Social justice from John Paul II to Benedict XVI

The third and final installment in a series on social justice in Catholic social doctrine:

When the Italian Jesuit Father Luigi Taparelli D’Azeglio (1793-1862) coined the term “social justice” in the middle of the 19th century, he probably could not have foreseen its mention in an 1894 curial document and a 1904 encyclical, nor the importance attached to it by Pope Pius XI (1922-39) and subsequent pontiffs, culminating in the authoritative teaching on social justice in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992).

After the Catechism’s promulgation, Blessed John Paul II (1978-2005) continued to speak about social justice. In a 1993 audience devoted to priests and politics, he said that “Jesus formulated the precept of mutual love, which implies respect for every person and his rights. It implies rules of social justice aiming at recognizing what is each person’s due and at harmoniously sharing earthly goods among individuals, families and groups.”

John Paul taught that as priests follow the “precept of mutual love” which “implies rules of social justice,” they must do so in different ways from the laity. Strongly affirming the teaching of the 1971 Synod of Bishops, which was devoted in part to justice in the world, John Paul said that in circumstances in which there legitimately exist different political, social and economic options, priests like all citizens have a right to make their own personal choices. But since political options are by nature contingent and never in an entirely adequate and perennial way interpret the Gospel, the priest, who is the witness of things to come, must keep a certain distance from any political office or involvement.

Quoting the Catechism, Blessed John Paul added that “it is not the role of the pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens.” Continue reading



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