Sollicitudo rei Socialis
SOLLICITUDO REI SOCIALIS
Pope john paul ii's seventh encyclical letter, issued Dec. 30, 1987, marking the twentieth anniversary of
populorum progressio, Pope Paul VI's encyclical on the development of peoples. John Paul II presents a series of reflections on the requirements of authentic human development, the international duty of solidarity, and the social responsibility of the church. In considering the relevance of the earlier document's themes for the present era, the pope aims both to pay homage to his predecessor and to set forth the tradition of Catholic social teaching (nos. 1–4).
The pope begins by characterizing Populorum progressio as an application of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, and in particular the social tenets of the Pastoral Constitution gaudium et spes, to the problem of the development of peoples (nos. 5–7). The encyclical, he states, is original in three respects: its bringing to bear of an authoritative ethical perspective on a problem often viewed as social and economic, its transferral of the "social question" to a global context, and its exposition of the proposition that "Development is the new name for peace" (nos. 8–10).
The next section surveys conditions in the contemporary world and comments on their implications for a renewal of the teachings of Populorum progressio. After discussing such indicators as world poverty; the divisions between East and West, North and South, and the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Worlds; and cultural ills such as illiteracy, social and religious oppression, and the suppression of economic initiative, the pope concludes that Paul VI's hopes for development have remained unmet and that, indeed, the situation has worsened (nos. 11–16). Because global interdependence determines that the levels of development of all nations are intertwined, even developed countries have come to manifest signs of underdevelopment, in the form of a housing crisis and burgeoning under-or unemployment. Moreover, loans to developing nations, originally intended to contribute to their development, have instead aggravated underdevelopment by producing a system of international debt (nos. 17–19). In analyzing the causes of these failures, the pope focuses on political factors, criticizing the ideological conflict between East and West and its impact, via the mechanisms of neo-colonialism, on the developing world; the "disorders" of arms production and the arms trade; and population control policies rooted in an "erroneous and perverse" concept of human development (nos. 20–25). This largely negative balance, he adds, should not overshadow hopeful signs such as increasing respect for human rights, a growing sense of international solidarity, and the spread of "ecological concern" (no.26).
The "true nature of the development of peoples" forms the subject of the subsequent section. This concept is distinguished from both a naive, Enlightenment belief in progress and a purely economic conception of development leading, in practice, not only to underdevelopment but to a nexus of consumerism, materialism, and anomie the pope terms "superdevelopment." Authentic human development, by contrast, retains an economic component, but subordinates the "having" of goods to the "being" of the person (nos. 27–28). Its essence, meanwhile, is moral and theological: as the pope shows in a reflection on the creation accounts in Genesis, "full" development is rooted in the human participation in the image of God and the vocation to obey the divine law, to work, and to serve others that flows from it (nos. 29–30). Christian faith, with its vision of the Kingdom, at once found a new assurance regarding the attainability of development and mandates that the church has an obligation to work toward it; this obligation, indeed, is shared by all individuals as well as the various communities including religious ones in which they find themselves, and it is mirrored in the right of all peoples or nations to full development (nos. 31–32). The moral character of authentic development is exhibited in its intrinsic commitment to the spectrum of human rights, including social, economic, political, personal, and collective rights; to the values of solidarity, freedom, and love of God and neighbor; and to respect for nature (nos. 33–34).
The pope next brings this account of development to bear on a "theological reading of modern problems." In keeping with development's primarily moral character, he asserts, the chief obstacles to development are also of a moral nature, and consist in such failings as an "allconsuming desire for profit," a widespread "thirst for power," and, building on such attitudes, "structures of sin" (nos. 35–37). In order to overcome these evils, a profound change in spiritual attitudes for Christians, a conversion is necessary, leading to the embrace of the virtue of solidarity: "a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good." The pope's exposition of the functions of solidarity both within and among societies demonstrates it to be a core value of Catholic social teaching, intimately bound up with such notions as peace, justice, the common good, the option for the poor, and the universal destination of the goods of creation. Solidarity is, he further notes, a Christian virtue, closely related to charity and, in its commitment to human unity, modeled on and symbolic of the Trinity and Christian communion (nos. 38–40).
A penultimate section presents particular guidelines for addressing the problem of development. Since the church does not profess to offer a "third way" between liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism, these guidelines are not technical but moral and theological in character. Drawing on Catholic social teaching regarding the primacy of the poor, the universal destination of goods, and the "social mortgage" on private property, the pope calls for reforms involving the international trade and monetary systems, international organizations, and technology exchanges. Invoking the Catholic social doctrine of participation, he further counsels developing nations to promote the literacy, self-sufficiency, and political involvement of their citizens and to cooperate with one another in regional associations (nos. 41–45).
In his conclusion, the pope, making reference to Latin American liberation theology, identifies a strong link between authentic development and "true" liberation. Both values are manifested in the exercise of solidarity, a virtue the pope exhorts all religious people to exhibit. The letter closes with a reflection on the sacrament of the Eucharist and an appeal for the intercession of Mary (nos. 46–49).
Bibliography: For the text of Sollicitudo rei socialis, see: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 80 (1988) 513–86 (Latin); Origins 17, no. 38 (Mar. 3, 1988): 642–60 (English); The Pope Speaks 33 (1988): 122–55 (English). For commentaries and summaries on Sollicitudo rei socialis, see: j.-y. calvez, "Sollicitudo rei socialis," in j. a. dwyer, ed. The New Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought (Collegeville, MN 1994) 912–917. p. henriot, e. p. deberri, and m. j. schultheis, Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret (Maryknoll, NY 1988) 74–82.