Archbishop Diarmuid Martin launches the ‘Companion to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church’ in St Vincent’s Trust, Daughters of Charity, Henrietta Street, Dublin

26 Sep 2007


26th September 2007

Launch of the publication: Companion to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church at St Vincent’s Trust, Daughters of Charity, 8-9 Henrietta Street, Dublin on Wednesday, 26 September, 2007

Address by Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland

I remember as a young man the series of Catholic Social Study Congresses which were held annually in Dublin in the 1960’s, usually in the National Boxing Stadium, dedicated to different questions about Irish society and how Catholic Social Doctrine had been applied to them in Ireland and in different parts of the world.

They were a little triumphalist, with bishops dressed in full purple entering in procession, to what became a premier social event in Dublin’s Catholic calendar. Politicians, business people, trade unionists and Catholic socialites were all in their best suits, religious were in full habits – paradoxically concerned that someone speaking too long at Archbishop Mc Quaid’s conference might prevent them being back in their convents before the same Archbishops Mc Quaid’s curfew time for nuns.

It was a social event, an event very much of its time, culturally and ecclesiastically, but it was an event which made people think. I can still remember a remarkable talk by Bishop Peter Birch on poverty, which left an indelible mark on my own reflection and another by Bishop Derek Worlock on what we would today call collaborative ministry. Fascinating talks, and not just for their time.

Curiously interest in Catholic Social teaching waned with the coming of Vatican II. Gone were the days of the 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 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, a generalised negative reaction to anything doctrinaire led to a greater individualism and relativism in ethical reflection.

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 need to get back to grassroots 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 people, prepared and capable of informing public opinion, on the contribution that can be derived from the message of Jesus to establishing values to inspire pluralistic Irish political and social life.

Many were surprised by a comment of Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, which affirms “that the just ordering of society and the State is a primary responsibility of politics” and adds later that “the Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible”. Some have seen this as a recipe for the retreat of the Church from commenting on the public arena. I look on this as a remarkably strong emphasis on the importance of politics and on the real purpose of politics. Politics is an essential dimension of the construction of society. We need, right around the world, a new renewal of politics. Around the world we need a new generation of politicians inspired by ideals, but also capable of taking the risks involved in transmitting those ideals into the “possible”, though the optimum use of resources and talents to foster the good of all. Christian politicians cannot be absent from this process of renewal.

Catholic Social Doctrine is effectively about democracy. That may seem strange to some, since for many years Catholic Social teaching seemed to be hesitant to explicitly affirm democracy. I say that Catholic social teaching is about democracy in a particular sense: it is about democracy as participation and discernment.

A book on Catholic Social teaching is not a recipe book, or a catechism old style with a list of ready made answers to the social and political questions of the day. 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. Catholic Social Doctrine does not take away the risk of politics, but it aims to provide an in injection of purpose, idealism, integrity and truthfulness into the way politics is carried out.

The Social Doctrine of the Church is about democracy as participation. It is about enhancing the level of participation and discernment that is present in community. It leads to create critical ownership of the political process and active participation.

I believe that many of the problems in Irish society of the future will require a much greater level of community articulation than heretofore, so that we can combat the influence on politics of ideology, superficial news reporting, vested financial interests or sheer inertia. I believe that we need broad community debate — real debate on such issues as the future of education and real participation in the fight against crime and violence. We had another particularly brutal example of gun violence on our streets yesterday. We all pray that Garda Paul Sherlock will make a full recovery.

If it is permissible for someone often categorised as a diplomat for once to speak out of place, I would say that I was very much encouraged by the community-based approach to fighting crime which I heard in Gordon Brown’s speech two days ago to the British Labour party. I believe he is right. The fight against weapons and knives in our society will only be overcome when we arrive at mobilising the communities in which we live. I still believe there is much more to do on this front.

Having just supported a politician, I now have to stress that the social doctrine of the Church is not a political manifesto and cannot be simply appropriated as the agenda of any political party. Neither is its aim to foster unnecessary divisions or factions within the Church. The Church cannot impose anything as binding, except that which it can draw out of the bible 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 at the kernel of the Church’s teaching, have binding character in their own right.

The Compendium is 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.

The Social Teaching of the Church is an admirable instrument for community formation. The availability this Companion will make the wealth of the Compendium accessible to a wide range of groups and individuals. As I said at the launch of the Compendium, 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 – who try, day by day, to apply these principles in their life and commitment. The new Companion will certainly be further useful instrument for them in achieving this task and I congratulate Father Padraig Corkery on his work.


Address by Reverend Dr Padraig Corkery, Director of Postgraduate Studies and lecturer in Moral Theology at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth


  • Firstly, I wish to sincerely thank His Grace Dr Martin for launching the Companion. I am aware, as are all here, that he is a very busy person and I appreciate that he made time/space in his busy timetable for this morning’s event. It highlights clearly the importance he attaches to the ongoing task of promoting human dignity and the global common good. He was of course involved in the whole area of Justice and Peace for many years and has often highlighted the doing of justice as a central demand of the Christian Gospel and an essential task for the Christian community.
  • I would also like to thank Bishop Raymond Field and the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs. It was Bishop Field who invited me to produce this Companion and he was very supportive throughout its gestation. As some of you may know I worked for several years with the earlier model – the ICJP – and appreciate the vitally important work Bishop Field and the new Commission are doing. I hope that the Companion will prove a useful tool so as to:
    *  introduce people to the richness of Catholic Social Teaching (CST); and
    *  to move them towards action so that we can construct a society and local
  • The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004) is a very valuable resource that brings together, in a systematic and focused way, the key insights of the developing corpus of CST since the publication of Rerum Novarum in 1891. CST flows naturally from a positive and wholesome understanding of the Christian life. An understanding that is, for me, well summed up in the Gospel call to be ‘the salt of the earth and the light of the world’. To be people whose presence in the world makes a difference; who contribute to the growth of justice and the enabling of human flourishing. An understanding that rejects an attitude of indifference or hostility to the world. Rather the Christian life calls us to engage and transform the world we inhabit. Challenges us to shape our societies and structures so that they reflect Gospel values. CST boldly proclaims that working for the transformation of the world is an essential demand of the Christian life and not an optional extra. It presents us with an ongoing task of establishing Gospel values in our own lives and in the societies we inhabit. That is, I think, a dynamic and exciting task; a task that enables us to contribute in our own way to the building up of God’s kingdom.
  • The insights and spirit of Catholic social doctrine are needed more than ever in our world; a world of increasing inequality between rich and poor; where dignity of every person is often denied and human flourishing thwarted; where economic systems are often detached from the demands of the global common good; where the fruits of God’s creation – meant to be shared by all – are divided in ways that in reality deny our shared humanity and the virtue of solidarity.
  • In this situation the central principles of CST have an enormous contribution to make; the universal destination of the world’s goods, the common good of humanity, the principles of subsidiarity, participation and solidarity, and the fundamental values of social life- truth, freedom, justice and love. On the one hand they give us powerful tools to examine and critique economic, social and political programmes. They help us to identify situations and systems that diminish the human person and jeopardise the global common good. More importantly those same tools enable us to positively contribute to discussion/dialogue aimed at creating global and local economies and structures that are more respectful of our shared humanity and our shared inheritance. They enable us, people who see the world through the eyes of Christian faith, to make a contribution to societal discussion that is informed, reflective, robust and constructive.
  • Underlying and informing CST is a strong note of realism and optimism that recognises that change is possible. There is a recognition that societal structures, economic systems, political systems are all the result of human choices and priorities. There is nothing absolute or God given about our societal structure and economic polices. They are human constructs. As such they can, at times, reflect the best of humanity – a sense of care for others, concern for equality and justice etc. At other times they reflect the darker side of humanity – greed, indifference, hostility, self-preoccupation. CST challenges us to recognise that change is possible, structures can be transformed so that they conform to the demands of human dignity and the global common good. And this precisely is the task of Christian discipleship; to make our contribution – slowly, patiently – to the ongoing task of constructing a better world where all systems – economic, political, and social – are at the service of the human person and the global family and enable human flourishing. And in this we can join with people of good will from other traditions and communities.
  • Finally, I hope that the Companion will make a modest contribution to the task of:
    *  making the insights of CST more widely know and appreciated; and
    *  to the task of applying those same principles and insights to the economic, political and social spheres.


Further information:
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Kathy Tynan Communications Officer (086 817 5674)