One of our parliamentary interns, Joseph, gives us an insight into all he has learned so far through the seminars offered to the interns on exploring the richness of Catholic Social Teaching.
One of the most common complaints articulated about contemporary politics is that it is ideologically vacuous. It seems that politicians from both sides of the political spectrum are content to promote orthodoxy and the status quo, to tinker round the edges of the system as it stands without advocating for genuine and transformational change. This is concerning, not least because a radical political vision is what is required by the crises of our time; by the climate emergency, by war across the globe, by famine in East Africa, and by the cost-of-living crisis at home. Arguably, Catholic Social Teaching is well-placed to provide answers to these grave questions of modernity. It has been enlightening to learn about the richness and depth of this intellectual tradition over the course of the past six weeks, and to begin thinking about how to bring some of the vision it espouses to our placements.
It has been enlightening to learn about the richness and depth of this intellectual tradition over the course of the past six weeks, and to begin thinking about how to bring some of the vision it espouses to our placements.
Part of the appeal of CST is that it offers freedom as well as guidance. As Professor Philip Booth, Head of Policy & Research at the Bishops’ Conference, told us, it is less a series of injunctions and more of a framework through which individuals can work out solutions to particular problems in particular contexts. In this way, CST blends authority, the writings of successive Popes and the Magisterium, with individual reason and conscience. It trusts the ability of the human made in the image of God to come up with their own answers to specific issues, while respecting such principles as the preferential option for the poor, subsidiarity and the universal destination of goods. The means by which such precepts have acquired moral status within the Catholic social tradition was explained to us by Revd Dr Ashley Beck of St Mary’s Twickenham, who led us through the fascinating history of Papal social encyclicals. It was comforting to learn that so many Popes had written at such length on social matters, and to realise that these writings provide us with a repository to fall back on in times of political doubt.
The human person lies at the heart of CST. This idea, and many more besides, were beautifully conveyed to us by Jenny Sinclair of Together for the Common Good in another CST lecture. By placing the human person at the forefront of social and political decision-making, it is easier to determine when a course of action is dehumanising, and thus antithetical to Catholic values and the sanctity of life. Another consequence of the human-centric ethos of CST, and of the idea of the transcendence of the person, is that it transforms mundane transactions between individuals into encounters which take place ‘on holy ground’. Overall, Jenny taught us that CST provides the bridge between faith and practical politics. By investing interactions between individuals in the political sphere with an air of holiness, political actors are better able to pursue policies which are respectful and conducive to the common good.
By investing interactions between individuals in the political sphere with an air of holiness, political actors are better able to pursue policies which are respectful and conducive to the common good.
CST is not a set of abstract principles, but a living tradition. Catholics across the world are seeking to put these principles into practice in the present day. We were lucky enough to meet Edward de Quay from the Laudato Si Institute, and various representatives from CAFOD, both of whom fall into this camp. In our session with Edward, we learned about how research papers he is producing are having a direct impact on decarbonisation initiatives within the English Catholic Church. At CAFOD, we heard about how Catholic priests and laity play vital roles at the forefront of crisis management and disaster mitigation. In a recent example of this tendency, the willingness of Catholic priests to be vaccinated publicly helped to significantly reduce the spread of Ebola in Malawi. Talks from these individuals and organisations have emboldened myself and my fellow interns to attempt to apply the same ideas to our own social mission.
I am so grateful to Philip, Ashley, Jenny, Ed and CAFOD for taking the time to educate us about CST. Please continue to pray for us as we attempt to put what we have learned into practice on our placements.