Basic Ideas of CST
While studying at The University of Scranton, and in collaboration with Campus Ministries, I first encountered Catholic Social Teaching. Together we prepared to be involved in International Service Projects and learned how important social issues remain to preparations for engaging people from different cultures. I already felt strongly about issues such as just minimum wages, clean drinking water, adequate living standards, and the idea of being a global citizen. Yet I had no idea that those social justice concerns had deep roots within Catholic principles, principles already applied (for centuries!) to social problems I cared so much about. My journey towards greater understanding thus began with a passion for justice, truth, and social activism, all of which are being honed by my engagement with Catholic Social Teaching (CST). In what follows I shall take you through my own journey of discovering the relevance of CST for our contemporary world, with particular reference to Pope Francis's recent letter called Laudato Si.
The generation born around the turn of the century (e.g. 1996-2002) is distrustful of institutions, particularly religious institutions. Consequently, you might wonder why I consider Catholic Social Teaching (CST) a “best kept secret.” Since Pope Francis openly addresses environmental concerns in the letter I am examining here (Laudato Si), I think his comments speak to my generation because of our altruistic nature and determination to create social change. We've grown up with dystopian stories like Wall-E and so are much more conscious of the need to change our behaviors with respect to consumption and waste production, all of which can be articulated according to basic principles from CST.
What is an encyclical?
The term "encyclical" comes from the Greek word for "circle" or "circular" with the first one written in 1740 by Pope Benedict XIV (Rice, 2015). When encyclicals first surfaced they were written by the presiding Pope and "would be forwarded to bishops and local churches, who would then copy and forward them to other bishops and local churches, until the entire Church received the message" (Global Catholic Climate Movement). Today encyclicals are still promulgated by popes; indeed they are "immediately posted on the Vatican's website in many languages to be read" (Global Catholic Climate Movement). Moreover, encyclicals offer "important guiding principles" for Catholics to reflect on and, ultimately, internalize and follow (Global Catholic Climate Movement). Although this may sound highly conformist and cult like, the belief is that the Pope is putting forth righteous guidelines. On the surface, I believe encyclicals are scarily coercive, however, beyond the surface, I think they are an appropriate way for the church to promotes it's teaching. Furthermore, I think environmental and social encyclicals embody the Catholic church's teachings, promoting solidarity and equality across the globe. Finally, I think encyclicals expose Catholics to the true Catholic Church where "politics" are guided by morality rather than money and corruption.
In this particular instance, the Catholic Social Teaching that will be referenced is Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical. Written in 2015, Laudato Si is the Pope's second encyclical, focusing on the environment and human ecology. Specifically, in Laudato Si the Pope assesses: production and consumption, environmental degradation, drinking water and global warming. Furthermore, Laudato Si is a demand for action, as the Pope calls on us to implement widespread systemic change for the greater good of society.
Relying on texts, video clips, images, and personal insight, I will analyze Laudato Si. More specifically, I will evaluate the encyclical and it’s relation to Catholic Social Teachings. Finally, I will comment on it’s relevance to the world both for Catholics and non-Catholics.
What is Catholic Social Teachings?
Recognizing God's love for those who are poor as well as our calling to promote justice, Catholic Social Teachings calls on us to act in socially and politically just ways. Catholic Social Teachings "is a central and essential element of our faith" and "is a teaching founded on the life and words of Jesus Christ." Specifically, Catholic Social Teaching strives to create a just society based on the indisputable fact that all human beings have intrinsic human dignity. Furthermore, this teaching affirms that "We are called to reach out and to build relationships of love and justice" (Catholic Social Teachings).
Catholic Social Teachings focuses on the following themes:
- Life & Dignity of the Human Person
- Call to Family, Community and Participation
- Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
- Rights and Responsibilties
- Care for God's Creation
- The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers
Solidarity recognizes that we are all interconnected and that our liberation is bound to the liberation of our brothers and sisters everywhere. This means that we have a moral obligation to work with individuals from other nations and backgrounds. When we act in an unethical manner that negatively impacts our brothers and sisters from other nations, we are not living in solidarity. For example, knowingly supporting corporations that utilize sweatshops in developing nations, does not align with Catholic Social Teachings. This stance indicates that a person does not view their own liberation as tied to the liberation of their brothers and sisters everywhere, as they are contributing to the suffering of these workers. Conversely, if an individual opposes such corporations, they are acting in solidarity.
In my opinion, solidarity is the most significant Catholic Social Teaching because I believe that the other themes of CST all stem from this one. Essentially, solidarity is advocating for and with others, a notion that it is applicable to all themes of CST. For example, with regards to the CST of "Option for the Poor and Vulnerable," one must must practice solidarity by advocating for a livable wage for all, even if the individual themselves already has an income that they can sufficiently live on.
Empathy in Relation to Solidarity
Many are familiar with the notion of empathy, the idea that we feel for and with someone in their hardship or suffering. Empathy consists of seeing, experiencing, and considering life from another individual's perspective. By extending empathy to others we validate their emotions and recognize their experiences, which allows for us to see beyond ourselves and create empathetic relationships. Through such empathic relationships we are better able to implement positive social change, as we are helping to promote the common good and advocating for others. Without empathetic understanding, it is seemingly impossible for solidarity to occur, as it is difficult for us to advocate for and with others if we do not consider and understand their perspective. With this in mind, the video featured above explains empathy so that we are able to understand it's relations to solidarity. Finally, a lack of empathy can lead to indifference, which prevents change as noted in Laudato Si.
Dignity of Work & the Rights of Workers
Recognizing that work is more than a means to make a living, CST aims to ensure that all workers not only have a livable wage, but a dignified and ethical way to attain such a wage. Moreover, the principle of the "Dignity of Work & The Rights of Workers" sees work as a way to demonstrate one's talents, gain fulfillment, build relationships and give glory to God. As pointed out in Laudato Si, "the Christian Spiritual Tradition has developed a rich and balanced understanding of the meaning of work" (Laudato Si, para. 125). This means that work is perceived as a channel to "personal growth and sanctification" (Laudato Si, para. 125). When an individual is subject to unethical and undignified work, their personal growth is negatively impacted, as their well-being is jeopardized. This idea will be further explored through the notion of production and consumption, specifically with the corporation Walmart.
In the video featured below, Al Gini, professor of Business Ethics at Loyola University Chicago, explains the "importance of a job" particularly in relation to an individual's identity. As pointed out by Professor Gini, "our work is the means by which we know ourselves and are known to others." This statements asserts that our jobs are imperative to our identities, as they are a reflection of our interests, skills and backgrounds. Because our jobs are a representation of ourselves, others come to know us through our work. This notion relates to the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Human Workers because it further solidifies that the benefits of work extend beyond the monetary benefits it reaps.
Relation to Laudato Si
Production & Consumption
"Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies." - Pope Francis, Laudato Si, para. 5
The international corporation, Walmart, which partakes in unethical behavior, is an example of irresponsible production and consumption. Despite pledging to "improve the safety of some of [Bangladesh's] poorest workers" in 2013, the billion dollar company, has not fulfilled this pledge (Abrams, 2016). The corporation's failure to fulfill this pledge is indicated in a series of reports by the Asia Floor Alliance, "a coalition of trade unions and other research and advocacy groups" (Abrams, 2016). According to the reports, workers in Cambodia are "are required to work 10 to 14 hours a day in sweltering heat, without access to clean drinking water or breaks" (Abrams, 2016). Such inhumane conditions are an overt violation of human rights and place the workers in great danger, as these "conditions have contributed to mass fainting episodes" (Abrams, 2016). Although these conditions are incredibly problematic, they allow Walmart to generate billions of dollars, as the company's production cost very little. With the company's production very cheap, Walmart's prices are very low, attracting costumers and helping the company to flourish. Relating this irresponsible production to irresponsible consumption, shoppers engage in irresponsible consumption, when they shop at Walmart. By shopping at Walmart, consumers contribute to the exploitation and subjugation of Walmart workers, which goes goes against the dignity of work and the rights of workers, a notion that will be further explored in the subsequent section.
How does this violate the dignity of work & the rights of workers?
Walmart violates the dignity of workers through the unjust treatment and conditions that they subject their employees to. As previously mentioned, workers in Cambodia are "are required to work 10 to 14 hours a day in sweltering heat, without access to clean drinking water or breaks" (Abrams, 2016). Such conditions are undeniably inhumane and fail to recognize the intrinsic dignity of the workers'. Moreover, these conditions assert the notion that workers are unimportant and unworthy of humane and safe working conditions. Receiving the message that they are unimportant and unworthy, Walmart workers are stripped of their dignity, which disobeys CST.
Similarly, the dignity of work is violated by Walmart, as they carelessly disregard labor standard policies. By acting in an unethical manner, Walmart is degrading the dignity of work, further disobeying CST. Moreover, Walmart degrades the dignity of work because they have monopolized the economy, driving out small business and serving as an example of economic wilding.
The Life & Dignity of Human Person
Another principle of CST includes the life and dignity of the human person. This principle affirms that "human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society" (Catholic Charities). Recognizing that "the value of human life is being threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty," this principle asserts that all life is sacred from the time of conception to natural death (Catholic Charities). With human life sacred, the value of human life is not only threatened by "threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty," but by abortion and euthanasia as well.
To the surprise of many, this principle does not just pertain to issues involving death and human life. This principle is also applicable to issues that involve the quality of an individual's life. To be specific, this principle relates to universal issue of human rights. Human rights are difficult to explicitly define, but "they are rights that you have simply because you are human" (Human Rights). Such rights "mean choice and opportunity, the freedom to obtain a job, adopt a career, select a partner of one’s choice and raise children" (Human Rights). Moreover, these rights also include the right "to travel widely and the right to work gainfully without harassment, abuse and threat of arbitrary dismissal" (Human Rights). In sum, these rights allow individuals live their lives freely and safely.
In the video above, the history of human rights are explained. More specifically, in the video individuals were what human rights are. Many struggled to define human rights, further demonstrating the breadth nature of human rights.
Fortunately, there is reason to believe that Catholics are beginning to see that this CST principle extends well beyond the issue of the abortion. In the article featured above, a pro-life individual, Christina Gebel, powerfully articulates her controversial pro-life stance, calling for a social-justice oriented movement: "a movement not dominated by the legality or morality of abortion but one continually advocating laws that are conducive to bringing life into the world. Just and equal wages, paid parental leave, universal health care as a human right, subsidized quality child care, a world free of racism, violence and sexism—for me these goals are intertwined with my opposition to abortion. Those are policies that my classmates, the public health world, pro-life and pro-choice advocates alike, could get behind" (Gebel, 2018).
Relation to Laudato Si
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis asserts, that each person "is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons" (Laudato Si, para. 65). Moreover, the "Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary" (Laudato Si, para. 65). This means that each of us is deserving of just treatment and safety, relating directly to the issue of human rights. In the same way that Jesus treated all those who he encountered with love and respect, so we too must do the same. Finally, we must also defend the rights of all and vehemently oppose actions that threaten human rights.
Relevance to Our Lives
Living in a world that is deeply polarized and highly politicized, it can be difficult to see past ourselves and our life experiences; however, it is something that we must do. We may not all be Catholic or Christian or even followers of any religion, but we are all humans. Despite our different races, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, and counties of origins, we are quite similar. At a basic level, we all require food and shelter and safety. Beyond this basic level of necessities, we all wish to be loved and to love others. We are all deserving of the chance to lead a life of opportunity, free from discrimination and abuse. We do not deserve a safe and free life because of anything that we did or did not do; rather we deserve this simply because we are human.
Recognizing that we would not want our children, our friends, or even ourselves to grow up in a world plagued by oppression and injustice, we should not want this for anyone else. When one member of society, lacks basic necessities and unnoticed, human dignity, all of us are negatively impacted. For example, the negative repercussions of poverty are felt by all members of society, as we use taxpayer dollars to drain our resources in an effort to mask the issue, through programs such as Food Stamps. Conversely, we must implement widespread, systemic change. Drawing from CST we can guide our moral and legal decisions and actions to create a society that not only "works" for all, but that positively impacts all.
Abrams, Rachel. “Retailers Like H&M and Walmart Fall Short of Pledges to Overseas Workers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2016/05/31/business/international/top-retailers-fall-short-of-commitments-to-overseas-workers.html
“Definition of Human Rights Video | What Are Human Rights?” United for Human Rights, www.humanrights.com/what-are-human-rights/.
Francis. “Laudato Si' (24 May 2015) | Francis.” W2.Vatician , Liberia Editrice Vaticana , 2015, w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html.
“Home.” Catholic Social Teaching, www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/.
Principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Retrieved from https://catholiccharitiescamden.org/principles-of-catholic-social-teaching
Rice, Doyle. “The Papal Encyclical: What Is an 'Encyclical'?” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 16 June 2015, www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/06/16/pope-francis-encyclical/28814437/.
“What Is an Encyclical?” Global Catholic Climate Movement, 28 Mar. 2015, catholicclimatemovement.global/what-is-an-encyclical/.