The Economic Crisis and the Social Doctrine of the Church

“Over the last 120 years, during which the social doctrine of the Church has developed, many great changes have taken place which were not even imaginable at the time of Leo XIII’s historic Encyclical ‘Rerum novarum’. Nonetheless, the alteration in external circumstances has not changed the inner richness of the social Magisterium, which always promotes human beings and the family in their life context, including that of business”.

These words were addressed by the Pope this morning to participants in the annual congress of the “Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice” foundation, who are focusing their reflections on the relationship between families and business. The 2011 congress coincides with the twentieth anniversary of John Paul II’s Encyclical “Centesimus annus” (published 100 years after “Rerum novarum”), and with the thirtieth anniversary of the Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris consortio”.

“Vatican Council II spoke of families as a ‘domestic Church’, an inviolable sanctuary”, said the Pope, “and economic laws must always take account of the interests and the protection of this fundamental cell of society”. He then went on to recall how John Paul II, in his “Familiaris consortio”, identified four tasks for the family: forming a community of persons; serving life; participating in the development of society, and sharing in the life and mission of the Church. “All four of these functions are founded on love, which is the goal of all education and formation in the family. … It is first and foremost in the family that we learn that, in order to live well in society (including the world of work, economy and business), we must be guided by ‘caritas’, following a logic of gratuitousness, solidarity and mutual responsibility”.

“In our own difficult times we are unfortunately witnessing a crisis in work and the economy which is associated with a crisis in families. … What we need, therefore, is a new and harmonious relationship between family and work, to which the social doctrine of the Church can make an important contribution”. In this context, the Pope referred to his own Encyclical “Caritas in veritate” saying that :”Commutative justice – ‘giving in order to acquire’ – and distributive justice – ‘giving through duty’ – are not sufficient in the life of society. In order for true justice to exist, it is necessary to add gratuitousness and solidarity. ‘Solidarity is first and foremost a sense of responsibility on the part of everyone with regard to everyone, and it cannot therefore be merely delegated to the State’”.

“Charity in truth, in this case, requires that shape and structure be given to those types of economic initiative which, without rejecting profit, aim at a higher goal than the mere logic of the exchange of equivalents, of profit as an end in itself”, said Benedict XVI.

“It is not the task of the Church to find ways to face the current crisis”, he concluded. “Nonetheless, Christians have the duty to denounce evils, and to foment and bear witness to the values upon which the dignity of the person is founded, promoting forms of solidarity which favor the common good, so that humankind may increasingly become the family of God”.

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