Social Doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Social Doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church

The social doctrine of the Roman Catholic church was defined particularly in two papal encyclicals: Rerum Novarum, by Leo XIII (1891), and Quadragesimo Anno, by Pius XI (1931). The church wished to show its preoccupation with the fate of the working classes, often victims of unbridled capitalism. Both documents preached a Christian humanism, decried the insufficiencies of capitalism, and warned against the evils inherent in socialism and in the doctrine of class struggle. The church clarified its teachings concerning employers' responsibilities and workers' rights, as well as related duties of the state. Leo XIII wrote that workers had a right to fair wages and that they could form Catholic unions whose existence should be protected by governments.

Social Doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church

Through various organizations, study sessions and publications, the Catholic Church, in Canada as elsewhere, publicized and applied pontifical doctrine. In Quebec, however, a conservative clergy rooted in rural society was ill-prepared to confront urban problems. Catholic trade unions were slow to be established. It was not until 1921 that the Canadian Catholic Confederation of Labour emerged (see Confederation of National Trade Unions). The École sociale populaire, a Jesuit organization charged with interpreting the church's social doctrine and with preparing an elite to put it into practice, was founded in 1911, 20 years after Rerum Novarum. The group proved particularly influential in the 1930s with the "Programme de restauration sociale," which in 1934-36 became the basis of the radical electoral platforms of the Action libérale nationale and the Union Nationale.

After the Second World War, the social doctrine underwent considerable modernization. This was thanks in part to the work of the Sacerdotal Commission on Social Studies, which in 1950 published a pastoral letter on social conditions. During the 1950s, however, with the increasing secularization of Quebec Society, the church's social role declined markedly. (See Quiet Revolution.)