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Catholic Social Principles

Lifted from Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. Acts and Decrees of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines. Manila: CBCP, 1992, #s 290-329.

What does the social doctrine of the Church offer to conscience? From the wellspring of the Church’s social doctrine emerges a moral and spiritual vision of the human person and of society. This doctrinal corpus challenges the imbalances of society and the attitudes of individuals. It offers guidelines to persons on how to live the Gospel of Jesus. It presents “principles of reflection”, “criteria of judgement”, and “directives for action”, oriented towards moral conduct.

In the light of our situation we believe that certain truths in the social doctrine of the Church stand out as urgent and necessary. These truths, needing emphasis today for the development of the just life and of the just society which serves that life, are: Integral Development based on Human Dignity and Solidarity; Universal Purpose of Earthly Goods and Private Property; Social Justice and Love; Peace and Active Non-Violence; Love of Preference for the Poor; the Value of Human Work; the Integrity of Creation; the Empowerment of People.

We need to proclaim these principles, “whether convenient or inconvenient—correcting, reproving, appealing—constantly teaching and never losing patience.”

Today the emphasis that is by far dominant in developing programs is their economic impact. Cultural and social consequences are often ignored. But generating jobs for the unemployed, raising the standard of living, increasing the gross national product, providing economic sufficiency are laudable objectives only to the extent that they do not sacrifice the integrality of authentic development.

For development to be integral65 it must serve the total person in all dimensions including the interior,66 that is the spiritual dimension and external salvation of the human person. There is simply no justification for promoting economic sufficiency through immoral activities as in the flesh trade or sex-oriented tourism programs or in the immoral repression of human rights that workers, both agricultural and industrial, are often subjected to, or in the excessive external and foreign dependence that diminishes our dignity and sovereignty, and erodes international solidarity. Fidelity to the interior dimension of life and its openness to its transcendent vocation67 from and towards God is essential for development to be integral. Such inner values as righteousness and freedom are not economically compensable.

Nor can development be integral if it does not serve the good of the whole community and of all its members, an insight which Pope John Paul II has underlined by his emphasis on solidarity, i.e. “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to the good of all and of each individual because we are really responsible for all.”68 Hence, if development causes the widening of the morally scandalous gap between the rich and poor of our society, development is simply unauthentic and misdirected. This is why we cannot help but mention the neglect and even exploitation of the poorest of the poor, such as members of tribal Filipino communities, of seasonal sugarcane workers, or landless tillers and industrial workers and slum dwellers.

Each person no matter how poor and uneducated is endowed with an inalienable dignity as an image of God, a child of God,69 redeemed by God and entrusted with an eternal destiny.70 Each person has to be respected as equal member of the human family,71 actively participating towards the common good in solidarity with others. A situation such as the concentration of economic wealth and political power in the hands of the few is an affront to human dignity and solidarity. It runs counter to the truth that all human beings and not just a few are “the source, the center, and the purpose of all socio-economic life.”72 Human dignity and solidarity are fundamental values from which our development as a people must proceed.

65. Populorum Progressio (PP) 14.

66. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (SRS) 29.

67. Cf. SRS 31.

68. SRS 38.

69. Genesis 1:26-27; cf. Gaudium et Spes (GS) 12, 14-17; John 1:13; 1 John 3:1-2; Rom 8:14-17; cf. John Paul II, To the People of the Sugar Plantations, Bacolod City, February 20, 1981, no. 8.

70. GS 22.

71. PP 17.

72. GS 63.

Related to human solidarity is the fundamental principle that “God destined the earth and all it contains for all men and all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity.”73 Such a teaching is an indictment of the international economic system that has resulted in the many serious imbalances between North and South of the developed world and the less developed world. The “injustice of the poor distribution of the goods and services originally intended for all” is “one of the greatest injustices in the contemporary world”.74  Because earthly goods are meant for all, there is a responsibility for developed countries to aid developing countries and to correct the terms of commercial relationship that presently favor the richer and more powerful countries.

For our own situation, the same principle underscores the social dimension of private property. An almost exclusively privatistic view of private property has contributed to the wide chasm between the poor and the rich and the increasingly oppressive deprivation of thousands of Filipino families. Orthopraxis, and not rejection, of the Catholic social teaching on private property is a burning imperative in our situation.

We need to re-affirm the truth that private property is derived from the nature of the human person, “is valid and necessary in itself,”75 and “ought to be considered an extension of human freedom”.76 This is a constant teaching of the Church. But equally constant, and — sadly — not so faithfully practiced is the perennial truth that private property has a social dimension.

This social dimension is the clear implication of evangelical Christian love:

“If someone who has worldy means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but indeed and truth.”77

Furthermore, Christian tradition “has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone”.78 As St. Ambrose declared:

"You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handling over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.”79

This is the social dimension of private property. Private property is thus subordinated to the universal destination of goods. As an element of its social dimension it prompted Pope John Paul II to refer to private property as under a “social mortgage.”80

Respect for this dimension and respect for the fundamental principle of universal destination are absolutely demanded in our situation. They would dictate, for instance, not the hoarding of capital nor its flight, but its use to create jobs for the unemployed. They would demand that the use and ownership of the goods of our land be more and more diffused for the benefit of all. In the agricultural sphere, the same principles would require a truly comprehensive agrarian reform.

73. Gaudium et Spes (GS) 69.

74. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (SRS) 28.

75. Congregation for Catholic education, Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social Doctrine in the Formation of Priests, 1988, no. 42.

76. GS 71.

77. 1 John 3:17-18.

78. Laborem Exercens (LE) 14.

79. St. Ambrose, De Nabuthe, 3. XIII, PL 14, 747, as quoted in Populorum Progressio, no. 23.

80. SRS 42.

Development cannot be achieved unless it is thoroughly imbued with justice and love.81 These are “the principal laws of social life”.82 Justice rejects such situations as dishonesty in the market place, graft and corruption in private and public life, and unjust wages for employees. As important as justice is in individual relationships, we need to emphasize even more today than in our past, in the light of our national disorder, the moral value of social justice. Nationalist desires, ecological concerns, issues of integrity and transparency in public and private life, rampant gambling with its attendant evils affecting the family, the youth and public authorities, conflicts created by favoring short term benefits for the few which can only bring long term disaster for the many are issues that involve social justice. It is the justice of the common good. It is not only enshrined in our Philippine Constitution in a very emphatic way but it is also the hopeful and poignant cry of the land as expressed in such slogans as “Bayan muna bago sarili”.83

But for our interpersonal relationship and social structures to be put in order, justice is not sufficient.84 Love is necessary. While the demand of justice is implied by love, still justice “attains its inner fullness only in love.”85 For in justice, the other person can remain “another”, an alien. In love the other is a friend, even a brother or sister86 in Christ. Love is fraternity. Love is at the heart of solidarity.87

In the concrete, if our nation and the world are ever to overcome the age-old hostilities which divide ethnic and religious groups, it will not be done on the basis of justice alone. The histories are too long, the wrongs done date too far back, the episodes of revenge and counter-revenge are too complicated ever to be sorted out on that basis. The only hope is rather solidarity, an acceptance of the fact that we are all members of one community – local or national or international – and that we must therefore be willing to sacrifice something of what we see as our rights for the sake of the common good. It is for this reason perhaps that John Paul II has enriched the phrase of Pius XII, “Opus justitiae pax,” expressing it as “Opus solidaritis pax,88 “the fruit of solidarity is peace.

81. Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN) 35.

82. John XXIII, Mater et Magistra 39.

83. Country first before self. The slogan reacts to the crass selfishness and individualism that often characterize public behavior to the detriment of the common good. It remains true, however, that all social organizations and the common good itself are ordered to the good of the human person.

84. Octogesima Adveniens (OA) 23; Justice in the World (JW) 34.

85. JW 34.

86. Matthew 23:8; Gaudium et Spes 32.

87. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (SRS) 40.

88. SRS 39.

As Church we must show the way of justice and love, in solidarity with all but particularly the poor and the weak, in the building of peace. The kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus is not a Kingdom to be imposed by the force of arms.89 It is a Kingdom to be built by love,90 the love of the suffering servant.91 Love bears peace by way of peace. Peace cannot be equated with the absence of war nor with a certain balance of power. It is a harmony in the human heart and in the social order brought about by justice,92 requiring respect for human dignity and human rights, the promotion of the common good by one and all, and the constant practice of solidarity. Peace is likewise “the fruit of love which goes beyond what justice can provide.”93 In the final analysis, the real peace we must seek is the Lord’s because he Himself is our peace.94

The context of our socio-economic and political situation today is partly one violence and counter-violence, institutionalized or otherwise.95 In such a context it is easy to succumb to the temptation to use conflict as the means to liberation. But history teaches that “there are sources of progress other than conflict namely love and right. This priority of love in history draws other Christians to prefer the way of non-violent action....”96 Non-violence is a quality of the love of Jesus Christ.97 So radically new was his love that he obliged his followers: “Love your enemies.”98

The 1971 Synod of Bishop, therefore, urged the Church to foster “a strategy of non-violence”.99 Peaceful but persuasive rallies, assemblies, marches, demonstrations, strikes and acts of “passive resistance” to unjust laws can be very effective even if non-violent. A strategy of non-violence requires solidarity of spirit as well as of action. For this reason, we reemphasize the lesson of our recent historic liberating moment. The active non-violence of “people power” in 1986 begot freedom. The move towards a “gunless society” advocated by many concerned Filipinos is illustrative of the strategy and of the spirit of active non-violence.

Recourse to armed violence as a method to bring about social transformation cannot be justified in the present situation. “The road to total liberation is not the way of violence, class struggle or hate; it is the way of love, brotherhood and peaceful solidarity.”100

To remove social ills, active non-violence is our moral countersign to the ideologies of today that espouse armed violence to change the status quo. It is likewise our moral countersign to the ideologies that institutionalize violence in order to preserve the status quo. We consider the peaceful alternative as a mandate of evangelical discipleship.

89. Cf. John 18:36; Matthew 26:52.

90. 1 Corinthians 13:11-13.

91. Isaiah 53.

92. Cf. Isaiah 32:17; "Justice will bring about peace."

93. Gaudium et Spes (GS) 78.

94. Ephesians 2:14.

95. CBCP, Seek Peace, Pursue It, Jan. 31, 1990; CBCP, Solidarity for Peace, July 12, 1988.

96. Justice in the World (JW) 40; see also GS 78.

97. Cf. Matthew 5:38-45; Luke 6:27; Romans 12:19-21; GS 78; CBCP, Post Election Statement, Feb. 1986.

98. Luke 6:27; Matthew 5:44.

99. JW 65.

100. John Paul II, To the People of Tondo, Feb. 18, 1981, no. 7; cf. also his speech To the People of the Sugar Plantations, Bacolod City, Feb. 20, 1981.

It is also demand of Christ for his disciples to follow his own love of preference for the poor. This option takes on the greatest urgency in our country where a very great number of our people wallow in abject poverty and misery while tremendous social privileges and deference are accorded the rich and the powerful.

The common good dictates that more attention must be given to the less fortunate members of society.101 We as a Church, indeed, opt for all men, women and children of the world but above all preferentially we opt like Jesus for the “little ones,” the poor and marginalized of our societies.102 This is an essential option of Christian faith, an obligatory choice.103 Eternal salvation depends on the living out of a love of preference for the poor because the poor and needy bear the privileged presence of Christ.104

Our present Holy Father tells us that solidarity “must be present whenever it is called for by the social degrading of the subjects of work, by exploitation of the workers, and by the growing areas of poverty and even hunger.” He goes on to say that for the Church, this solidarity is “her mission, her service, a proof of her fidelity to Christ, so that she can truly be the ‘Church of the poor’.105

Such a love is a basic attitude that must pervade all plans and legislation for development,106 long skewed to favor the better off sectors of our society. In the Scriptures, the prophets were known for their denunciation of injustices against the poor.107 The Old Testament, in fact, views God as a “liberator of the oppressed and the defender of the poor.”108 And the Beatitudes clearly indicate how Jesus considered the poor and the lowly.109 The value of being “pro-poor” has a truly evangelical basis. It urges us to be more concerned about the substantive issues concerning street children, the unemployed, poor fishermen, farmers and workers, exploited women, slum dwellers, sidewalk vendors and beggars, Tribal Filipinos and others at the margins of human and social life.

101. John XXIII, Pacem in Terris (PT) 56.

102. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (SRS) 39, 42; Populorum Progressio (PP) 47; Libertatis Conscientia (LC) 68; cf. Gaudium et Spes (GS) 1; Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), Evangelization in Modern Day Asia, 1974, no. 19; FABC, The Church as a Community of Faith in Asia, 1984, no. 16; CBCP, A Dialogue for Peace, February 1983; CBCP, Thirsting for Justice, July 1987.

103. "The Church will not hesitate to take up the cause of the poor and to become the voice of those who are not listened in when they speak up; not to demand charity but to ask for justice. Yes, the preference for the poor is the Christian preference!" John Paul II, To the People of the Sugar Plantations, Bacolod City, Feb. 21, 1981.

104. Matthew 25:31-34; cf. GS 27; Justice in the World (JW) 31; Evangelii Nuntiandi (EN) 12; Laborem Exercens (LE) 8.

105. LE 8.

106. Cf. SRS 47.

107. Cf. for instance Am 5:12; 8:4-7; Is 1:11-17.

108. See Octagesima Adveniens (OA) 30.

109. Luke 6:20; cf. SRS 47; To the People of Tondo, Feb. 18, 1981, nos. 3-4.

A just development would have to give full recognition to the dignity of human work, which the Church has always recognized. Jesus worked as a carpenter. He was known as the carpenter’s son. The Church honors St. Joseph as the Patron of all Workers.

Apart from its product “human work has an ethical value of its own” simply because the one who works is the human person.110 This subjective dimension of work has to be “the primary basis of the value of work,” and not what work objectively produces.111 The human person is the subject of work and must not be treated as an instrument of production. The person has primacy over things.112

Work, in fact, should enable the person to “subdue the earth.” To have dominion over the visible world,” to transform the earth, and to achieve fulfillment as a human being.113 This is the “productive dimension of stewardship: that as stewards of the earth and its goods we labor in order not only to make the earth productive but, with the Holy Spirit also to “renew the face of the earth.” These ideas are basic to every kind of work, industrial or agricultural, material or intellectual. They also suggest a certain spirituality of work by which work is a way of sanctification, a way of discipleship, of heeding the work of God, of cooperating with the Lord, as a co-worker building His house, and thereby following one’s vocation as a gift of God.

The subjective dimension of human work connotes as a necessary corollary that labor has priority over capital,114 for labor is the primary efficient cause of production” while capital is a “mere instrument.” The resources of this world have been placed here to serve the human person through work.

The twin principles of the dignity of human work and the priority of labor over capital need to be urgently applied to our situation where workers’ rights are too often sacrificed for profit and workers discarded as chattels according to the demands of capital. The principles of human work mandate, among other things, suitable employment for all, just remuneration for work that is sufficient to establish or properly maintain a family and to provide security for the future, various social benefits that would ensure the life and health of workers and their families. These include the right to rest and the right to a decent work environment. The principles, moreover, support the right of association, the right to participate in the fruits of work and in management (e.g. profit sharing, sharing in the ownership of the enterprise or of the means of production, participatory decision-making), and the right to strike under certain conditions.115

Solidarity among workers and with workers to protect and promote their fundamental rights and discharge their responsibilities properly is necessary. Likewise, necessary is just legislation to ensure the entire range of workers’ rights: Without such assistance, a just development in the world of work will not take place.

110. Laborem Exercens (LE) 6; for this discussion see also Libertatis Conscientia (LC) 81-88.

111. LE, loc. cit.

112. LE 12.

113. LE 9.

114. LE 12.

115. LE 20.

A true and just development must fundamentally be concerned with a passionate care of our earth and our environment.116 Fishing, mining and logging contribute enormously to the national coffers but when done with inadequate safeguards for ecological integrity, moral issues are involved. Our natural resources are not to be exploited as though they were inexhaustible. Destruction can be irreparable and irreversible.

Must environmental destruction may be attributed to the survival needs of the poor, as in slash and burn upland agriculture and dynamite fishing. But the greater sin against the integrity of God’s creation must be placed at the doorsteps of those who with impunity cause the pollution of rivers, seas and lakes by industrial wastes, and who for profit systematically destroy our forest covers to the point of unrenewability.

Because the integrity of God’s creation is violated, our people suffer the destruction brought about by droughts and floods. Those disasters cannot be traced merely to the uncontrollable powers of nature, but also to human greed for short term economic gain. The physical limitations of our natural resources imply a moral demand, the duty of responsible dominion over nature.

The sovereignty granted to us by the Creator is not a license to misuse God’s creation.117 We are but stewards of creation, not its absolute master. And stewards are accountable to the Creator and giver of all good things.

116. Octagesima Adveniens (OA) 21; Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (SRS) 26, 34; CBCP, What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land? Jan. 29, 1988.

117. SRS 34; CBCP, ibid.

No social transformation is genuine and lasting where people themselves do not actively participate in the process. This is not only a sociological axiom but it also stems from the nature of human dignity and solidarity. “Persons are the active and responsible subjects of social life.”118

In the context of our society today, where the poor and marginalized have little genuine participation, and when the brief but brilliant moments of our liberation have been made possible because of “people power,” we realize that the integral development of people will be possible only with their corresponding empowerment. Today we understand “people power” to subsume basic ideas that go beyond the mere gathering of people in support of a cause. We understand “people power” to include greater involvement in decision-making, greater equality in both political and economic matters, more democracy, more participation.

People’s participation is a recognition of God’s fundamental gifts of freedom and responsibility. The repression of such gifts has led to the collapse of pro-democracy movements in some of our Asian neighbors.

We need to activate these fundamental charisms of freedom and responsibility, and encourage the emergence of people’s organizations, sectoral associations and the like, inspired by the principle of solidarity and empowered by the principle of subsidiarity. The possibilities of people power are enormous in the economic and political fields, such as in determining the directions of change, deciding policies, implementing projects and monitoring them so that the common good may be truly served.

The building of God’s Kingdom begins, after all, on earth and depends on human cooperation with the grace of God. Empowering people is thus a prerequisite in the renewal of our country. Without it, our destiny as a people would remain in the hands of the few.

118. Libertatis Conscientia (LC) 82.