A. Summary of “Sollicitudo rei socialis”
John Paul II’s message entitled “Sollicitudo rei socialis” speaks to the Catholic church’s role in helping make better pressing social issues of the day, primarily poverty. He breaks this topic down into six parts: an Introduction, Originality of the encyclical Populorum Progressio, Survey of the Contemporary World, Authentic Human Development, A Theological Reading of Modern Problems, Some Particular Guidelines, and a Conclusion.
In the Introduction, the Pope tells the reader that this piece was written to pay honor to Paul VI’s encyclical “Populorum Progressio,” also called “The Development of Peoples,” which had been written twenty years earlier in 1967. An encyclical is a letter to members and priests of the church written by the Pope. In the “Populorum Progressio,” Paul VI says that unless justice and morality rule, the poor will never get the help they need. Now twenty years later, Pope John Paul II sent a letter out to churches to get feedback on how best to celebrate the anniversary of the encyclical. “Sollicitudo rei socialis” are his findings. He also wants to pay honor to the original document and to show the value of church teachings because of the “continuity and renewal” of the ideas in the encyclical.
In the Originality of the encyclical Populorum Progressio portion, John Paul II says that the encyclical is a how-to guide for the church to follow and it is based on the teachings of the second Vatican Ecumenical Council of 1965, which talks about poor people and what the church should do about “the development and underdevelopment of peoples.” People’s development is based in moral and educational solutions provided by the church. He believes that development is a global issue. Rich countries have a responsibility to poor countries to not be greedy with resources, because poor countries do not have as much access to the things they need to live. The 1967 document concludes by saying that “Development is the new name for peace.” The logic behind this is that the poor want justice. For them, justice is getting their fair share of the supplies needed to live, and if they do not, it leads to violence.
In his “Survey of the Contemporary World,” John Paul II cites that poverty still exists because the Northern Hemisphere has easy access to supplies, while the Southern Hemisphere has slow access, even though this is where most of the world’s population lives. Poverty is a result of a lack of educational opportunities, jobs, as well as economic and racial discrimination, all of which go along with underdevelopment.
He believes that “Authentic Human Development” needs to be “guided by a moral understanding.” A person must be developed morally, not just economically, in order for the growth to be authentic. The church has a responsibility to aid in human development.
His “Theological Reading of Modern Problems” tells that even though people can develop through science and technology, it must be grounded in morality as taught by the church. Certain “Guidelines” should be followed, so that the church can do its work and people are treated with dignity. The poor should be treated with preference, but they also have to contribute to their own development. John Paul II, in his “Conclusion,” states that the church, as part of its moral requirement, can work together to help the poor develop into more fully human beings.
John Paul II’s main point is the place of morality as taught by the church to help get rid of human poverty. I would agree that what a person or country values is based in their morality, and this helps motivate a person or group to action. I also agree that rich countries have an obligation to assist poor countries so that their citizens have enough food, clothing, shelter, health care and education to do more than just survive, but to thrive. However, I do not think that the Catholic Church has the corner on the morality market, especially in light of all the child molestation charges against priests. Also, the only woman who is not marginalized in the Catholic Church is Mary, which is a problem if you are trying to bring your “morality” to a culture that may or may not have your sense of morality and may actually value women.
How moral can a group be that considers women to be essentially chattel who should not have control over their own bodies, but instead should put their spiritual and health care in the hands of their husbands and child-molesting priests? How moral is a group that demands that a woman who has been raped, even by a male member of her family, should be required to carry the embryo to term in order to remain moral? The Pope himself may indeed be a moral man, but there are several in his “church” who cannot say the same, and who provide a wayward compass to guide people who really want to help the poor.
Pope John Paul II. Sollicitudo rei socialis. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1986).URL:http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jpii_enc _30121987_sollicitudo-rei-socialis_en.html Accessed 23 May 2007.
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