Cardinal Parolin Address to CAPP, December 2021
The Social Teaching of the Church as a Compass for Young Generations
The Problem: Accelerating change causes a reduction of opportunities to create wisdom – from experiences.
Youth are subjected to having to make continuous decisions that affect their lives (majors, professions, emotional relationships, politics, integration into civil society, purchase decisions, drugs, sex, etc., etc.)
These choices are not freedom as they are ‘forced’ to choose. Choice as a necessity is not freedom!
The Falsehood of Three Myths Affecting Young People
MYTH 1 – TECHNOLOGICAL
The Problem: A belief that all that is possible must be achieved – because doing so generates value.
This may be OK as regards material progress but when it extends to morality – where choices concern the ends of the action (“What is the good I want?”) – reason and ‘technology’ no longer suffice, for they are not the criteria for making a moral judgement.
Our youth, however, think the criteria are the same. But “How do I spend my life?” cannot be addressed this way!
If “all that is possible must be achieved” is extended to the moral realm youth turn to ‘ritual’ practices (clubbing, alcohol, drugs, sex) which, while providing “an exit, momentary relief” are “followed by disinterest in everything”.
The result of this way of thinking is the whole of existence can become without purpose and without meaning.
MYTH 2 – INCENTIVES
The Problem here is thinking we are “driven [only] by self-interest” and believing this is “the only way to ensure a free and economically advanced social order”; i.e.: the only path to success “is to intervene with incentives”.
Such a vision leads to belief that “rationality has no value in and of itself”. “[I]f you want an individual to do something, there is no better way than to offer them the incentive appropriate to the situation.” Consent, in effect, is ‘bought’.
While this may be true and proper for, say, production goals, it can be damaging when used to ‘incentivize’ basic and expected ends; e.g., reward an employee for being honest and some will no longer attribute a moral value to honesty at work – thereby displacing one’s intrinsic motivation.
In such cases incentives “always hide a power relationship” and lead one to think that preexisting “good reasons” for doing what has been requested do not exist.
This view has entered “areas of life (families, schools, politics) [which are] not constitutively equipped to resist it”. It has grown to include every human need and activity and seriously affects the “cognitive map” of our youth and their emotional lives.
Our youth are being “saturated with economic noise” but where is the call to educate about the spiritual dimension of life – to help them remain free from the pitfalls of money and consumption? This problem is not fully grasped.
MYTH 3 – APPEAL TO ETHICS
The Problem – An insistent appeal to a limited understanding of ethics pervades the world view of our youth.
The preponderance of modern ethics is based on a search for rules (“as happens with multiple versions of positivist natural law” which “is borrowed from the legal norm”) or “action (based on utilitarian and contractualist theory).”
This leads to a “primacy of ethics” of the sort which “does not lead to ethical consensus”!
1. Catholic Social Doctrine 2 (CSD), which shows “the irreducible falsehood of these myths”. “We owe the expression ‘Social Doctrine of the Church’ to Pius XII, when he said, in his radio message of June 1, 1941, for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the encyclical Rerum Novarum, that the masterful document of Leo XIII is ‘the fruitful seed, from which Catholic social doctrine takes place’ (n. 5)”
2. “[T]he witness of commitment and joy of young believers”.
CSD IS MARKEDLY DIFFERENT
CSD is not just another moral or social theory – it offers a “common grammar” to all other theories and approaches. A grammar based on “taking care”, of “being together”.
“Ethics, even before dealing with enunciating principles and suggesting rules, is a dwelling, a ‘house’ in which one takes care of oneself, and of others; in a word, where one takes care of the human good”.
CSD aims at a social order that is not only just but also “fraternal”. “Socio-economic action…cannot be reductively conceived in terms of everything (institutions, rules, tools) that serves to ensure social coexistence, but also (and above all) life in a communal perspective.” A “relentless pressure to commodify work — and to reduce all human endeavor to a bottom-line calculation” must be avoided.
CSD places the person at the center while other ethics are neutral to the human person. Other ethics confuse the common good with “the maximization of total utility as the purpose of economic activity.”
COMMON GOOD VS. PRIVATE AND PUBLIC GOOD
“In the common good…the interest of each is realized together with others, not against (as happens with the private good) or regardless of the interest of others (as happens with the public good).”
WHAT IS THE ENEMY (AND FRIEND) OF COMMON GOOD?
“So, what is the enemy of the common good?… those who behave as opportunists, that is, those who live on the shoulders of others…  those who behave as pure altruists, that is those who ignore their own interest in favor of the interest of others”.
“Both behaviors do not feed the common good” and neither “are capable of making sustainable – by themselves – a social order of humans.”
“What then is the friend of the common good? Behavior inspired by the principle of reciprocity.” (“I give you something freely so that you in turn can give something, according to your possibilities, to others or possibly to me”. The principle of exchange proposes instead that “I give you something on condition that you give me the equivalent value in exchange.”)
“The acceptance at the cultural level and the translation into practice at the political level of the principle of reciprocity are the sure guarantee of a harmonious coexistence”.
“The great contribution of the Social Doctrine of the Church is to make people understand how it is possible…to obtain significant results by operating in the market without severing the relationship with the other.” How is this possible?
The CST Principle of Solidarity, Fraternity, Mercy & Gratuitousness
Solidarity, a prime principle of CST, is fundamental to the Christian view of social and political organization. It confirms that each person is connected to – and dependent on – all humanity, collectively and individually: “[A]ll men and women are called to live as one, each taking care of the other”. (Pope Francis, 2) Solidarity “requires you to look at another and give yourself to another with love”. (Pope Francis)
And Catholics should remember that Solidarity flows from faith: “Love of neighbor…consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even persons whom I do not like or even know.” How is this possible? “This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 18)
“It is no small merit of Pope Francis’ magisterium to have been able to apply the principle of fraternity in both institutional and economic terms, making it become a cornerstone of the social order.”
Fraternity both complements and completes Solidarity: “[S]olidarity is the principle of social organization that allows unequal people to become equals”. However, “a society that is only in solidarity…would be a society from which everyone would try to distance themselves”.
“The principle of fraternity…allows already equals to be different”. It “entails weaving a fabric of fraternal relationships marked by reciprocity, forgiveness and complete self-giving, according to the breadth and the depth of the love of God offered to humanity”. (Pope Francis, 10)
“Cultivating mercy is an indispensable task” not only in regards civil society but also the economy. “[I]t is necessary to ensure that the economic-institutional structure of society encourages… the widest possible diffusion of the practices of mercy among citizens.”!
“True and lasting success” within the market “is attained through the gift of ourselves, our intellectual abilities and our entrepreneurial skills, since a ‘livable’ or truly human economic development requires the principle of gratuitousness.” (Pope Benedict XVI, 5)
“In the light of faith, solidarity seeks to go beyond itself, to take on the specifically Christian dimension of total gratuity, forgiveness and reconciliation. One’s neighbor is then not only a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else but becomes the living image of God the Father…One’s neighbor must therefore be loved”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 40)
What does that mean? “Concretely, in economic activity” that businesswomen and men “engage in economic activity for the sake of the common good and they experience this commitment as something transcending their self-interest, for the benefit of present and future generations.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 40)
Put another way, gratuitousness is “the readiness to do more than what is necessary, not to tally costs but to go beyond merely legal requirements.” And “[t]his is what it means to give freely: a willingness to take the first step; to be the first to reach out to the other, to offer reconciliation, to accept the suffering entailed in giving up being in the right.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
As Pope Francis said, “In this sense, the various grave economic and political challenges facing today’s world require a courageous change of attitude that will restore to the end (the human person) and to the means (economics and politics) their proper place. Money and other political and economic means must serve, not rule, bearing in mind that, in a seemingly paradoxical way, free and disinterested solidarity is the key to the smooth functioning of the global economy.” (Pope Francis)
“In the wider life of society, we come to see that ‘gratuitousness’ is not something extra, but rather a necessary condition of justice…Who we are, and what we have, has been given to us so that we can place it at the service of others.” (Pope Francis) “The goods of the earth are meant for everyone, and however much someone may parade his property, which is legitimate, it has a social mortgage – always.” (Pope Francis)
Three Key Principles
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.
This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image.
Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.
Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)
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