Signs of the Times

Social Doctrine Compendium Promotes Human Dignity, Common Good

The God-given dignity of humans and the obligation to promote the common good of all the world’s people require the Catholic Church to speak on social issues, says the new Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The church’s social doctrine offers criteria for judging various aspects of public and social life and provides guidelines for conforming them to the demands of Christian morality, says the book, released on Oct. 25 at the Vatican. Drafted at the request of Pope John Paul II by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the compendium explains church teachings related to politics, war, the economy, the environment, work and legislation affecting family life, among other topics. The English volume presented to the press is 331 pages long, not counting the index.

Insofar as it is part of the church’s moral teaching, the volume says, the church’s social doctrine has the same dignity and authority as her moral teaching.


While the text cautions against trying to claim that any one political party could represent fully Catholic social and moral teaching, it calls on lay Catholics to identify steps that can be taken in concrete political situations to put into practice respect for every human life, the promotion of justice and peace and true solidarity with the poor. A well-formed Christian conscience, it says, does not permit one to vote for a political program or individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.

At the press conference on Oct. 25, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the justice and peace council, refused to answer questions about whether a Catholic ever could vote for a politician who supports legalized abortion. Joaquín Navarro-Valls, the Vatican spokesman, said, the Holy See has never nor does it ever want to enter directly into an electoral or political question...because it is the competence of the local hierarchy to provide enlightenment on these questions, if they decide there is a desire and need.

On the topic of war, the compendium says that when a nation is attacked it has a right and duty to defend itself, which includes using the force of arms. However, echoing Vatican criticism of the U.S.-led coalition’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, it says, engaging in a preventative war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions.

International legitimacy for the use of armed force, on the basis of rigorous assessment and with well-founded motivations, can only be given by the decision of a competent body that identifies specific situations as threats to peace and authorizes an intrusion into the sphere of autonomy usually reserved to a state, it says.

The compendium, designed to give Catholics a systematic understanding of church positions on social issues, explains that the principles flow from the Ten Commandments, from natural law and human reason and from biblical truths about people, the world and the reality of sin.

While based on 2,000 years of Christian moral teaching, the compendium says the church must respond to new situations in society, including the increasing number of women working outside the home, advances in biotechnology, globalization, the destruction of the environment and new attacks on human life and on the family.

The compendium insists that homosexual persons are to be fully respected in their human dignity, but says respect does not justify the legitimization of behavior that is not consistent with moral law; even less does it justify the recognition of a right to marriage between persons of the same sex and its being considered equivalent to the family.

On another current topic, it says that while nations have a right and obligation to protect themselves from terrorism, this right cannot be exercised in the absence of moral and legal norms. Individual terrorists must be identified, proven guilty and punished, it says. But responsibility for terrorist activity cannot be extended to the religions, nations or ethnic groups to which the terrorists belong.

Throughout the volume, the sacredness and dignity of human life is emphasized. Legalized abortion is condemned repeatedly, as is the exploitation of any human being, including children, women, the poor and the indigenous.

On the question of capital punishment, the compendium repeats the traditional church teaching that society has a right to defend itself by punishing and, in some circumstances, taking the life of a person convicted for a serious crime. But it also says that modern societies have the means to suppress crime and render criminals harmless without taking their lives. The growing aversion of public opinion toward the death penalty and the various provisions aimed at abolishing it or suspending its application constitute visible manifestations of a heightened moral awareness, it says.

The compendium says the Catholic Church does not bless or wholeheartedly endorse any economic system, political party or government configuration; rather it calls on Catholics and all people of good will to ensure that economic and political systems respect the rights of individuals, promote the common good and act in solidarity with the poorest and weakest citizens of their nation and of the world.

While democracy meets the moral criteria of giving every citizen a voice in government, it says morality cannot be decided by a majority vote. If there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political action, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power, it says.

The compendium calls for recognition of the unpaid work women perform at home; and while stating that women have a right to a profession and to not be discriminated against in the workplace, it also says employers have a moral obligation to ensure that women are able to work without sacrificing their basic obligations to their families.

In evaluating possible uses for new technology, profit cannot be the only consideration, the compendium says. The common good and possible negative side effects on human consumers and on the environment must also be considered.

News Briefs

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops dropped plans for releasing a question-and-answer survey on campaign issues after both major presidential candidates failed to cooperate in answering the questionnaire, said Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, U.S.C.C.B. spokesman. The questionnaire contained 40 questions on 15 to 20 topics that are followed closely by the Catholic bishops. The candidates were asked to respond with only support or oppose to the statement contained in each question.

U.S. Christians contributed more per person to their church in 2002 than in 2001, but the rate of increase was less than the growth rate of their income, says a study released in mid-October by Empty Tomb.

The Rev. Larry Snyder, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, has been chosen as the next president of Catholic Charities USA.

Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I., of Chicago, said in a recent issue of his archdiocesan newspaper that he had not directed anyone to refuse Communion to pro-choice politicians, because I believe it would turn the reception of holy Communion into a circus here. The Eucharist is our highest, most perfect, form of worship of God, Cardinal George said. It should be manipulated by no one, for any purpose.

New Jersey’s Catholic bishops have criticized legislation approved by lawmakers in the state Assembly that would allow intravenous drug users to obtain sterile syringes or needles in exchange for their old needles.

The 10 nominees for the next president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are: Cardinals Francis E. George, O.M.I., archbishop of Chicago, and Justin Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia; Archbishops Daniel M. Buechlein, O.S.B., of Indianapolis; Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M.Cap., of Denver; Timothy M. Dolan of Milwaukee; and William J. Levada of San Francisco; and Bishops William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash.; Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D.; Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.; and Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh. The election will take place during the bishops’ November meeting in Washington, D.C.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

You don’t get to claim Christ’s body without assuming the punishment it suffered.
Jordan Daniel WoodAugust 21, 2018
Buffalo Bayou floods past its banks near downtown Houston on Aug. 31, 2017, after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas with 4.5 feet of rain. (CNS photo/James Ramos, Texas Catholic Herald)
Hurricane Harvey took a toll on all Houstonians—rich and poor, white and brown, city and suburb—but this boomtown proud of its diversity is getting back on track.
J.D. Long-GarcíaAugust 21, 2018
As with most adaptations, the film does not fully capture the richness of the novel. But it comes very close.
Angelo Jesus CantaAugust 21, 2018
Often, we have a tendency to privilege emotional moments over the more intellectual ones in our spiritual life.
James Martin, S.J.August 20, 2018