Image: A change of vocabulary for Catholic Social Teaching?

A reflection by Marian Pallister after addressing the AGM of the Conference of Religious in Scotland

It is daunting to talk to an assembly of Religious about Catholic Social Teaching. After all, are these not the people who have forgotten more about CST than most of us ever knew in the first place?

However, I was hoping to receive as much as I gave when I prepared a presentation for the AGM of the Conference of Religious in Scotland. I would tell them about the Just Faith project I have been delivering in my home diocese of Argyll and the Isles and then pick their brains about a question I have been asking in parishes – ‘Is Catholic Social Teaching the Church’s best kept secret?’

Throughout the diocese there have been some interesting answers – sometimes defensive, sometimes dismissive, and sometimes downright puzzled. I wanted to know what the SCR delegates thought.

First – the Just Faith project. Argyll and the Isles has been one of three dioceses in Scotland piloting it. Approved by the Bishops’ Conference it brings together Justice and Peace, SCIAF, and Missio Scotland - three organisations that share the social justice work of the Church. The mission: to encourage Catholics to connect their faith with action for change.
The project has been piloted in different ways in Dunkeld and Paisley. Argyll and the Isles stretches from Campbeltown in the south to Stornoway in the north and is mostly rural. Parishes are large in area, small in numbers.

My intention has been to give parishes ownership of the project by asking what the issues are that concern people and that they feel should be approached through faith in action. Initial Just Faith events were followed up with the project’s Rediscovering Mercy resource (available on the website here)

It is clear to me as I travel to different parishes that a lot of work based on CST is going on – just as lots of ‘Justice and Peace’ work is happening – but lots of people aren’t aware of the Catholic Social Teaching label.

A short video from SCIAF’s resources gives the lowdown on CST in the hippest way I’ve encountered, and it’s one I’ve used in presentations throughout the project. I included it in my presentation to the delegates at the CRS AGM and told them that one of my feedback questions asked how well people thought they knew CST. The responses I had got showed that while a healthy minority said they were very comfortable in their knowledge of Catholic Social Teaching, many said they had no knowledge of it – or at least under that label.

And that’s what may be making CST the ‘Church’s best kept secret’.

I am impressed by the imaginative involvement parishes have in a whole range of projects, locally, nationally and internationally. There aren’t many formal Justice and Peace groups in the diocese (although we’re working on it and have a Justice and Peace Facebook page, but if you were to make a video about Catholic Social Teaching using the work that happens in our diocese, it would illustrate every aspect covered in SCIAF’s funky three-minute introduction.

The response from the CRS delegates was encouraging, practical and right outside the box. If people don’t know what CST is or are put off by its finger-wagging sound, let’s change the vocabulary, they suggested. It needs a new label – or no label. It is, after all, what Pope Francis is doing in spades and if people are putting it into action without knowing it, all we need do is offer congratulations. 

And maybe call it ‘Just Faith’?

Image: Bishop John Mone

In our latest blog Tim Duffy reflects on Bishop Mone's time as President of J&P

Bishop John Mone who died on 14 October has an important place in the history of Justice and Peace in Scotland. He was the second Bishop President, succeeding Bishop James Monaghan. Both were auxiliary bishops eliciting a slightly waspish comment from the then National Secretary, Fr Willy Slavin, that he wasn’t sure whether the Bishops’ Conference appointed auxiliaries because they thought they would have more time for the job, or because it reflected the level of importance given to Justice and Peace.

During his twenty-year presidency, Bishop John did not lack for things to do. He arrived at the height of Thatcherism and Reaganism. Neo liberal economics, with its policies of deindustrialisation and unemployment ran alongside the deregulation of financial markets in the Big Bang of 1986. Privatisation of public utilities and the sale of council houses was being rushed through on a tide of public cupidity and greed. The arguments surrounding nuclear defence were at their height over European and UK deployments (remember Greenham); while the UK’s ‘independent’ deterrent Trident was being brought into service. Forty years of apartheid was beginning to crumble in South Africa; and Central American states were slaughterhouses where ordinary people paid the ultimate cost of ideological and economic proxy wars.

Nor did Scotland have its troubles to seek. Culturally, Scotland was at odds with many of the political changes, but was politically under-represented at Westminster. The disproportionate effects of unemployment were only partly offset by using North Sea oil revenues. Perhaps the two major symbols of this alienation were the nuclear submarine base at Faslane and the imposition of the Poll Tax in Scotland a year before the rest of the UK.

Bishop John presided over the Commission’s initiatives with a genial and pastoral sense that cannot always have been easy. Justice and Peace commission members were a diverse group of deeply committed individuals not always characterised by the traditional deference accorded to the clergy. Sometimes the urgency of the issues seemed at odds with the available resources; but it is worth remembering that the Bishops were supportive, year on year, of the Commission and its work. Bishops are asked to be managers rather than social prophets and this has an effect on the ordering of priorities.

The Bishop was well aware of these competing needs. His pre-eminent gifts were pastoral and personal, in Scotland or on the many visits he made abroad (he was also President of SCIAF). He sought to avoid confrontation; and his demeanour was engaging and unfeigned. Yet in his later years as President he took a high profile stand against the policies that detained refugees and their families in Dungavel. Using existing international law and Catholic Social Teaching, he provoked discussion in the public arena. He emphasised the illegality of detaining children because, he said, if you start from one clear undeniable wrong, you are less likely to be sidetracked by diversions and misdirection. 

It is one of the ironies, in some ways perpetuated by the church, that Catholic statements or marches or demonstrations are only valid if there is a bishop up front. Particularly with the media, but perhaps more surprisingly with other denominations, they want a bishop. As Bishop Moran, Bishop John’s successor pointed out, that’s easier in, say France, with over a hundred bishops, than in Scotland with only eight.

Certainly, Bishop John took all his responsibilities very seriously. He attended meetings faithfully. He once told me that if I needed to speak to him for briefing or questions on Justice and Peace matters, I could catch him on the phone before 8.45 in the morning or after 10.30 at night. In between he was likely to be out and about on diocesan business.

He liked to be given all the facts about any issue we were involved in. His memory for names and faces was prodigious - a great asset for a man in his position. But it went beyond mere recognition to engagement with everyone he met. I think he lived by the gospel principle that whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do for me; and he lived it successfully. May he rest in peace.

Image: Thirsting for Peace

Sister Isabel Smyth reflects on the recent peace event in Assisi.   

I’ve been watching the peace service in Assisi on my computer. I caught the end of it so missed many of the speeches. These things are inevitably long but their symbolic value is immense. The event in Assisi today came at the end of a three day dialogue with religious leaders from around the world, organised by the Community of Sant’ Egidio, a catholic lay community dedicated to dialogue, reconciliation and justice. It took place thirty years to the day after the first Assisi peace summit when Pope John Paul II invited religious leaders to come together to pray for peace.

There have been many such instances since then but the first one was not straightforward. Cardinal Ratzinger, the then Prefect for the Congregation of the Faith didn’t approve and didn’t attend. He believed that the theological differences between the faiths meant they couldn’t pray together – who were they praying to, how should the prayers be framed so that the integrity of each faith was respected.  Nor was Cardinal Ratzinger the only person to feel like this. Even in my small neck of the woods we’ve had difficulties in organising interfaith services because of the hesitancy of some leaders to pray with others, fearing they would be asked to participate and express a faith that they didn’t accept or believe in. I’ve also known some people to be unhappy to pray what appeared to be an inclusive prayer because they were unsure what others meant by the words they were saying together. I must say I found this one a bit strange as there’s no knowing what others in one’s own faith mean by the words they say together. Each of us has our own personal image of God, our own understanding of prayer that’s not necessarily identical to that of the community of faith.

But the questions around interfaith prayer are legitimate. The Catholic Church’s answer is that we come together to pray but not to pray together – a rather delicate distinction which overcomes theological niceties. This in fact happened at the first Assisi meeting in 1986 when religious leaders came together to express their commitment to peace but were given separate areas in which to pray according to their own tradition. This has been the case in all the other Assisi gatherings and it was the case today though there was a minute of silence which to me is a legitimate way of praying together. As a Buddhist monk says in Morris West’s book The Ambassador, when we speak we are two, when we are silent we are one. But I would also like to think there’s a way in which we can also express prayers openly and publicly, trusting that each one is acknowledging that which is Ultimate in their own way and that the God to whom they pray is the One God that is the source of Life. 

I don’t think Pope Francis would have any problem with this. In his own inimitable way he cut through the theological debates when he included in his encyclical on creation, ‘Laudato Si’, a prayer to be said with other Christian denominations and one to be said with other faiths. This latter prayer would not have been acceptable to Buddhists as it did address God but I’m sure it would be possible to express a prayer in such a way that it would be acceptable to them.

Today’s event was a long one. The Pope arrived in Assisi late morning to greet and dine with the leaders and representatives of the world’s religions, to dine 12 refugees who had fled conflicts in Nigeria, Eritrea, Mali and Syria. This is a typical Pope Francis touch. He has shown in many ways his commitment to refugees and any gathering for peace can only be made more meaningful by having victims of war not just present but also contributing as they did in today’s gathering. There were also symbolic gestures which I think are a legitimate form of prayer that can unite participants in events like today’s. Representatives of the world faiths and representatives from conflict areas throughout the world lit candles and signed an appeal for peace that was then handed to children representing different parts of the globe. But will the globe listen?

These meetings of religious leaders have become more common since Pope John Paul called the first one in 1986. Sometimes they go unnoticed but the fact that they do might even be a step forward in that the original Assisi gathering caused consternation amongst right wing traditional Catholics who were appalled to see the Pope standing side  by side with the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders. Now interreligious dialogue has become part of Church life. Right minded people recognise the possibilities within religions for peace in our world. What we believers now have to do is make that possibility a reality by becoming peacemakers wherever we find ourselves and in whatever small way we can. 

Reproduced from her website Interfaith Journeys by kind permission of Isabel Smyth 

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