How Catholic Social Teaching engages the world situation

The assigned topic of this paper is to analyze how the Catholic Church has engaged the modern world, particularly in the twentieth century.  The assignment offered license to advance into this century and I will take advantage of that invitation.  Both terms, Church and world, admit of expansive definitions.  For this paper the teaching of the Second Vatican Council will provide the understanding for both terms.  Hence the Church, understood as both a community of disciples, “The People of God”, and the social institution which structures the community are used as the dogmatic constitution on the Church, “Lumen Gentium” describes them.  The world for the purposes of this paper can be understood as the pastoral constitution of the council, “Gaudium et Spes” describes it:

Therefore, the world which the Council has in mind is the whole human family seen in the context of everything which envelopes it: it is the world as the theatre of human history, bearing the marks of its travail, its triumphs and its failures, the world which in the Christian vision has been created and is sustained by the love of its maker which has been freed from the slavery of sin by Christ.  (#2)

            While this theological description of the world will have to be joined to a more empirical description in this paper, the basic theme of “Gaudium et Spes” is that the Church is always in the world, surrounded, challenged and questioned by its complexity.  The Church has engaged the world since time of the New Testament.  Such engagement has involved its hierarchical leadership and the community it leads. 

            The design of the paper will move in three steps: first, an assessment of Pope Leo XIII’s engagement as found in “Rerum Novarum” but also through the broader policy of his pontificate; second, an assessment of the engagement inaugurated by “Gaudium et Spes” the final document of the Second Vatican Council; third, an analysis of how two popes, John Paul II and Francis, have carried forward the conciliar style of engagement and have given their personal shape to it. 

I. Pope Leo XIII: A Classical Voice in a Changing Time

            Pope Leo XIII will always be recognized as the founder of modern Catholic social teaching because of the inspiration and influence of his encyclical “Rerum Novarum”(1891).  But the full range of his contribution to the Church of engagement with the world requires that “Rerum Novarum” be situated in a wider architecture of teaching and policy during Leo XIII’s papacy.  Father Joseph Moody points toward this broader evaluation of Leo XIII’s role in the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century:

The election of Leo XIII represents a watershed in the history of the modern papacy.  Most of his immediate predecessors had engaged in a struggle with new forces that were the expression of changes occurring in the social structure of modern Europe …. Leo XIII’s pontificate marked a decisive change.1

            To appreciate what Moody calls a “revolutionary” change, it is necessary to locate Leo XIII in the context of “the world situation” he inherited.  The world of the late nineteenth century had the following distinguishing characteristics.  First, politically, it was a Eurocentric world, shaped by the legacy of the Bismarkian balance of power among five major states.  These were Britain, Russia, France, Austria-Hungary and Germany.  Leo XIII’s political engagement reached all five of these Great Powers.  Second, it was a world in which imperial power emanating from these states shaped the colonial order in large parts of the world.  Third, religiously, the European order – a focus of Pope Leo’s papacy – was still structured by the Westphalian tradition of religious establishment (cujus regio, ejus religio).  Fourth, economically, the dominant reality was the driving force of the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America.  Each of these major characteristics of “the world situation” confronted Leo XIII and the broad range of his teaching addressed in some form each sphere of activity.  Noting this helps to place “Rerum Novarum” in context.  This singular document was Leo XIII’s principal response to the changing economic order he encountered.  But it is matched by ninety-seven documents of this productive Pope regarding the political-religious order of his time.  A pope with less philosophical vision than Leo XIII or less political-diplomatic skill may well have sought defensive shelter from the combined political-economic forces confronting him, but Leo XIII addressed both situations and did so, as Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., demonstrated, because the same pastoral object of the Pope’s concern was threatened politically and economically.  The threats came from two major sources: political and economic liberalism on the one hand and Marxist Socialism on the other.  In his political writings Leo XIII engaged consistently what Murray called “Continental Sectarian Liberalism”, a secular rationalist philosophy committed in Europe, as Leo XIII stated, to “a deliberate policy either to drive the Church wholly out of public existence or to hold her bound and fettered to the Regime”.2  In the economic order, the twin dominant forces were classical economic liberalism and socialism.  Leo XIII’s focus between these two broad threats, political and economic, was or what he called in his political writing the “imperita multitudo” and in “Rerum Novarum”, the “miserum vulgus”.   Translated, it was the Catholic community at the mercy of harsh political and economic doctrines.  Leo XIII, in his paternal conception of papal leadership, engaged the world as he found it in defense of his flock. 

            The engagement, Professor Oscar Kohler demonstrated, was broadly conceived and multidimensional in scope.3 My reading of the strategy is that it was intellectual, social and diplomatic.  In all three areas Leo XIII’s engagement set afoot changes in Catholicism that extended – with later and different developments – into the twentieth century.  Intellectually, Leo XIII understood from the outset that a purely defensive strategy – failure to engage creatively – would be inadequate.  To some degree, the marginalization of the church when he was elected was due not only to the forces confronting the church but to the way his predecessors, Gregory XVI (1831-1846) and Pius IX (1846-1878) had responded to them.  Leo XIII set afoot the intellectual commitment to a revival of the scholastic tradition with Thomas Aquinas as the model scholar; his goal was to equip Catholicism with the capacity not only to critique error but to provide a positive vision, religiously and socially.  The intellectual renewal was led by his capacious teaching ministry, but it extended to seminaries and Catholic universities and associations.  Known as the Neo-Scholastic revival, its influence extended right through to the opening of the Second Vatican Council. 

            The intellectual dimension of the Pope’s strategy was directly relevant to his social engagement through “Rerum Novarum”. While Neo-Scholasticism had a profound effect within Catholicism, it had limited impact beyond it.  But it did provide the intellectual resources for “Rerum Novarum”. Drawing upon earlier chapters of Catholic political and moral thought, from Aquinas through the Spanish Scholastics to work being done in Germany and Switzerland in the nineteenth century, Leo XIII used classical ideas of human dignity, the common good, and the Aristotilean-Thomistic theory of justice to provide a moral analysis of the consequences of the Industrial Revolution and a distinct moral conception of the economic order.  The specifics of this engagement are well known: the dignity of the worker, the responsibilities of owners, and the right to association (unions), and  the just wage.  Together they provided the foundation for the much expanded social teaching of the next century. 

            The intellectual and social components of the Leonine strategy were matched by extensive diplomatic engagement.4  The challenge Leo XIII faced on the diplomatic front is illustrated by the fact that when Pius IX died, it was questionable whether the conclave to elect his successor could be held at the Vatican.  The double problem was whether security could be guaranteed in Rome or whether any other nation would be willing to host the conclave. 5 The diplomatic isolation of the Holy See was substantial.  From the time of his election Leo XIII launched a diplomatic campaign of engagement.  Its results were mixed, but the total effort raised significantly the official diplomatic ties between the Holy See and major states.  Among his accomplishments was Leo XIII’s successful ending of Bismarck’s “Kulturkampf” against the church in Germany.  Indeed – for his own reasons to be sure – Bismarck then requested Leo XIII’s assistance in mediating the dispute between Spain and Germany over the Caroline Islands.  Less successful was Leo’s attempt to improve relationships between the regime and the church in France; his projects of reconciliation never achieved his objectives.  Similarly, the relationship with the new state of Italy yielded few results. 

            To assess Leo XIII’s strategy of engagement, it is necessary to recognize the historic dimensions of the challenges he faced.  Three broad examples, already indicated, will illustrate the challenge.  First, the Post-Reformation consequences embedded in the Westphalian order of diplomacy.  Westphalia had a double meaning: in response to the religious component of the wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Westphalia sponsored the idea of the unitary religious state – Protestant or Catholic in Europe; distinct from the internal ordering of states the Westphalian tradition of international politics – including its secularizing tendencies – became the standard template for teaching, interpreting and practicing statecraft.6  The Vatican opposed the Westphalian order from the outset; but it came eventually to participate in what it opposed, both within states (“established religion”) and among states.  Leo XIII had few options save to accommodate religious establishment within Catholic states and to enter the Westphalian diplomatic order as its sole religious participant.7  

            Second, the intellectual legacy of the Enlightenment was closely tied to the emergence of democracy in the eighteenth century.  The broad lines of Catholic vs. the Enlightenment encounter spilled over into an inability of nineteenth century Catholicism to accept and foster democracy as a philosophy or a regime.  Leo XIII’s political writing, as Murray demonstrates in detail, was focused less on what democracy offered and more or defending the existence and rights of the Church against the forces of liberalism in his time.  The latter was seen as the advocate of democracy opposing both the ancien regime and the Church in Catholic states.

            Third, the clash of economic liberalism and socialism left Leo XIII narrow territory from which to defend workers, decry their economic plight, defend the right of private property and yet to resist what he understood to be the socialist remedy.  “Rerum Novarum” was his distinct and widely recognized effort to situate economic competition within a moral framework.

            To “reread” “Rerum Novarum” as Pope John Paul II did in “Centesimus Annus” is to be able to assess Leo XIII’s engagement strategy in light of challenges he faced.  As noted above, his intellectual renewal bore results throughout the Catholic world, becoming the principal tradition for relating faith and reason, and for providing the resources for Catholic public engagement up to the cusp of Vatican II.  The fact that a significant part of the conciliar debate involved differing views of whether the Neo-Scholastic worldview was adequate or not points to the role it played prior to the Council.8

            Leo’s political philosophy moved decisively beyond his predecessors, but stood in need of substantial development to allow the church to recognize the merits of democracy and to endorse at  Vatican II the right to religious freedom, two ideas not found in the Leonine corpus but essential for the church’s public engagement today.  Again, the Leonine influence was evident, however, in the sense that the opponents of religious freedom at times argued that because Leo XIII did not endorse it, it should not be approved.9  Later in the paper reference will be made to the decisive support John Paul II gave to religious freedom in word and deed.

            Third, the lasting influence of “Rerum Novarum” on the social tradition and social teaching of Catholicism is evident in the multiple encyclicals of the twentieth century which are grounded in the Leonine inspiration.  Here, John Paul II in “Centesimus Annus” provides a fitting tribute to the role “Rerum Novarum” has played in the life of the church: “The pope’s approach in publishing “Rerum Novarum” gave the church ‘citizenship status’ as it were, amid the changing realities of public life and this standing would be confirmed later on”.10 The social teaching would develop beyond “Rerum Novarum” but not displace it.                                                       

II. Vatican II: The Pastoral Constitution or the Church in the Modern World

            The engagement of the church with the world is measured in millennia, so the designation of specific fault lines, when understanding and insight deepen and occur, must be justified.  Between the pontificates of Leo XIII (1878-1903) and John Paul II (1978-2005)the Second Vatican Council was convoked and held (1962-1965).  The proposition being advanced in this section of the paper is that the council itself and specifically its final document  “Gaudium et Spes” was the single most influential event shaping the engagement of the church with the world in the last fifty years.  Our conference is focused primarily on the relationship of “Rerum Novarum” and “Centesimus Annus”, and, by extension on the other social encyclicals of the twentieth century.  The magisterial documents have been the principal means of engagement for the church in the secular arena of politics, economics, law and international relations.

            At times, “Gaudium et Spes” is simply folded into “the social teaching” but I would argue such a merger fails to do justice to the distinct contribution the conciliar document makes to the social ministry of the church and its potential for broader engagement with the world of our time.  “Guadium et Spes” differs from the encyclical tradition in its theological content and its rich ecclesiological emphasis.  Neither of these find significant attention in the social teaching prior to Vatican II.  The conciliar text, I would argue, should be read as a distinct complement to the social tradition, providing for the encyclicals a theological – ecclesiological framework which locates the social ministry at the very heart of the Church’s life, and provides both a style and substance of engagement which can enhance the broader ministry of the Church.

            Before expanding on this complementary relationship, it is necessary to sketch “the world situation” which the Vatican Council encountered.  The world in 1962-65 had changed dramatically since the pontificate of Leo XIII.  Politically, the dominant characteristic of the century had been the two world wars and the cold war which was the backdrop for Vatican II.  The world of Leo XIII had been destroyed by World War I which swept away the German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires.  Within two decades after the Peace of Paris (1919) the cataclysmic conflict of World War II yielded the bipolar superpower competition with the danger of nuclear war an ever present reality for the next forty years.  Just as significant as the changing European order after 1945 was the process of decolonization and political independence of over one hundred new states across the southern hemisphere.  Economically, the post-war division of the world into market and centralized economies – the spheres of capitalism and socialism – reinforced the political division of East and West. 

            Religiously, the 1960s produced what came to be called “the secularization thesis” proposing that as “modernization” increased in a society, religious affiliation would decline as a public influence and be contained within the private sphere of personal commitment.  “Gaudium et Spes” itself described the world of its time in this way: “We are entitled to speak of a real social and cultural transformation whose repercussions are felt too on the religious level.”  (#4)

            “Gaudium et Spes” addressed each of these broad themes and more, including the role of family life, human sexuality, and contemporary atheism.  But the significance of the conciliar text was not primarily its moral analysis of these large and complex questions.  Its principal contribution was to locate the social teaching (which would in time take up these themes) in a theological and ecclesiological context.  Counting from “Rerum Novarum,” the magisterium had produced four major social encyclicals and the expansive body of Pius XII’s social teaching.  The major focus of these documents was moral analysis in light of the Catholic tradition.  But often the connection between these major moral documents and the broader framework of Catholic theology was seldom explored.  Such a gap left the question of the role and importance of the social texts unanswered within the Church.

            That such a gap existed was illustrated by the fact that an ecumenical council (Vatican II) which was explicitly focused on the nature and mission of the church had no plan to address explicitly the role of the church in the world.11 It was only within the debates of the First Session of the Council that interventions from the floor highlighted this curious omission.  Two addresses in particular, of Cardinal Suenens of Brussels and Cardinal Montini of Milan, urged the Council to look beyond the internal questions of the structure of Catholicism to the issue of how the Church could and should explain the significance of Christian faith and the Catholic Church for the dominant issues facing a world of clashing ideologies, nuclear danger, global poverty, secularization and marriage and families.  These significant interventions caused a change in the plan for the Council, adding the document “Gaudium et Spes” which became the longest and one of the most consequential texts of the Council.

            “Gaudium et Spes” is all about engagement with “the world situation”, the assignment of this paper.  The document’s origins were a surprise, but its consequences for engagement have been long-term and pervasive for the Church and the world.  Its significance can be indicated in terms of its tone, its content and its impact on the social ministry of the Church which followed Vatican II. 

            The tone of the document, captured in its opening paragraph, clearly set it apart from the defensive posture of Church and world which had marked not only the nineteenth century but much of later Catholic commentary about modernity and world modernity had created.12  The council declared:    

The joy and the hope, the grief and the anguish of the men of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and the anguish of the followers of Christ as well.  Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.  (#1)

            In engaging the world, tone carries weight.  Pope John XXIII had demonstrated this reality in calling the Council and in his opening address to it where he faced the world and all its dangers, but maintained a posture of hope, stressing the opportunities which stood before the church not the dangers.  Tone makes a difference but it must be matched by content and substance.  Three examples of the content of “Gaudium et Spes” which highlight its role and significance as a complement to the social teaching are the following.

            The first builds upon the opening paragraph just cited; but it moves on to a specific invitation to engagement on the part of the Church:

And so the Council, as witness and guide to the faith of the whole people of God, gathered together by Christ, can find no more eloquent expression of it solidarity and respectful affection for the whole human family to which it belongs, than to enter into dialogue with it about all these different problems.(#3) 

            From Pope Leo XIII through Pope Pius XII even when the Church sought to engage the world, the dangers of either the nineteenth or twentieth century (different as they were) tended to set limits to how far engagement could be pursued without risking the ministry  of the Church as a community or an institution.  Engagement was not absent, but it was limited, even tentative at times.  In this passage from “Gaudium et Spes”, at the highest level the Church invites engagement through dialogue.  Dialogue in turn was premised on two ideas about the Church’s engagement with the world.  The first was the acknowledgement of the legitimate autonomy of secular reality.  Again, from “Gaudium et Spes”:

          There seems to be some apprehension today that a close association between human activity and religion will endanger the autonomy of man, of organizations and of science.  If by the autonomy of earthly affairs is meant the gradual discovery, exploitation and ordering of the laws and values of matter and society then the demand for autonomy is perfectly in order: it is at once the claim of modern man and the desire of the creator. (#36)

            The Council quickly added that legitimate autonomy in human affairs does not mean that such activity is beyond moral analysis or divorced from God.  But the acknowledgement of respect for autonomy is one of the pre-conditions for authentic dialogue between Church and world. 

            The second complementary idea to that of legitimate autonomy was the explicit acknowledgement that dialogue was a learning experience for all parties; as the conciliar text states: “the Church is not unaware of how much it has profited from the history and development of mankind.  It profits from the experience of past ages, from the progress of the sciences, and from the riches hidden in various cultures, through which greater light is thrown on the nature of man and new avenues to truth are opened up.”13 Dialogue means listening and learning as well as speaking and teaching.  “Gaudium et Spes” displays a Church which is convinced it can learn from the world and yet confident it has something important to say to the world.  Confident modesty characterizes the engagement style of “Gaudium et Spes”.

            The second and third dimensions of content for engagement in “Gaudium et Spes,” are both based in the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation.  Each of the four opening chapters of Part I in “Gaudium et Spes” rises to a concluding statement about the Incarnation.  Those chapters are respectively dedicated to (1) the human person; (2) human community; (3) human activity in the world; and (4) the Church.  Each of these realities, “Gaudium et Spes” teaches, finds its fulfillment in the meaning of incarnation.  In the years prior to the Council, European theologians developed an approach to the Church on the basis of what came to be called “Incarnational Theology”; names such as Yves Congar and Henri de Lubac and others highlighted how this central Catholic doctrine found expression in what another European, Gutave Thils, called terrestrial realities.14

            From the Incarnation two central ideas are developed in “Gaudium et Spes”. The first is its teaching on the human person and human dignity.  The dignity of every person has been the cornerstone of Catholic social teaching; Pius XII taught that the person is “the subject, the foundation and the end of social life.”15 Upon this foundation rose the demand for human rights and the capacity for active citizenship in society.  In the social teaching the dignity of the person is a philosophical truth, a central dimension of Natural Law philosophy.  The incarnational theology of “Gaudium et Spes” ties this truth of reason to a doctrine of faith: “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear.”(#22) And again: “Whoever follows Christ the perfect man becomes himself more a man”. These theological statements may be less accessible when sharing Catholic social teaching with civil society, but they provide a powerful message within the Church about the universal dignity of each person, and the rationale for the social ministry.

            The second consequence of incarnational theology found in “Gaudium et Spes” is the central biblical truth of the Kingdom of God.  This theme is pervasive in the words and deeds of Jesus in the synoptic gospels.  Again its principle value is to provide a sense of meaning and purpose for Christians as they seek to engage the work of the world.  The engagement style of the conciliar text stresses that the range of human activity, the work done in the sectors of ordinary civil life, has a meaning beyond its immediate significance.  Engaging the world in pursuit of greater justice, reconciliation and peace, professional and political life – all of these daily engagements in secular life have lasting value.  The work of the Kingdom, began by Jesus, will only be completed beyond history by the Lord himself.  But this work is to be continued by the Church in history.  This is the ultimate rationale for engagement: it is the work of the Kingdom, begun by Christ, continued by others.  And, the Council teaches, we have an insight into its ultimate purpose.  The work of the Kingdom extends the Incarnation in time.  And the goal and purpose of the work, intrinsically important each day, finds its fulfillment beyond history:

When we have spread on earth the fruits of our nature and our enterprise – human dignity, brotherly communion and freedom – according to the command of the Lord and in his Spirit we will find them once again, cleansed this time from the stain of sin, illuminated and transfigured …. Here on earth the Kingdom is mysteriously present; when the Lord comes it will enter into its perfection. (#39)

            An assessment of “Gaudium et Spes’s” impact within and beyond the Church should include at least the following four judgements.  First, its significance in the Council itself is acknowledged because it is one of the four “constitutions” which form the core documents of Vatican II.  Second, a review of the increased social engagement of Catholicism in the years immediately following the council, and continuing today, cannot wholly be attributed to “Gaudium et Spes”, but it certainly includes its content and call to engagement.  From Latin American to Southern Africa, from the Philippines and South Korea to Central and Eastern Europe the last third of the twentieth century found the Church - as a community and an institution – deeply engaged in the world.  Third, “Gaudium et Spes” in tandem with “Dignitatis Humanae” provided a renewed and significantly changed definition of Catholicism’s engagement with the secular state and civil society across the world.  Fourth, while not addressed in this paper, two of the chapters in Part Two of “Gaudium et Spes” have played a significant role in the post-conciliar era.  The chapter on “Marriage and the Family” became a standard reference in the debate which followed Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae”.  The chapter on “Fostering Peace and Establishment of Community of Nations” called for evaluating war with a new attitude, and it has sparked both debate and scholarship on Catholic teaching on war and peace. 

III.  From Conciliar to Papal Engagement: Two Examples

            In the historiography of twentieth century Catholicism a tripartite framework is widely used: pre-conciliar, conciliar and post-conciliar experience of the Catholic community and its hierarchical institutions.  The consensual judgement about Vatican II is that it purposefully opened a new style of engagement between the Church and the world.  “Gaudium et Spes” is taken as the premier example of the engagement.  Beyond that consensus there is a lively debate about the consequences of the engagement begun at the Council.  While words and deeds of the papacy do not exhaust Catholic life, particularly since the Council, they do hold a unique role, influence and significance.  Here I focus on the style and substance of the engagement of John Paul II (1978-2005) and Francis (2013-    ).

A.  Pope John Paul II: The Pope as (Prophetic) Statesman

            In both the life of the Catholic Church and the life of the world, Karol Wojtyla was a person who embodied the history of the last century.  As a citizen of Poland, he and his family were impacted by the three wars of the century: born just after World War I, he lived through the fatal European consequences of the 1930s, then he prepared for the priesthood secretly during the Nazi occupation and World War II; finally, he became a major part of the history of the Cold War.  Simultaneously, his life spanned the theological and ecclesial preparation for Vatican II; he had deep engagement in the Council itself and he exercised major episcopal leadership in Poland until he was elected to the Chair of Peter.16  This range of experiences involved the Church and world.  In light of them, but without description of them, this assessment will be confined to his papacy.  He brought with him, to the office of the papacy, his experiences as a priest, a philosopher and a bishop.  He lived under an atheistic regime in a profoundly Catholic country, and he lived in a centralized command economy which existed along with a vibrant intellectual culture tied to the history of Poland.

            Internally, in the life of the church his pontificate is known for his enormous magisterial output, for his global pastoral travel and for his centralization of authority in Rome even though he spoke regularly, and with conviction, about the meaning of collegiality as a style of leadership.  A topic which continually is discussed was his participation in Vatican II and then his assessment of the dynamics of post-conciliar Catholicism.  Regarding his commitment to the teaching of Vatican II, George Weigel, in his massive biography of John Paul II, is surely accurate when he says: “That John Paul II understands himself to be a man of the Second Vatican Council is indisputable on the public record.”17 Starting with this baseline, it is still legitimate to ask about the Pope’s convictions about the post-conciliar era.  Both Paul VI and John Paul II were openly critical of how the Council and post-conciliar dynamic was interpreted by some laity and clergy, by some theologians and historians.  In John Paul II’s case, faced with more pluralism that he thought tolerable, he moved to reshape the dynamic and the discussion by focusing on three key loci in the church: appointment of bishops, the writings of theologians and the life of religious communities.  In all three instances the internal policy of the Pope can fairly be described as determination to direct the consequences of the Council in ways which often met with respectful but real resistance, yet also found sustained support over twenty-seven years. 

            While John Paul II’s leadership within the Church requires extensive analysis to be adequate, the theme of “engagement with the world situation” is primarily about his leadership on the wider world stage in pursuit of justice, peace and human rights.  The world situation he encountered is best understood as two phases of his long papacy.  Phase I (1978-1990) included his election as pope and extended to the collapse of the communist empire, first in Central Eastern Europe and then within the Soviet Union as a whole.  During these years “the world situation” was quite similar to the world which confronted the Vatican Council.  Until the communist demise, the world of bipolarity, severe nuclear danger and superpower competition were the visible characteristics of world politics.  The continuing process of decolonization and the challenges facing newly independent states were a distinct narrative, as was continuing conflicts within the Middle East.  Phase II (1990-2005) brought deep and powerful changes in the world, which John Paul II addressed in “Centesimus Annus”.  Bipolarity collapsed but there was little scholarly agreement about what configuration of states would replace it.  Indeed, the events of 2001 (the 9-11 attacks) illustrated that world politics was no longer just about states.  Transnational actors, of very different kinds and with different goals, had been expanding since the 1960’s; but transnational terror of the 9/11 kind brought very new challenges.  The tripartite division of the world which analysts used for three decades no longer yielded either clarity or accuracy in analyzing the world.  The interdependence of the 1970s had developed into the distinct phenomenon of globalization with all its diverse consequences: economic, political, and moral. 

            John Paul II, from the moment of his election, brought to this world – in both its phases – a unique range of experience and talents.  A pope who was a philosopher and an actor, an intellectual and an athlete, a pastor whose priesthood and episcopacy had been honed in conflict with an atheistic state and a centralized command economy.  Beyond these characteristics, however, the critical factor for understanding his sense of engagement was a capacious conception of pastoral and public leadership.18 This conception of the papacy would be evident in what he said and did for over a quarter of a century.  His sense of history and his understanding of the Church’s relationship to historical change permeated his writing and preaching and shaped the choices he made.  It can be traced from his first address to the United Nations (1979) through the writing of “Centesimus Annus” (especially his reflection on “The Year 1989”) and on to his focus on leading the church “across the threshold” into a new century. 

            Beyond this broadly defined, activist conception of leadership, John Paul II added another dimension, leadership which was global in scope.  The office of the papacy, of course, is universal by nature.  He made a universal office global through 104 trips crisscrossing the world in every year of his papacy.  When he died, a standard part of the commentary about him was that he likely had been seen in person by more people than any other historical figure.  Leadership which was activist and global, two dimensions of engagement.  The engagement, however, was carefully structured; he consistently defined his trips as pastoral visits to the local churches.  Yet he traveled as a head of state, so the visits were never without their secular implications.19 At times he would defend the local church from pressure or harassment (Poland – the unique example); at other times he would press the church hierarchy to take a stronger stance on human rights (Haiti, an example); at other times his goal was to open doors long closed to the church (Cuba). 

            Since the trips were pastoral, John Paul never shied away from explicit religious language with papal Masses always being major events.  But when he engaged governments, the principal means of engagement was the language and logic of human rights.  The appeal was not for favoritism or privilege for his church, but an argument of reason supporting the rights of each and all. 

            In his two addresses to the United Nations, a setting at once secular and universal, the philosopher-pope was at work.  In 1979 he praised the United Nations for its Declaration on Human rights (1948) and then dove into one of the continuing disputes at the institution and beyond it: how to define and relate political-civil rights to socio-economic rights.  He fashioned his own analysis, framing the debate in terms of spiritual and material goods, arguing for both but carefully giving priority to the former.  In secular and religious settings, he would make the case that the right to religious freedom was the fundamental human right after life itself.  For a Church which had made an explicit case for this right only at Vatican II (1965), this claim could be a source of surprise to many, but no one doubted the Pope’s commitment to the full range of basic rights. 

            In addition to this global, activist, rights-based ministry of engagement a final characteristic was John Paul II’s willingness, indeed eagerness, to engage multiple forums where the church’s relationship to the world could be described, analyzed and engaged by others in dialogue.  In addition to the U.N. General Assembly, the International Labor Organization and the multiple meetings with heads of state and other diplomats, John Paul II carried on his own personal work of the “New Evangelization” in the Vatican, in Rome and beyond. 

            His method of engagement can be examined, but not exhaustively, in terms of three substantive dimensions of it. 

            First, his style of engagement flowed directly from “Gaudium et Spes”.  He had been part of the drafting and revision of this text during the Council, and he located his engagement directly and solidly in the defense of the human person.  In his first encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis” (1979) he stated that the human person is: “the primary and fundamental way for the Church…” (#14) The sentence set the direction for his ministry of engagement.  It corresponds to the assertion in “Gaudium et Spes” that the Church “is at once the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person” (#76).  As noted above locating the social ministry of the church in the defense of the human person was not new, but John Paul II also followed the deeper, broader definition of this connection which is found in the conciliar text.  Over twenty years after “Redemptor Hominis”, John Paul II returns to the theme in “Centesimus Annus”:

We are not dealing here with man in the “abstract”, but with the real “concrete”, “historical” man.  We are dealing with each individual, since each one is included in the mystery of Redemption and through this mystery Christ has united himself with each one forever.  It follows the Church cannot abandon man and that this man is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission.  (#53)

            These statements provide two resources for a ministry of engagement.  First, the person is the criterion by which the church at every level and in every place decides which issues to pursue in the public arena.  Second, this linkage of the person and the church provides a secular rationale to explain and defend the church’s public role.  The church is in the public arena to defend human dignity and support human rights. 

            Second, the Pope’s engagement with the world included significant attention in word and deed to the role and place of the state in relation to the church and society.  At the outset it should be said that anyone who writes on John Paul II’s views on the state should attend carefully to Professor Russell Hittinger’s analysis of the theme in the Fordham International Law Jounral. Hittinger advances a very precise proposition: “The chief thesis of this article is that “Centesimus Annus” makes a decisive turn toward the liberal model of the state.” 20 He makes clear that he is not saying that the Pope’s view of the state is dependent on either eighteenth century democratic models or liberal philosophies of the West.  I find persuasive Hittinger’s argument that John Paul II has advanced Catholic understanding of the role of the state in society and its relationship to the church.  As part of his argument, based on a close reading of “Centesimus Annus,” he makes a case regarding Pope John Paul’s suspicion of the state itself and how he seeks to contain and restrain it.  Containing the power of the state is a basic idea of liberalism, but from the perspective of how the Pope engages states in his ministry I find it difficult to verify the deep suspicion of the state as such that is part of Professor Hittinger’s analysis. 

            Admittedly, I am focusing upon the level of practical engagement with the state, which is not the principal concern of Hittinger’s article.  From the perspective of engagement, I find John Paul II’s style to be Gelasian and Conciliar,  that is a mix of Pope Gelasius (496) and Vatican II.  The Gelasian tradition advocates in principle mutual respect of church and state, recognition by both parties of the legitimacy of the other, and a conviction that their roles are complementary.  It also implies, to be sure, recognition that resistance at times is necessary to protect the legitimate interests of each party.  Indeed, invoking John Courtney Murray again, he draws a line from Gelasius in the fifth century to Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085) in the eleventh century and celebrates Gregory’s strong support of freedom of the church in the face of state intrusion.21 To be sure, John Paul II invoked this restraint often.  His ministry in Poland required constant vigilance. 

            The Hittinger article is not cast as a church-state argument; it is more about the state’s role in society, a topic which runs through papal social teaching and forms part of John Paul II’s social encyclicals.  I agree that “Centesimus Annus” endorses strong restraints on the state, invoking both the principle of subsidiarity and the role of human rights. 

            Here again, Murray’s work and Hittinger’s are at least analogous but not identical (in part because Murray died in 1967).  The Hittinger article, stressing the liberal state model as a new development in the Catholic corpus of social teaching, seems to me to omit Murray’s argument that the move away from Leo XIII’s broad conception of “the ethical state”, with an expansive moral role for the state, had been progressively pursued, beginning with Pius XII then leading on to “Pacem In Terris” (1963) and finding adoption in Vatican II’s “Dignitatis Humanae”.  Murray describes the process as the move from “the ethical state” to “the juridical” model of the state.22  My point is not to focus on different wording, but rather to see “Centesimus Annus” as located within this larger process of development.  It is also what is meant by the conciliar approach of John Paul II to the role of the state as found in “Dignitatis Humanae”. If accurate, this may yield a less suspicious attitude toward the state than Hittinger finds in “Centesimus Annus”.  I stress I am trying to identify how John Paul II engaged the state in practice.  The Gelasian-Conciliar model provides for restraint on the state in sacral and in societal matters, but it also yields a recognition of the state’s unique role in human affairs, domestically and internationally.  Moreover, such a view, in principle, seeks structured collaboration with the state in pursuit of the common good.

            While the state-society relationship provoked some attention after the publication of “Centesimus Annus”, the more prominent debate concerned the state-market relationship.  The issue here was whether the liberal turn, which Professor Hittinger and others identified in the encyclical, was meant to recast papal teaching on the role of the state in the economic sector.  The stress in “Centesimus Annus” on the potential of the business or market economy, the emphasis given to the need to foster innovation and freedom in the economic arena, both raised questions of whether the intent of the encyclical (after the collapse of communism) was simply to endorse a very liberal state; some strong advocates argued this case of greater market freedom.  The text of “Centesimus Annus” provided some grounds for this debate.23

            It should be noted that John Paul II did not initiate a new theme with this encyclical.  The appropriate role of the state in the socio-economic order has run through the social teaching since Leo XIII.  John XXIII provided impetus to analysis in his discussion of the relationship between the principle of subsidiarity and the fact of socialization, preserving the principle of subsidiarity but adapting it to new needs.24  

            To be sure Pope John Paul II has provided a welcome degree of specificity in his analysis of the market economy.  Previous Catholic teaching had often tried to provide a via media between the premises of a market economy and a more expansive role for the state arising from social welfare states in Europe.  The role of the market was acknowledged but usually provided modest normative support. 

            John Paul II in “Centesimus Annus” establishes a new framework.  First, he identifies the positive potential of the role of the market; used effectively and with balance it contributes to a rational allocation of resources, it promotes initiative and innovation and it can be a protection for the citizen against the reach of the state.  Second, the Pope himself offers a balancing argument, namely, the market by itself will not secure justice in the economy.  In the words of the encyclical: “Here we find a new limit on the market: there are collective and quantitative needs which cannot be satisfied by market mechanisms.  There are important human needs which escape its logic.  There are goods which by their very nature cannot and must not be bought or sold.” (#49)

            It is because of these limitations, inherent in the dynamic of the market economy, that John Paul II argues that a juridical framework should be established within which the assets of the market can function, but basic human needs will be met.25 The language recalls Murray’s definition of the “juridical state”. 

            To return to the discussion of the liberal state, it is clear that “Centesimus Annus” does place clear limits on the state, as well as the market, but in the broader range of Pope John Paul’s social teaching, the state also has positive social functions.  Here again, John Paul II has his own way of describing these functions.  In paragraph fifteen he refers to the state-market relationship by affirming that the state “has the task of determining the juridical framework within which economic affairs are to be conducted.”  He then distinguishes two roles for the state: an “indirect role” of creating favorable conditions for economic activity, and a “direct role” of defending the weakest and ensuring the necessary minimum support for the unemployed.  This specification of the direct role establishes a principle, but a more detailed analysis of it would have to ask whether the direct role includes a guarantee of a “social safety net” which Catholic social teaching seems to imply.  Here “Mater et Magistra” (1961) and “Pacen In Terris” (1963) would provide points of reference.26

            Third, John Paul II’s engagement went beyond specific society-state relations; he engaged “the world” in two broader senses.  There was the world of the international relations, what was commonly called the international system; and there was the world as “Gaudium et Spes” had described the complex, multidimensional reality which is the setting for the church’s ministry.  Some commentary is needed about Pope John Paul’s engagement with both meanings of the world. 

            As noted above, his pontificate began in the depths of the Cold War, but the greater part of his ministry was exercised in the post-cold war era.  In secular commentary, he is usually identified with his role in bringing the Cold War to an end.  There is no question about the critical significance of how this “Pope from the Second World” exercised his religious ministry from 1978-1990 in a fashion which gave it unique political significance.  No less an authority than Michael Gorbachev has testified to the centrality of John Paul II’s influence.  Ten years after the collapse of communism, Gorbachev said: “What has happened in Eastern Europe in recent years would not have been possible without the presence of this pope.”27

            But this dimension of his engagement, the role he played in the East-West conflict, should not be seen as his exclusive concern or sole focus.  The Cold War had both an East-West and a North-South dimension.  In both his travels and his teaching John Paul II was a constant advocate for reshaping world politics to meet the needs of “the global South”.  In “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis” he criticized the dynamic of “the logic of the blocs”, his way of describing how the East-West conflict directly harmed the South.  In “Centesimus Annus” he returned to the theme, quite explicitly placing his advocacy for the South just after his argument that the nations of Central and Eastern Europe would require major assistance after the collapse of communism.28

            John Paul II’s travels matched his advocacy; he made repeated trips to Latin America and Africa over a twenty-five-year papacy.  These trips often had a dual purpose: to support the local church which often ministered in the midst of conflict and poverty, and to be a voice for the global South both during and after the Cold War.  

            Beyond his direct engagement with international politics – always in a religious sense, usually invoking the theme of human rights as his chosen mode of advocacy, John Paul carried forward the dialogue which “Gaudium et Spes” initiated and invited the church to pursue with the world.  In this dialogue, “the world” was never purely states or world politics.  It was a much broader intellectual, cultural and economic reality.  “Gaudium et Spes” purposely intended to engage the world in style and substance differently than the previous century had characterized the church’s role.  Karl Rahner described this dimension of church-world engagement:

The Council has opened up a dialogue with the world.  It actually did not and, of course, could not itself carry out this dialogue.  But during its sessions the Council clearly began to see the world of the modern mind, that is, the world of a pluralistic, scientific, technically oriented society of vast scope and multiplicity of insights and tendencies, a world of a contested and divided Christianity, one of the world religions, a world with an immense future waiting to be planned.  28

            Rahner’s description of “the world” fit well the post-industrial democracies of Western Europe, North America and Japan.  It was not an adequate description for much of the global South.  While John Paul, from his trips and his constant engagement with bishops throughout the world, knew well it was a partial world Rahner described, he also recognized its importance, for it would influence “the world” eventually beyond the borders of Europe and North America.  On that basis he sought to engage the partial version of “the world” in terms of how its cultures, its universities and its media were fashioning an understanding of the meaning of life, of the role of religion and the modern world order.  The Pope’s engagement with the world Rahner described cut across a broad range of issues: from bioethics to economics, from culture to politics, and from philosophy to faith, he was determined that the church’s vision of life, its voice for human rights and its conception of moral solidarity would not be absent in the globalizing world he saw emerging. But John Paul II never ceased to remind Rahner’s world of its responsibilities and its limits.  There were other dialogues for the church in the global south and he never omitted them in his engagement with the world.  The issues engaged the social ministry of the church, but also the role local churches could play in the life of their societies.  

            He fashioned a global ministry in multiple forums: the pulpit, the lectern, the United Nations and the world of states all heard and saw repeatedly his witness. 

B: Pope Francis: A Prophetic Papacy

            Pope Francis’s engagement with the world has been recorded, televised, tweeted and celebrated across national, religious and global lines.  In a brief pontificate thus far, he has brought together inside and beyond the Church, a unique assembly of supporters and collaborators.  His capacity for engagement across secular and sacral lines is never in doubt. 29

            The “world situation” he has encountered is, to a great degree, an extension of the world which both John Paul II and Benedict XVI addressed as pastors and teachers.  Politically, it is less well defined than the Cold War configuration; economically, it is a world still in recovery, at different levels, from the financial crisis of 2007-09. While the danger of major nuclear war has declined, the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons remains; war in this world is primarily the kind of brutal internal conflict which joins civil war with outside intervention by states and transnational terrorism.  Religiously, at least in the southern hemisphere, the secularization thesis has been contradicted to a great degree.    

            Pope Francis, of course, is both non-European and a citizen from the global South.  As John Paul II’s Polish and European background shaped his papacy, so Pope Francis brings with him key characteristics which are reflected in his ministry.  These include his background as a Jesuit, his experience as a Latin American bishop during the fifty tumultuous and creative years for the Church in Latin America since Vatican II, and his commitment to the vision of that Council.  These characteristics are dimensions of how he addresses global and national economies, the relationship of the environment and the poor and the concrete awareness he has of the costs of internal conflicts within states. 

            The first characteristic of his engagement with the Church and the world is his own persona.  From the day of his election and address to the crowds in St. Peter’s square to the present, very concrete details of his life – where he lives, what car carries him, what vestments he chooses have all been of global interest.  To a multi-religious and a secular world his person communicates humility and holiness.  But neither characteristic has limited his conviction that the office of the papacy must play a vocal demonstrative role at this time in history.  While he has addressed a wide range of daily issues in his homilies and audiences, in his major teaching documents three macro-issues of global and national significance stand out; poverty and inequality; immigration; and the environment.  These topics, which cut vertically through the world from global to national to local levels of human life, have provided him with the opportunity of speaking from his deepest convictions about the theme of “the globalization of indifference”.

            Those convictions have found expression in two different documents: “Evangelii Gaudium” and “Laudato Si”.  This first is an apostolic exhortation to the Church; the second is the encyclical directed to the Church and the world.  While they are formally different in authority, that distinction is far less important than the substantive themes which tie the texts together.  Both are classical calls to engagement; “Evangelii Gaudium” calls Christians to renew their encounter with Christ and to be agents of evangelization in the world; “Laudato Si” speaks from within the Church but calls Church and world to the engagement of care for the world we share.  In both documents the poor of the world are a connecting theme.  Engagement for Pope Francis is being a voice against “an economy of exclusion” and an advocate for addressing inequality.  In “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis draws widespread admiration for providing the moral framework which can identify the global challenge of climate change and join it again and again with the fate of the world and the fate of the poor.

In addressing these and other threats to human dignity, Pope Francis uses a combination of words and deeds.  This is a second characteristic of his style of engagement.  To some degree it is reflective of John Paul II combining his background as a teacher and an actor.  Pope Francis joins his passionate address to the world about immigration with his visits to Lampedusa and the Jesuit refugee center in Rome.  He combines his abiding references to poverty and exclusion with opening showers in the Vatican for the homeless in Rome and visits to soup kitchens and prisons on his visits abroad.  His call for lifestyle changes as part of the response to the environmental crisis is combined with his own austerity and frugality. 

            A third characteristic involves his commitment to Vatican II’s teaching on collegiality.  Pope Francis clearly has a sense of urgency about leading the Church to address the dominant issues of our time, but he wants to lead not as a solo performance but in cooperation with the worldwide episcopal college.  This is an evident mark of his style of engagement in two senses.  First, he calls the leaders of local churches to take the initiative on issues he has designated as priorities; moreover, he has stated his conviction that episcopal conferences should have doctrinal authority, a position not encouraged in the last three decades.  Second, in his encyclical, “Laudato Si” he quotes extensively throughout the letter from local episcopal conferences.  This method of engagement does not diminish his role but enhances the authority of the magisterial leadership he provides the Church. 

            Fourth, beyond episcopal collaboration Pope Francis has found innovative ways to engage expert lay collaboration in his ministry. The forms of this are multiple, from inviting mayors of major cities around the world to discuss the environment, to engaging multinational firms to address issues of the finances of the Vatican.  Here too, he reflects John Paul II’s engagement with skilled professionals.

            A fifth characteristic of engagement takes us from matters of style to his substantive address to issues.  The Pope’s address to the major issues designated above is often in a discourse of the prophetic style.  He often uses sweeping characterizations (the globalization of indifference; the magic of the market; an economy of exclusion); in doing so he is not alone; each of these designations can be found in secular literature and analysis but in less powerfully symbolic statements, There is no indication that the language is purposefully meant to shock; it is rather meant to demonstrate how deeply some solutions must be rooted to be effective.  Two different commutators on Pope Francis’s teaching style have made similar observations.  In her “Introduction” to one of the secular publications of “Laudato Si” Professor Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, focuses positively on the underlying themes of the encyclical, not only the facts of the environmental crisis, but mentalities which undergird it, which she identifies as “the myths of modernity, the myth of progress and the technocratic paradigm”.30  The words are not hers but Pope Francis’s, but she finds them powerful indicators of the depth of the problem climate change holds for the world.  A similar assessment of the Pope’s way of addressing problems which others identify but not with the same capacity to generate responses is made by Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, CA.

Specifically, the pope’s writings on inequality and economic justice point to the fallacies inherent in a series of major cultural assumptions that are embedded in American society.  These assumptions touch upon the meaning and significance of economic inequality itself, the moral standing of free markets and the relationship between economic activity and membership in society. 31

            To provide an adequate report of how Pope Francis’s address to major issues has been received, others have found some of his comments not compelling but mistaken or in need of qualification.  George Will, the dean of conservative political columnists in the United States, wrote a strong critique of both the Pope’s description of problems and his proposed solutions just before the papal visit to the United States.  Will described some of the Pope’s positions as demonstrably false and potentially harmful to the poor.

            Such comments – of strong support and equally strong critique – raise a further question about Pope Francis’s engagement with major socio-economic and/or political issues like, poverty or immigration.  There is no question, from my reading about his papacy, that support for the Pope’s style and substance outweigh his critics inside and outside the church.  A typical example is the comment of The Guardian (London) about “Laudato Si”: “The most astonishing and perhaps the most ambitious papal document of the past 100 years.” On many issues Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II have spoken from similar positions.  But the prophetic style of Pope Francis has galvanized support in a unique way.  At the same time, and because the Holy Father is so firmly committed to issues of transcendent importance to the world and the poor of the world, one proposal could be considered.  On the question of how the market economy functions and on its extension through globalization, the major difference of style of engagement between Frances and John Paul II is the way the latter moves his critique into a kind of casuistry, weighing multiple factors, balancing assessments of both the market and globalization in detached fashion.  In brief, prophetic discourse and casuistic analysis can be complementary and bring different sources of strength to magisterial teaching.  Both popes have stressed in encyclicals that they intended their teaching to be in continuity with their predecessors.  A complementary model of these two globalist popes may be a useful contribution to engagement.  This proposal seeks to maximize two styles of engagement which differ in style but not substance.  The proposal may also be too absolute; certainly “Laudato Si” had casuistic dimensions to it.  So, unlike assessments of the completed papacies of Leo XIII or John Paul II, evaluating the engagement of Pope Francis means analyzing a process not a finished product.  The process has produced dramatic engagement for the Church and world: its final product will shape them both long after this papacy has been completed. 

            Engagement of “the world situation” is a permanent dimension of papal ministry.  The examples examined here, along with the Second Vatican Council, are meant to provide a spectrum of styles so that future engagement can be adequately examined and supported. 


1.  Joseph Moody, “From Old Regime to the Democratic Society” in Joseph N. Moody, ed., Church and Society: Catholic Social and Political Thought and Movements 1789-1950 (New York, N.Y: Arts Inc., 1953) p. 41

2.  I rely here on a series of articles by John Courtney Murray S.J., because of his uniquely detailed exegesis of the thought of Leo XIII and his own unique participation in shaping Catholic thought on religious freedom, church and state, and development of doctrine.  The texts are multiple; three are useful here: “Leo XIII: Two Concepts of Government”, Theological Studies 14(1953) p. 553; “Leo XIII: Two Concepts of Government: Government and the Order of Culture”, Theological Studies 15(1954) p. 25; “Leo XIII on Church and State: The General Structure of the Controversy”, Theological Studies 14(1953) pp 1-30

3.  Oscar Koehler, “The World Plan of Leo XIII: Goals and Methods” in Hubert Jedin, ed., History of the Church: The Church in the Industrial Age (New York, N.Y: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1981) p. 3-25

4.  Koehler, Ibid., p. 14-15; examples of his diplomacy

5.  Koehler, Ibid., p. 36. 

6.  For a positive assessment of the Westphalian order and its continuing viability today see: Henry Kissinger, World Order (New York, N.Y: Penguin Press, 2014) pp. 25-31.

7.  Daniel Philpott, “The Religious Roots of Modern International Relations”, World Politics 52(2000) pp. 206-245.  Philpott has argued here and in other texts that the Reformation was intrinsic to Westphalia, but the Holy See opposed Westphalia.

8.  Yves Congar, My Journal of the Council (Collegeville, Mn: Liturgical Press, 2012).  Congar refers at various points to the debates about Neo-Scholasticism at Vatican II; John O’Malley, S.J., “The style of Vatican II”. He contrasts the style of the Neo-Scholasticism with the style of the Council as one dimensions of his interpretation of Vatican II.  See: America 188 (February 24, 2003) p. 14

9.  In the debate leading up to Vatican II and at the Council, opponents of change stressed that Leo’s position was the definitive teaching.  The advocates for change distinguished between aspects of Leonine teaching which were lasting and aspects which were the product of his historical situation.

10.  John Paul II, “Centesimus Annus”, (1991) #5

11.  “Yet the originality of this Constitution is that of the Council itself.  No other document is more typical of Vatican Council II.  The fact that neither this or any document resembling it was to be found among nearly four score drafts drawn up before the Council … is in itself a measure and sign of what happened within the Council.”  Archbishop Mark G. McGrath, C.S.C., “The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” in John H. Miller, C.S.C., Vatican II: An Interfaith Appraisal (Notre Dame, IN: Universoty of Notre Dame Press, 1966) p.397

12.  David Hollenbach, “Commentary on Gaudium et Spes”, in Kenneth R. Himes, et al, eds., Modern Catholic Social Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2005) p. 266

13.  Vatican II, “Gaudium et Spes”, (1965) #44

14.  J. Bryan Hehir, The Church in the World: Responding to the Call of the Council; The Marianist Award Lecture 1995 (Dayton, Ohio: The University of Dayton, 1995)

15.  Pius XII, “Radio Message, Christmas Eve” 1944; quoted in “Pacem In Terris” (1963) #26

16.  There are multiple – and varied – biographies of Pope John Paul II; examples include George Huntston Williams, The Mind of John Paul II (New York, N.Y: The Seabury Press, 1981); George Weigel, Witness to Hope: The Biography of John Paul II (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999); Tad Szule, Pope John Paul II; The Biography (New York, N.Y: Scribner, 1995)

17.  Weigel, cited, p. 851

18.  This style of leadership found synthetic statements portrayed for the general public when John Paul II died: J. Y. Smith, “The Church Loses Its Light”, Washington Post, April 3, 2005; Commemorative Issue of Time, April 11, 2005.

19. A typical example of the Pope’s definition of this dual role is found in his formal statement to King Carlos of Spain to open a visit to Spain: “The Church is a spiritual type of society with spiritual aims, without any desire to compete with civil powers or to deal with material or political affairs which she recognizes with pleasure are not in her competence”. David Willey, God’s Politician: Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church and the New World Order (New York, N.Y: St. Martin’s Press, 1992) p. 227

20.  Russell Hittinger, Fordham International Law Journal 15(1991-92) p. 992

21. Murray, “The Problem of Religious Freedom” Theological Studies, 25(1964) p. 532

22.  Idem, p. 544

23.  John Paul II’s interpretation of what happened in “The Year 1989” had been awaited by many who understood his key moral and spiritual role in the collapse of communism.  Inevitably, the same interested audience – political, moral and intellectual – wanted an answer to the question which the Pope himself raised explicitly in “Centesimus Annus”: “Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said after the failure of communism, capitalism is the victorious social system and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society?” John Paul II acknowledged “The answer is obviously complex.” He then went on to distinguish different types of possible capitalist economies.  In preparation for “Centesimus Annus”, the Pope had assembled a significant body of economic talent, of different schools of thought, to advise him in the writing of “Centesimus Annus”.  He affirmed the value of a “market” or “business” economy when the market is “circumscribed within a strong juridical framework”, while affirming the distinctiveness of John Paul II’s position in affirming the positive possibilities of a “business” or “free” or “market” economy, George Weigel also concludes “it is simplistic and misleading to say that “Centesimus Annus” endorses capitalism period”. (CA #42) and Weigel, cited, 616.  To some degree the debate on this question continues today and Pope Francis has become very much part of it. 

24. John XXIII, Mater Et Magistra” (1961) #51-67

25. John Paul II, “Cenesimus Annus”: Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical or political vacuum”. (#48) The interpretation of such a framework is not specified, because, in part, the Pope is clear that “The church has no models to present”. (#43) While no one model exists the juridical-political framework would seem to be a mix of law and social policy adapted to different political and cultural contexts. 

26.  To Some degree this comparison of what Catholic social teaching expects a just and adequate social system should provide, especially for the poor and vulnerable is needed because of John Paul II’s critique of “the welfare state”.  This understanding of the state-society relationship characterizes – in different styles – the post-industrial democracies.  When one reads the expectations for socio-economic policy found in John XXIII’s encyclicals and other church documents, it is difficult to see how these basic “social safety net” conditions can be met without some form of the social welfare state.

27.  Gorbachev is quoted in “The Church Loses It’s Light”, Washington Post, cited, p. A37

28. Karl Rahner, “The Task of Theology after the Council”, in Miller, Vatican II, cited p. 590

29.  The literature on Pope Francis grows exponentially; two early biographies are: Austen Ivereigh, The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (New York, N.Y: Henry Holt Company, 2014); Paul Vallely, Pope Francis: The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism (New York, N.Y: Bloomsbury U.S.A., 2015)

30.  Naomi Oreskes, “Introduction”, Pope Francis, Encyclical on Climate Change and Inequality (Brooklyn, N.Y: Melville House, 2015) p. xiii

31.  Robert E. McElroy, “Market Assumptions”, America (November 3, 2014) p. 14



La Centesimus Annus 25 anni dopo

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