Over the past 200 years, the Catholic church has consistently held a favorable attitude toward labor unions and the rights of workers to organize. A key step in attaining this position was the action of an American Cardinal, James Gibbons of Baltimore, in pursuading Pope Leo XIII not to condemn the Knights of Labor in 1887. The Knights were an American attempt to organize workers and some bishops argued that the group possessed the characteristics of a secret society. But Cardinal Gibbons saw that it was important to support the recent immigrants to American shores, many of them Catholic, whose work conditions were hard and often unjust. Read more
Pope John Paul II, Laboren Exercens
. . . Worker solidarity, together with a clearer and more committed realization by others of workers’ rights, has in many cases brought about profound changes. . . On the world level, the development of civilization. . . has also revealed other forms of injustice much more extensive than those which in the last century stimulated unity between workers for particular solidarity in the working world. This is true in countries which have completed a certain process of industrial revolution… Read more
Rerum Novarum, often referred to as the Magna Carta of Social Catholicism, was only the first of many encyclicals to be published throughout the twentieth century that continued to articulate specifics of Roman Catholic social teaching. On May 15, 1931, forty years to the date after the publication of Rerum Novarum, Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno (“On the Reconstruction of the Social Order”). In the document the pope reinforced the teachings of Leo XIII but then moved forward giving additional specifics on the role of the state in its relations with workers and employers. This is the first papal document to use the term “social justice” to describe the need for the common good, that is, the good of each person. Read more
In December 1922, Pope Pius XI issued Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, an encyclical letter that introduced the terms “Catholic Action” and “lay apostolate” into the literature. Technically, Catholic Action is the work of the laity in support of the hierarchy. However, over the next half century this more restrictive definition would be broadened through the efforts of numerous individuals and groups who in varied ways sought to manifest the social teachings of the church through direct service to the poor and those who lived on the margins of society.
The Grail Movement, the Young Christian Workers, and the Christian Family Movement
Catholic Action groups, especially in the United States, were quite prominent beginning in the interwar years and continuing to the onset of Vatican II. The Grail Movement, originally founded in Holland in 1921 by Jacques van Ginnecken, migrated to the United States in 1940 and was headquartered at Loveland, Ohio. This worldwide spiritual renewal assisted women exclusively in three specific areas. First, participants were encouraged to actively engage ecumenical dialogue. Secondly, women were educated to help them realize their full potential. Lastly, the Grail Movement promoted international and intercultural cooperation. Read more
In his book Living Justice: Catholic Social Teaching in Action, Jesuit priest and scholar Thomas Massaro provides nine basic concepts that have characterized Social Catholicism since the time of Rerum Novarum.
- The dignity of every human person and human rights: Made in the image and likeness of God, humans deserve respect and dignity from conception to natural death. This idea means Catholics reject abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. This teaching calls for equality on all fronts. Human rights are a way of expressing what belongs to humans by virtue of their dignity. Read more
One of the most significant achievements of Social Catholicism in the twentieth century is the promotion of organized labor, but this support was a departure from a much more wary position toward unions taken by the church in the nineteenth century. At that time, due in large measure to European groups that sought to undermine the church, the Vatican held a general prohibition against all secret societies, including labor unions. In the United States both the Second (1866) and Third (1884) Plenary Councils of Baltimore reiterated the papal condemnation of secret societies, especially the Masons, but a special cautionary provision was made for labor unions. Read more
Washington D.C., Dec 29, 2012 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- With just days left in 2012, advocates for the poor are asking elected officials to avert the fiscal cliff and its potentially devastating effects on the economy.
The federal budget “is a moral document that demonstrates the nation’s priorities,” said Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA on Dec. 4. “Therefore, the needs and concerns of the most vulnerable must be a top priority.” Read more
Baltimore, Md., Dec 28, 2012 / 04:05 pm (CNA).- As the winter season continues, the Little Sisters of the Poor are relying on God’s providence to help their care for the elderly poor, as they always have.
“One of the foundational virtues of our congregation,” Sister Constance Veit told CNA Dec. 20, is “trust in providence.”
The Little Sisters of the Poor were founded by Saint Jeanne Jugan in France the 1830s to take care of the elderly poor, who had no one else to look after them. They now operate homes throughout the world, with 30 in the U.S. serving some 2,500 persons. Read more
Catholic Social Teaching
Blessed Pope John XXIII published “Peace on Earth” on April 11, 1963, in direct response to the Cuban missile crisis, which threatened global thermonuclear war during the tense days of Oct. 16-28, 1962. The Holy See marked the upcoming 50th anniversary year of “Pacem in Terris” on Oct. 24 at the United Nations in New York. The Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, along with two co-hosts, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and Pax Romana, sponsored a symposium titled “The Encyclical Pacem in Terris: Its Fiftieth Anniversary and its Relevance to the 21st Century.”
A great deal of attention has been paid to the focus on human rights, disarmament and the call to world community in “Peace on Earth.” Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, Apostolic Nuncio to the United Nations, noted that Blessed Pope John’s encyclical was addressed for the first time in papal history to “all men of good will.” Many of the participants at the Holy See’s symposium reminded us that in addition to goodwill, an economic system that is grounded in the common good is also indispensable to global peace. Read more
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