Needed are Catholic laypersons engaged in politics in a convinced and convincing manner

Presented below is the full text of the communiqué of Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi for the presentation and the inauguration of the Academy of the Social Doctrine of the Church for formation to social and political engagement held at Palazzo Economo (Trieste) on 19 March last. The Academy is organized in collaboration with the  Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân.


When the Church takes an active interest in politics it does so not for political motives, but for religious and moral reasons; religious reasons because politics is a field to be evangelized and in its own turn may also be ‘evangelizing’; moral reasons so politics may be the field where respected and completed is the order of creation.  Thus does it stand also for the Academy of the Social Doctrine of the Church for formation to social and political engagement of the Diocese of Trieste which I today present and inaugurate.

Today we must take note of a rather distressing paradox. Politics, which people considered to be in a phase of regression after the crisis of the classical ideologies, is far from regressing and is actually switching its tail quite energetically. Nowadays, parliaments and national governments, regional and municipal councils consider it their duty to take action in some very delicate ambits of personal life: the beginning and the end of life, procreation, matrimony. . .and even sexual identity. The pro-liberation movements active in the 1960’s and 1970’s sought to remove such ambits from institutional influence and restore them to the personal decision of each subject. Taking place today, however, is exactly the opposite: those selfsame ideological currents entrust political institutions with the mission to change the nature of things in such delicate areas. In the 1960’s and 1970’s as well, revolutionary and protest movements had given sex a political meaning, and it is not surprising that now being entrusted to politics is the task to take normative action in this realm. What was heralded once upon a time as a form of protest against the ‘system’ is now being taught in classrooms.

A distressing paradox of our times

While politics is invading these crucial ambits of personal and community life, trying to do things about the natural order of creation, and engaging in both social and anthropological engineering, what we actually witness is the disappearance of Catholics from politics. Recently approved by the European Parliament in Strasbourg were two Reports,  the Tarabella Report, and the Panzeri Report,  also with favorable votes cast by many Catholic Euro-parliamentarians and one vote against cast by someone from a scanty group of other Catholic Euro-parliamentarians. The same thing has been happening for some time in both Italian Parliament and the representative bodies of our administrative region and our city. The heated debate over the last few days in Trieste, which then flared up on the national stage as well, illustrates how politics has by now made its way into both classrooms and families, and professes to “take care” of our children with programmes and endeavors referred to as “re-educational” by Cardinal Bagnasco, while Pope Francis has flagged the phenomenon of the “colonization of the family”. In these cases the Church prefers leaving the lead role to parents, but in so doing does not abandon the field of play. The Church is on the side of the parents who defend their children and claim their original right to attend to their education.

On one hand, therefore, politics that wants to administer everything, including the data of our natural identity as males and females, and, on the other hand, a shortage of Catholics engaged in politics in a convinced and convincing manner. The picture we have before us is jarring enough to lead us to think we are at a moment of refoundation, and that many things have to be reformulated at the very roots.

Assessment of the Social Doctrine of the Church

I began with this premise precisely because this paradox links together my recently published book-interview and this evening’s inauguration of the Academy of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

The book-interview[1] is an evaluation or assessment of the Social Doctrine of the Church ten years after the publication of the Compendium by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 2004. That book is a sort of personal overlook of the long period of time behind us, and which I lived in the first person, first at the Italian Episcopal Conference and then at the Holy See. The commemoration of the Compendium provided me with the opportunity to put my thoughts and experiences together. Some of the considerations in that book are also at the very basis of the diocesan Academy of Social Doctrine and our approach to its creation.

I made an effort in all objectivity to assess the period of time from the beginning of John Paul II’s lengthy pontificate all the way to today, and I was compelled to note that the “relaunching” of the Social Doctrine of the Church with the solid and well structured formation of the laity and a social ministry both widespread and organic never really began, and has never produced the hoped-for fruits. John Paul II and Benedict XVI both deployed enormous efforts, but slowing things down or stopping them altogether was the delay and postpone strategy applied by many parts of the Church and the Catholic world at large, which drew inspiration from other ideologies and did not follow the indications of the Magisterium. Fr. Chenu’s  affirmation in the 1970’s that the social doctrine of the Church either did not exist or was an ideology was and continues to be endorsed by many, many people. The difficulty of providing organic and doctrinally correct formation about the social teaching of the Church also created none too few problems for schools of formation to social and political engagement.

Something precedes the selfsame Social Doctrine of the Church

This is a very important point for the Academy we are inaugurating today, which has one special feature: it knows very well that there is something else behind and before the Social Doctrine of the Church. The social doctrine begins not from itself, but from the deposit of faith, the doctrine of the Church, Catholic dogma, the morals taught by the Church, the teaching of the Magisterium and uninterrupted tradition. If Catholics do not agree on this they will also disagree about the Social Doctrine of the Church and its applications. I referred earlier to the fact that when asked to vote recently on proposals regarding matter of a fundamental nature for reason and faith, Catholic Euro-parliamentarians cast votes that differed from one another. The reason behind this has to be sought upstream; not only in a different vision of the Church’s social doctrine, but also in a different vision of what the Church is in relationship with the world. This is why the first Session of the diocesan Academy will not delve into specific issues or problems – salaries or tax policy, education or the family, labor unions or entrepreneurship – but rather clarify the premises of both doctrine and faith without which people remain the victims of their own opinions, or, even worse, the ideologies of the world. In that case the faith of Catholics will have very little to say to politics, and, on the contrary, political ideologies will teach their truths to believers.

It is not possible to separate the order of salvation from the order of creation.

In saying this it is not my intention to deny the legitimate pluralism of political choices. Certainly, as the Council says, pluralism must be “legitimate”, must be according to the law, that being the old law and the new law, which assumed and renewed the latter. In politics there is an immense realm of legitimately plural choices that are the outcome of discernment guided by correct conscience in sectors left to human decision in light of their complexity or contingent nature. In politics, however, there are also choices that can never be made and choices that must absolutely be made each and every time the transcendent dignity of the human person and divine law are at stake. Let us not forget that the first Lawmaker is God. Pluralism is legitimate, that is to say according to the law, when it respects the law of God.

As the Council says, laypersons must order temporal realities to God. I therefore ask myself: how can they do this by voting in favor of laws that contradict the order of creation? While remaining Catholics, how is it possible to think that the order of salvation may be contrary to and independent from the order of creation? How is it possible to think, for example, that the common good may be achieved through laws and policies contrary to the order or creation? Down through the history of the Church many heresies have separated the order of creation from the order of salvation, but the time in which we live is holding its own in this same regard.

Formation to social engagement involves linkage with the entire life of the Church

In the book-interview referred to earlier I argue that the relaunching of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the renewal of well suited formation equal to both the task of laypersons and the times in which we are living necessarily involves its linkage with the entire life of the Church. The social doctrine cannot be ‘laicized’ to the point of being transformed into a series of etiquette-like indications more or less in harmony with momentary vogues. The social doctrine is “the announcement of Christ in temporal realities”, it is evangelization, and we know that the subject of evangelization is the entire Church in all its life-action. We need to rediscover this “lofty” sense of the social doctrine of the Church after its having been all too excessively reduced to a form of indistinct dialogue with the world regarding an equally indistinct concept of the common good. The diocesan Academy will take this into account. The liturgy, catechesis, prayer and spirituality lived within the Church are not sectors alien to the social doctrine of the Church. This is of utmost importance in order to reconstruct a positive relationship between Catholic laypersons engaged in politics and the Church insofar as an ecclesial fabric of society, and prevent political divergences from creating divisions within Christian communities.

Marian  dogmas and the Social Doctrine of the Church

In this regard I would like to refer to a comment I made in the book-interview relative to the Marian inspiration of the Social Doctrine of the Church. What could seem farther removed from the Social Doctrine of the Church than Marian dogmas? Nonetheless, the social and political engagement of generations upon generations of Catholics has been animated by an intense Marian faith. Moreover, underlying the resolute will of St. John Paul II to relaunch the Social Doctrine of the Church was evident Marian animation. These are elements not to be forgotten if we do not want this social doctrine to wither away into a mere list of things to do. Among the many things I could say about Mary and the Social Doctrine of the Church I would just like to dwell for a moment on the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pious IX in 1854. The Immaculate Conception of Mary is the greatest antidote against naturalism, against the idea that human history can attain salvation all on its own by virtue of some form of self-driven progress. In the newspapers we recently read articles by secular and atheist intellectuals proposing the “exile of God from democracy”. Prominent ideologies at the time when the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed had also called for the forced removal of God from the public sphere. In contrast with these forms of naturalism the Church recalls the existence of original sin and hence a wound of the natural order which does not enable it to be itself without openness to the supernatural order. And it is precisely for this reason that the Social Doctrine of the Church exists.

Select organizational features

I have made an effort to explain the link connecting the diocesan Academy being inaugurated today to my book-interview. I would also like to recall that a few years ago I also wrote another booklet focused on the situation in Trieste, “Laboratory Trieste, the formation of the lay faithful to social and political engagement”[2]. Therefore, the selfsame idea and the planning of this Academy date back in time and I am pleased to finally be able to inaugurate it.

Lastly, I would like to mention some of the Academy’s organizational features, but without delving into operational details.

First of all, let me point out that the title we have given to the Academy is different from what is customarily the case, but I believe I have explained the reason for that in what I have said thus far.

Secondly, the Academy has an organic structure and is not just a series of conferences or lectures. The participants will certainly be required to learn concepts and other such elements because the Social Doctrine of the Church is also a “doctrinal corpus”, but even more than that will be requested of them: they will be asked to enter into the social wisdom of the Church and draw the force for social and political engagement consistent with the complete reality of the Church, which is also ‘Mother’ of the social doctrine and our commitment inspired by it. The faith of the Church brings about their ‘rebirth’, also as citizens of the world. The Academy aims to form “new citizens”, knowing that needed to that end are “new Christians”. Nova adgrediuntur novi, new things call for new persons.

Thirdly, this Academy will also be a laboratory. Activity will not be limited to the weekly encounter, but will continue during the days after that through attentive examination of the written texts of the lectures, as well as in-depth research and reflection on case studies, also via Internet.

This inauguration is taking place today, the feast of St. Joseph, Worker, This feast day has been traditionally dedicated to the world of labor, the Social Doctrine of the Church, and the Catholic associations active in this area. It therefore abounds with sense and meaning. In addition, it is the anniversary of my episcopal ordination, and this renders all the more joyful this event for which we invoke heavenly protection.

20-03-2015 – by S. E. Mons. Giampaolo Crepaldi

[1] G. Crepaldi (con S. Fontana), La Dottrina sociale della Chiesa. Una verifica a dieci anni dal Compendio (2004-2014), Cantagalli, Siena 2014.

[2] G. Crepaldi, Laboratorio Trieste.La formazione dei cattolici all’impegno sociale e politico, Cantagalli, Siena 2012.