ROME — With political discourse around the world seeming more bellicose than ever, a British author presented a book on Catholic social teaching and spoke of her conviction that the world needs an “ethic of communion.”
Anna Rowlands, professor of Catholic social thought and practice at Durham University in England, presented her book on Catholic social teaching, “Towards a Politics of Communion: Catholic Social Teaching in Dark Times,” at the Rome residence of the British ambassador to the Holy See.
Speaking at the presentation March 7, Ambassador Chris Trott, Rowlands and Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, interim president of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, all decried the Russian invasion of Ukraine and pointed to it as an example of the “dark times” that can and must be illuminated by lives lived well and in solidarity with the suffering.
“As Putin’s appeal to a kind of spiritual destiny that he perceives for himself makes clear, the power of religious language and of religious ideals remains absolutely strong in our world,” Rowlands said.
And if Christians who believe differently from the Russian president “don’t learn how to inhabit the depth of our own traditions, the gift of that, and do it with humanity and dignity,” she said, “then we cede the ground of religion and politics to those who would use it, as St. Augustine says, as a ‘libido dominandi,’ as a desire to dominate others.”
Czerny, presenting the book, said, “The military incursion of Russian forces into Ukraine declares a murderous absence of human bonds. But we are also witnessing an enormous rallying to bonds of solidarity in opposition to the invasion, the war in Ukraine.”
The cardinal said Rowlands’ book and his personal experience make clear that Catholic social teaching “is primarily concerned, not with do’s and don’ts, but with bringing the good news into the public sphere — directing practical responses to real problems posed by current events, in the light of the Gospel and Catholic tradition.”
In the preface Pope Francis wrote for a book Czerny and an Italian theologian wrote, the pope said that Catholic social teaching “is not just a simple social extension of Christian faith, but a reality with a theological grounding: God’s love for humanity and his plan of love — and of sisterhood and brotherhood — that he accomplishes in human history through Jesus Christ his son, to whom all believers are intimately united through the Holy Spirit.”
Catholic social teaching is about right relationships with God, with others and with the world he created, the cardinal said.
“A lopsided focus on ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ tends to push ‘fraternity” to the side,” Czerny said. That is why, as Rowlands explains, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” Pope Francis’ encyclical, “wholeheartedly rejects the ideology of individualism, which leads to inequality, exclusion and a throwaway culture.”
Responding to questions after the formal presentations, Rowlands said “synodality” and the place of women as practitioners and developers of Catholic social thought are two areas needing further exploration.
Rowlands said when she speaks to general audiences about Catholic social teaching, she often is told that to come back when the Catholic Church manages to embody “the principles of human dignity, the common good, subsidiarity, solidarity internally, because until the church can witness to this in its own structures, then, you know, in a sense, where is the witness?”
Synodality, she said, could be precisely the path toward embodying those principles more fully. Doing so would be prophetic, she said, “in a moment where we seem very unable to listen to each other (and) to deeply attend to each other’s needs.”
As for women and Catholic social teaching, Rowlands said women have been “absent as the subject” of Catholic social teaching.
Even more grave, she said, is that in the formal development of the teaching, their active participation in discerning the “signs of the times” also has been absent even though it could be argued that most of the active “Catholic social practice” — feeding the hungry, healing the sick, advocating for justice, promoting peace — has been done by women, especially women religious.