CATHOLIC SOCIAL TEACHING: GENERAL APPROACHES
TO SOCIAL POLICY
Modern Catholic social teaching is one outstanding expression of the ongoing attempt of Christians in every age to advance the dialogue between the gospel and the culture in which they find themselves. In key documents emerging from recent popes, councils, and groupings of bishops, the Catholic Church has boldly addressed the needs of our age for a serious consideration of the requirements of justice. Starting with the publication of Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter, Rerum novarum (Of New Things), in 1891, Church leaders have contributed to an evolving body of teaching on economic, political, cultural, and social matters.
Among all the writings that might be termed Catholic social teaching, the easiest to identify are a set of approximately a dozen documents emanating from Vatican sources. Most of these fit within the genre of the papal social encyclical, substantial writings that take the form of a letter intended to circulate widely among the faithful, and indeed among all persons of good will. However, at least one document from the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965 (The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, or Gaudium et spes) and one document from the 1971 Synod of Bishops (Justitia in mundo [Justice in the World]) also focus squarely on social issues and are thus considered key parts of the social teaching of the universal Catholic Church.1 Table 1.1 at the end of this chapter lists the year of publication, title (usually in the original Latin), and source of each of the Church documents referred to in the chapter.
There are, of course, other Catholic sources of wisdom about life in human society than the official social teaching documents described above. Much