consumed by it, losing our bearings, projecting our confusion and dissatisfaction onto our institutions. Neither of these helps us to transform conflict into unity. But there is a third way. This is the way that the Holy Father proposes to us:
It is the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers!’ (Mt 5:9). In this way it becomes possible to build communion amidst disagreement, but this can only be achieved by those great persons who are willing to go beyond the surface of the conflict and to see others in their deepest dignity. This requires acknowledging a principle indispensable to the building of friendship in society: namely, that unity is greater than conflict. Solidarity, in its deepest and most challenging sense, thus becomes a way of making history in a life setting where conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity.  

This teaching on the common good is profound but it is not new. Again and again CST has proposed that civic or political friendships are a necessary foundation for social justice. New links in the human chain are forged by a willingness to create public friendships that transcend our differences. Are we willing to look again at engaging our conflicts? Can we work with our differences to forge new links in the human chain? 

I have cited two of the Holy Father’s four specific principles. Briefly, here are the third and fourth:

•    “Realities are more important than ideas” (§§ 231-233) because mere words can detach from reality, can mask and even distort it. The Church has succeeded over time by accepting incarnation – the word becoming flesh – and acting thoroughly within cultural reality (that is, inculturation). 
•     “The whole is greater than the part” (§§ 234-237) calls us to recognize the presence of ever-wider perspectives, including opportunities advanced by globalization, even while we treat them with due caution against illusory goods, and while we continue to be grounded in our local reality.
Solidarity and subsidiarity, unity in diversity 

There is a profound harmony between the Church’s social vision and the ambitions of the European Social Model, with its commitment to the common good, and with solidarity, equality and social justice as its hallmarks. Sustainable full employment, improved living and working conditions, proper social protection, economic efficiency, dialogue between management and labour, and the combating of exclusion have been its drivers. Economic growth should not be pursued for itself but for the sake of overall social wellbeing. Growth must not be achieved on the backs of the poor! But this model is now under great stress. Economic growth is not certain. New forms of exclusion are born in our midst. Europe is now a frontier for new forms of global interaction: an interaction of human cultures, aspirations and economic exchanges. The Church’s social principles of solidarity, gratuity and the universal destination of goods can offer light for our path. 

The principle of solidarity is a direct demand of human and Christian kinship. Our kinship is a matter of common origin and shared reason. But it is also a law sealed by the sacrifice of redemption offered by Jesus Christ for all. Social solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work: 
Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employer
s and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples.  

Solidarity also implies a biblical ‘preferential option for the poor’. This is a theological option. It begins with God’s action in history. It is God who asks Cain: where is your brother? It is God-like to hear the cry of the poor. We too are called to be hearers, those who participate fully in the option for the poor by first seeking to draw near. 

Fraternal closeness calls for subsidiarity: ensuring that all, including the poorest, can participate directly in negotiating political and economic solutions. Knowing that the loudest voices tend to belong to the most powerful, how can others lobby effectively in their own favour? How might the economically poorest, those with disabilities, those without citizenship enter into societal dialogue and political negotiations? This is a radical challenge. A politics of participation rather than mere membership is the hallmark of subsidiarity. 

This is more than an economic question. It pertains to all social barriers that isolate, that threaten material wellbeing and social participation. It is increasingly clear that the isolation of many of our elderly falls within this category of the option for the poor. The human crisis in Europe is poverty as isolation in all its forms. How can Europe refashion itself as a society of human fullness in which solidarity, subsidiarity and participation become everyone’s true social habits? 

Our global common home

Fraternity is now more than ever a global question. Each meaningful economic decision made in one part of the world has repercussions everywhere else. Consequently, no government can act without regard for shared responsibility. Indeed, local politics is often overwhelmed by the need to find local solutions for enormous global problems.

The Church teaches that we inhabit a common home, which is the whole world:
Economy, as the very word indicates, should be the art of achieving a fitting management of our common home. If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just of a few.  

This teaching derives from what the Church calls ‘the universal destination of goods’. All created things are to be shared fairly under the guidance of justice and love: that is, without excluding or favouring anyone. As Saint John Chrysostom taught: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.”  Thus economic efficiency and the promotion of human development in solidarity are not two separate goals, but one. Careful use of technologies, planning of labour, distribution of capital, debt, approaches to investment, responsible handling of human migration, and respect for national sovereignties must all serve and not frustrate the origin and purpose of goods in their global context. 

Pope Francis has highlighted the spiritual and psychological character of the challenges we face. It is not only inefficiency and institutional failure but also the powerful realities of paralyzing mistrust, fear of the others, and profound insecurity which increase our challenges. These represent the logic of Cain. On the other hand, the logic of gift and the principle of fraternity challenge us to transform our institutions, organizations and families into spaces that enable us to connect, relate and recognize the human other. The Holy Father has provided us with an authentic personal example. He has travelled to the frontiers like Lampedusa and borders like the divided Koreas that most represent the human face of the challenges that confront us. 

Three explorations

It is not for me prescribe your use of CST in responding to the challenges that lie ahead of you. Nevertheless, based on what we have observed and accomplished at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I can confidently predict that CST will serve you extremely well! Bearing in mind that “Realities are more important than ideas”, three actual experiences will help us appreciate the significance of key concepts; their implementation; and the process or dialogue they require. 

    i) Surveys to evaluate CST knowledge and receptivity (resonance)

Evaluation can often assist our planning and learning. With this in mind, one of our collaborators, Andreas Widmer, has undertaken surveys in the United States to determine whether the key concepts of Catholic teaching on social and economic life are known, in order to help communicate them better. The project is called “Catholic Mental Models”.  Essentially CMM asks “What do people know about CST?”, “If we talk about CST, will people listen?”, and “What expressions might get the ideas across better?”

The first phase consisted of a survey to determine how the concepts are typically received and understood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. How do they understand the basic ideas of CST: the dignity of the human person, the common good, social justice, subsidiarity, and solidarity?  How are these words typically received by people nowadays? Are they better understood by Catholics than by non-Catholics? 

To find out, the survey posed 16 questions to a nationally representative sample of Americans. The key findings are as follows: 
•    Catholics in the USA appear to lack knowledge of the core principles of Catholic teaching on social and economic matters. 
•    Overall, only a small percentage of American Catholics correctly answered basic questions regarding Catholic social teaching. The percentage of Catholics responding correctly ranged from a low of just over 10% (on the meaning of the common good) to a high of 45% (the meaning of the universal destination of goods). Besides these basic terms, the typical Catholic is also unclear about Catholic social teachings on wages, on hiring and firing and wages – even social justice and charity. 
•    The findings reveal that the level of knowledge of Catholics differs little from that of non-Catholics.
•    Practicing (i.e. Sunday-Mass attending) Catholics are not more likely to respond correctly than non-practicing Catholics.
•    Catholic schools appear to be the most important channel through which people gain knowledge of Catholic social teaching. 

Sadly, Catholics appear to lack a common understanding of the essential terms that form the backbone of the Church’s social teaching. Worse, these terms have often been invoked to justify actions and behaviours which may contradict the meaning or spirit of the principles themselves.

The second survey explored what language can be used to clarify the concepts and communicate the vision of Catholic social doctrine better. A representative sample of Americans were presented with the five key terms of Catholic social teaching in order to test their resonance – how positively do people feel about the words? Human dignity resonates the most, with 70% of respondents, and subsidiarity the least, with 42%. And none of the formal Catholic terms resonate as strongly as similar words from other domains – expressions such as human rights or equal rights or happiness or love of neighbour.

Do you think that the results would be similar in your country? If so, if Catholics tend not to understand the core principles of Catholic social teaching, what can the Church do to exercise her mission as magistra? Who should prepare her sons and daughters to live the Gospel of Christ in the public sphere?

    ii) Implementing CST in daily business life

Since 2011, our dicastery has benefitted from wonderful collaborators in the world of business. For example, Andreas Widmer is not only undertaking the surveys that I described. He is also writing case studies for use in business education. These cases will train
future business leaders, policy makers, and educators to identify situations where the principles of CST are to be applied, and strategies for their appropriate application.

Other key individuals like Mr. Pierre Lecoq (former president of UNIAPAC) and Prof. Michael Naughton have led an enormous effort since 2010 to relate the logic of gift to the meaning of business, using Caritas in Veritate as a starting point. Why business? It is better to ask, why not? The Catholic Church has stressed the importance of creative economic activity as a source of human flourishing, and yet many people remain unaware of this message. Indeed, all Christians are called to practice charity in a manner corresponding to their vocation and according to the degree of influence they wield in the polis (Caritas in Veritate, 7). 

Several conferences of business men and women, university professors, and experts on the subject, led to the publication Vocation of the Business Leader: A Reflection. It is a kind of vademecum for business men and women to reflect upon and direct their actions in the light of CST. It also serves as a handbook for teaching and counselling. 

The core message is that business leaders are called to engage with the economic and financial world in light of the principles of human dignity and the common good. The handbook offers entrepreneurs, members of their institutions, and various stakeholders a set of practical principles that can guide them in their service of the common good. Three orientations structure these principles helpfully:

•    Good Goods deals with meeting the needs of the world with goods that are truly good and truly serve without forgetting, in a spirit of solidarity, the needs of the poor and the vulnerable; 
•    Good Work recalls two principles: the principle of organising work within enterprises in ways that respect human dignity; and the principle of subsidiarity, which fosters a spirit of initiative and increases the competence of the employees who are thereby considered “co-entrepreneurs”;
•    and finally, Good Wealth calls for the sustainable creation of wealth through responsible stewardship of environmental, social and other resources, and the just distribution of wealth among the various stakeholders.

This handbook is being used widely in teaching and business settings, and already exists in more than a dozen languages including Polish. Its success shows that business leaders want a way to examine what they do through their companies and what they are doing to themselves and their families. CST gives them a powerful vocabulary and patterns of thinking for this purpose.  

    iii) Bringing CST to renew industry

A third example comes from the Council’s experience with senior executives of the worldwide mining industry. These are Catholics, non-Catholics and others who shared a desire to do better in their social and environmental responsibilities. They did not know how to proceed. They sought our help to reflect on their record, and more importantly, to discover the fundamental principles and the processes they should adopt. 

Approximately three dozen CEOs, experts and other senior individuals met with us for a full day, one year ago, to develop principles of dialogue among stakeholders that would lead to new mining approaches that satisfy all parties. This required a new look at mining, not adjustments within familiar approaches. Therefore, assessing whether ideas were genuinely new required criteria that looked beyond the familiar articulation of mining benefits (e.g. profitability, technological innovation, and efficiency). 

As Pope Francis briefly outlined, the process requires a vision of 
moral principles which seek the good of all parties involved in the sector. This will enable the industry’s leaders to face the difficulties that arise, with special attention to miners and their families, to the surrounding population, to the environment, and to global and intergenerational solidarity.  
I proposed human dignity, stewardship and care for creation, solidarity and common good as four key criteria of “meaningful existence.”   If these four are indeed what everyone wants – what everyone recognizes that everyone has a right to – then mining companies will be truly successful when all stakeholders (owners, executives, workers and suppliers, shareholders, local residents, future generations) are satisfied with regard to these criteria.

The meeting achieved its goals. The mining industry leadership understood the validity and the deep human meaning of the CST principles we offered as criteria. They embraced the challenge of conducting dialogue with stakeholders wherever they operate. We have helped them to produce two documents to date to promote this process.

Concluding remarks 

I have taken you through the origins and key concepts of Catholic Social Teaching. Of course you already have a strong background in this area; I hope I added some interesting details, particularly in the update provided by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium. I have also given you examples of our current work that explores CST and puts it to use in business generally and in one industry in particular.

The message I take from all this, and that I offer for your reflection, is this. While the vocabulary of CST may be unfamiliar to many, our contacts with business and industry provide evidence of a widespread hunger for its underlying messages and meaning. This hunger can be satisfied with intelligent communications that apply CST; Vocation of a Business Leader is a stellar example. It can also be satisfied by careful animation of reflection processes, as we saw with the mining executives. At the same time, the Church needs to teach the key concepts better; in doing this, we should consider adapting related terms from other domains and use them to convey the deeper Gospel message.  This is consistent with the energetic stimulus of Pope Francis to have the Church offer the gifts of the Spirit to everyone, not exclusively to Catholics.

Of course, there is far more to be done, in many contexts besides business and industry. I am pleased to learn of your plans for an organization with a strong focus on youth. Among its objectives and ideals are “defence and promotion of the dignity of the human person as well as for humane coexistence in justice, truth, freedom and solidarity”; “respect and tolerance in civil society”; and “the promotion of inter-confessional, interreligious and intercultural dialogue”.  Every effort to apply CST to the current social reality is a cause for hope.

Catholic social teaching intends itself to be a gift that stimulates a profound and creative social conversation. In upholding a vision of dignity, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity, it becomes a beacon on a hill for our times. But like yeast mixed with flour, our social teaching seeks to leaven the entire dough. It is a common point of reference that helps us to listen to each other, to appreciate our differences and to pursue a common future. It helps us to speak beyond our differences. When CST speaks, it seeks conversation. It does not intend to express itself in the form of a monologue, but to be a listening participant in the European social conversation. It wishes to model and to speak of fraternity and solidarity. In this conversation the Church wishes to hear the response of those who daily take up political, economic and business tasks. She wants to hear how you see the challenges and opportunities of seeking the common good in the current context. How do you grasp and share the griefs and sorrow, hopes and aspirations  of those whom you serve? The health of our European and global social body depends on such exchanges between politics and faith. What is their goal? To foster a community of communities where care, creativity, fairness, responsibility, solidarity, sustainability and love prevail.

So let us pray – and work – so that CST really serve as a beacon and l
eaven for Europe and the whole global community.

Reprinted from Vatican Radio

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