A Change of Direction for Catholic Social Teaching?

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

marian-pallisterIt 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 www.facebook.com/JusticeandpeaceArgyllandIsles/ 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’?