13 JUNE 2005
PRESENTATION OF THE IRISH EDITION OF THE
COMPENDIUM OF THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH
SPEAKING NOTES OF MOST REV. DIARMUID MARTIN, ARCHBISHOP OF DUBLIN, PRIMATE OF IRELAND
ST. PATRICK’S COLLEGE, MAYNOOTH, CO KILDARE
I remember well my first introduction into the world of international finance.
It was in early 1987 and the then Pontifical Commission “Iustitia et Pax” had
just published a document on the International Debt Question. As the newly
appointed Undersecretary of the Commission, I was dispatched to meet with some
senior figures from the international banks and to elucidate the text. We met
in Cardinal Hume’s house in London. I received quite a rough welcome. Bankers
spoke forcefully about the difficulties with their text and about the complexities
of the matter. They were surprised to be challenged by an examination of the
ethical dimensions of the laws of international finance.
Just as I was leaving I was surprised when one of the more vocal participants –
a rather cynical English banker – came to me and said that he hoped he had not
been too forceful in his contributions. Then he said: you know as a Catholic
banker I have often been asked by my bishop for some advice on his investments
and financial administration or by the local catholic school about its finances.
But this is the first time that I have been consulted by the Church on what I do
all day, about my own professional commitment and its social consequences.
Today in Ireland when we talk about the role and the involvement of the laity
in Church life, we tend to speak about participation and leadership in local
pastoral structures. I believe that we still do too little in the formation
of lay persons – women and men – for the “secular nature of their Christian
discipleship”, their duty “to proclaim the Gospel with an exemplary witness of
life rooted in Christ and lived in temporal realities”.
The Irish Church needs more active, articulate lay people who understand and
assume their responsibilities as Christian believers in various aspects of society.
Irish society and Irish democracy would benefit from a new generation of lay
persons prepared and capable of informing public opinion on the contribution
that can be derived from the message of Jesus to establishing the values
which should inspire different sectors of a pluralistic Irish political and
The idea of a “Catechism of the Social Doctrine of the Church” was first mooted
during the Synod of Bishops for America and was taken up in the Apostolic
Exhortation of Pope John Paul II Ecclesia in America.
Within days of the publication of that pontifical document, the then President
of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Archbishop Francois Xavier
Nguyen Van Thuan wrote to the Pope stating the willingness of the Pontifical
Council to undertake the task of preparing the document.
It seemed a reasonably simple exercise. The social doctrine of the Church had
been developed well especially since Mater et Magistra of Pope John XXIII.
It had been updated at the Second Vatican Council, especially in the Pastoral
Constitution Gaudium et Spes, and then by Pope Paul VI. Pope John Paul II
had written three social Encyclicals Laborem Exercens, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis
and Centesimus Annus. The Apostolic Letter Tertio Millenio Inveniente on the
theme and preparation of the Jubilee also touched on social questions and provoked
renewed social reflection throughout the entire Church focussed on the concept
But it soon became evident to the working group which was charged with writing
the document – of which I was Chairperson in the initial period – that a
compendium of the social teaching of the Church could not be a simple scissors
and paste job.
Many changes had taken place in society which required a deeper look at the nature
of the Church’s social teaching. In the last decades of the 1900’s doubts had
emerged about what exactly what was meant by the social doctrine of the Church.
Paradoxically, the concept of the social teaching in the Church seemed to enter
into crisis in the years immediately after Vatican II. Gone were the days of
Dublin’s mass Social Study Conferences. Organizations like the Christus Rex
Society, linked with Maynooth College, went into hibernation and have yet to
re-emerge. Many were unhappy with the term doctrine, preferring social teaching
or social reflection or social thought. There was the feeling in many places
that the social teaching of the Church should be rather a form of social ethic
which could be shared by people of various viewpoints, religious or not. There
were clashes with different visions of social teaching. The cold war inevitably
led to a polarization of ideologies in social and economic reflection of all
types. Certain trends of Liberation theology had assumed a methodology which
was flawed by elements of Marxist analysis. In other cases there was confusion
between social teaching and outright political manifestoes.
A further difficulty was linked to the change in the concept of anthropology
which inspired the social sciences and the challenges that this presented in
dialogue with the doctrine of the Church. This was particularly evident in
reflection around themes of marriage and the family, but it also appeared for
example in reflection on the nature of the liberal market economy and its
relationship to solidarity. A strong stress on the empirical made it difficult
to speak of openness to the transcendent.
It was thus decided to give the new Compendium an original character which would
begin by focusing on the nature of the Social Doctrine and the fundamental
dimensions and principles of that doctrine. Then it would look at the positions
which had emerged in the social teaching around a number of key questions: the
family, work, economic life, the political community, the international community
and the promotion of peace. It is the first ecclesial document which dedicates
a special and ample section to the theme of the promotion of the environment
All of this is centred on theological reflection. The Compendium becomes a
theological reading of the signs of the times. It examines the evolution of
the revelation of God’s love in the history of salvation, especially the revelation
of God’s Trinitarian love. This leads to a reflection on the centrality of the
human person and to an anthropology which is not individualistic, but which reflects
the fact the God, in the Trinity, is relationship and self giving. It is in this
context that the Compendium addresses the centrality of human freedom, dignity
Certain principles emerge from this reflection such as the principles of the common
good, subsidiarity and solidarity and the universal destination of the goods of
creation, a principle which assumes a new significance in the era of globalization
and in reflection on the responsibility for sharing the wealth of the earth,
including the fruit of human genius. The principle of the universal destination
of the goods of creation is in many ways the principle guiding line in the
Compendium’s reflections on the economy and on globalization.
Each section is introduced by some reflections from scripture, both from the Old
and the New Testaments, which stress the religious nature of the social doctrine
and the link between social teaching and the mission of the Church. Such biblical
reflections stress the originality of the Church’s thought and they illustrate
the foundation for the Church’s interventions in society concerning the challenges
posed by the social questions of the day. The specifically religious language of
the bible can at times be a surprisingly useful language for dialogue with a
secularised world, as for example the concept Jubilee showed during the year 2000.
The Compendium is not a handbook of ready made answers to the social challenges
of the day. It “offers a complete overview of the fundamental framework of the
doctrinal corpus of Catholic social teaching”. It presents a unified corpus of
principles and criteria which draw their origin from the gospels and which are
applied to the realities of the times in order to form Christians to make their
own personal responsible judgements on the best manner to stimulate the ideals
proposed by the Gospel in contemporary culture.
Neither is the social doctrine is fundamentalist. It requires a form of mediation
by the reader, in dialogue with the social sciences, which brings the social
thought of the scriptures into dialogue with the dynamics of contemporary social
life and culture.
The social doctrine of the Church is not a political manifesto and cannot be
simply appropriated as the agenda of any political party. The social teaching
is not a ‘third way’, it is an original way. Neither does it aim to foster
unnecessary divisions or factions within the Church. The Church cannot impose
as binding anything other than that which it can draw out of scripture and
authentic tradition. It recognises that Christians may work in different
ways in order to reach the same goal. At the same time the term “doctrine”
draws attention to the fact that the Christian cannot simply decide that
anything goes in terms of social conscience and that certain underlying principles
of the social doctrine, especially those closest to the kernel of the Church’s
teaching, have binding character in their own right.
The Social Doctrine of the Church is above all an instrument to guide the formation
of the consciences of Christian especially Christian lay persons. Even though
the Compendium is addressed first of all to Bishops, I would venture to say that
the success of the social teaching is not to be measured in the number of Episcopal
statements on social issues it provokes – many of which of course may indeed be
opportune – but in the maturity of the commitment and responsibility by which lay
Christians involve themselves in the realization of a more just and loving society,
coherent with Gospel principles.
I have drawn attention elsewhere to the author who noted that “Catholics have the
bad habit of thinking of the Church as the hierarchy. This is a false equation
theologically and a fatal equation politically. If the Catholic voice is merely
the voice of the hierarchy – as eloquent and holy as they might be – the game is
up. If the hierarchy is neither eloquent nor holy the game will not even get
The social teaching of the Church serves to offer guidance to Christians, especially
lay Christians, as they exercise their prophetic role in society. Lay Christians
share in their own special way in the priestly, prophetic and kingly mission of
Christ. The prophetic office is exercised in the manner in which Christian lay
people commit themselves from within society to making that society a more just
and loving society.
The Compendium is too important a document to be usurped by Episcopal commissions
or professional Church bureaucrats. There is a sense in which the real “translation”
of any social encyclical or any document of the social teaching of the Church is
written not by professional interpreters, but by the action of Christian lay people
in the world in which they work as they try day by day to apply these principles
in their life and commitment. The new Compendium will certainly be a most useful
instrument for them in achieving this task.
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)