The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences was created "with the aim of promoting the study and progress of the social, economic, political and juridical sciences, and of thus offering the Church the elements which she can use in the study and development of her social doctrine" (art. 1). This is why your Academy is open to experts in different fields who desire to serve the truth. Our intention is to gather all the grains of truth present in the various intellectual and empirical approaches, in the image of St Thomas Aquinas who remains an example for philosophical and theological reflection.
Social science research (Socialium scientiarum investigationes) can effectively contribute to improving human relations, as has been shown by the progress achieved in various sectors of society especially during the century now drawing to a close. This is why the Church, ever concerned for man's true good, has turned with growing interest to this field of scientific research in order to obtain concrete information for fulfilling the duties of her Magisterium.
The centenary of the Encyclical Rerum novarum has provided the opportunity to be more clearly aware of the influence this document has had in mobilizing the consciences of Catholics and searching for constructive solutions to the problems raised by the worker question.
In the Encyclical Centesimus annus commemorating this centenary, I wrote that that document had granted the Church "citizenship status" as it were (cf. n. 5) in the changing realities of public life. In particular, with this Encyclical the Church started a process of reflection by which, in continuity with the preceding tradition going back to the Gospel, the set of principles took shape that was later to be called the "social doctrine" in the strict sense of the word. Thus she perceived that "light and strength" for ordering the life of society flow from the proclamation of the Gospel. Light, since from the Gospel message reason guided by faith is able to draw decisive principles for a social order worthy of man. Strength, since the Gospel accepted in the faith not only imparts theoretical principles but also spiritual energy to carry out the concrete duties stemming from these principles.
Over last century, the Church has gradually strengthened her "citizenship status" by perfecting her social doctrine, always in close relationship with the dynamic evolution of modern society. When, 40 years after Rerum novarum, the worker question became a broad social issue, Pius XI gave clear directions in his Encyclical Quadragesimo anno on how to overcome the division of society into classes. When totalitarian systems threatened man's freedom and dignity, Pius XI and Pius XII protested with forceful messages, and after the Second World War when most of Europe had been destroyed, Pius XII with repeated interventions and later John XXIII, with his Encyclicals Mater et Magistra and Pacem in terris, showed the way to social reconstruction and the consolidation of peace. In the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council placed the treatment of the Church's relationship with the world in a broad theological framework and declared that "the origin, the subject and the purpose of all social institutions is and should be the human person" (n. 25). In the 70s, when the drama of developing countries was unfolding more clearly, Pope Paul VI, faced with a one-sided economic vision, in his Encyclical Populorum progressio outlined the programme for a complete development of peoples. In recent times, with my three social Encyclicals I have taken a stance in regard to the decisive problems of society: the dignity of human work (Laborem exercens), the overcoming of economic and political blocks (Sollicitudo rei socialis) and, after the collapse of system of real socialism, the building of a new national and international order (Centesimus annus).
This brief summary is intended to show that over the last 100 years the Church has not failed to offer "the word that pertains to her", as Leo XIII said; indeed she has continued to develop what John XXIII called the "rich heritage" of Catholic social doctrine.
Upon examination of these 100 years of history one point stands out clearly: the Church has succeeded in building up a rich patrimony of Catholic social doctrine because of close collaboration, on the one hand, with Catholic social movements, and on the other, with experts in the social sciences. Leo XIII had already stressed this collaboration and Pius XI spoke with gratitude of the contribution made to developing the social doctrine by scholars in this branch of the human sciences. For his part John XXIII in the Encyclical Mater et Magistra stressed that the social teaching must always strive to take into account "the true state of affairs" by maintaining a constant dialogue with the social sciences. Finally, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council adopted a clear position in favour of the relative "autonomy of earthly realities" (Gaudium et spes, n. 36), which, in addition to theological reflection, is the subject of the social sciences and philosophy. This plurality of approaches does not in any way contradict the statements of the faith. This legitimate autonomy should therefore be given due respect by the Church especially in her social doctrine.
In the Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, I myself pointed out that Catholic social teaching would be able to carry out its tasks in today's world only "with the support of rational reflection and of the human sciences" (n. 1), since, despite the perennial validity of its basic principles, in applying the later it is also affected "by the changes in historical conditions and by the unceasing flow of events" (n. 3).
Lastly, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Rerum novarum I emphasized how, after the collapse of the system of real socialism, the Church and humanity find themselves faced with colossal challenges. The world is no longer split into two hostile blocs and yet it is facing new economic, social and political crises on a global scale. Although the Church is aware that her task is not to offer technical answers to all these problems, she still feels obliged to make her contribution to preserving peace and to building a society worthy of man. To do this, however, she needs constant and more extensive contact with the modern social sciences, with their research and with their findings. In this way she "enters into dialogue with the various disciplines concerned with man, assimilates what these disciplines have to contribute, and helps them to open themselves to a broarder horizon" (Centesimus annus n. 59).
Facing the great tasks which the future has in store, this interdisciplinary dialogue, already fostered in the past, should now be given new expression. Wherefore, in order to carry out what I announced in my address of 23 December 1991, today I establish the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences with its seat in Vatican City. As can be seen from its Statutes, this Academy is created "with the aim of promoting the study and progress of the social, economic, political and juridical sciences, and of thus offering the Church the elements which she can use in the study and development of her social doctrine" (art. 1).
In invoking the divine assistance on the activity of the new Academy, whose work I shall follow with keen interest, I impart to all its members and associates a special Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 1st January 1994,
the sixteenth year of my Pontificate
Johannes Paulus P.P. II