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Catholic Social Thought and Poverty. Some reflections for the 1st Working Group Meeting on the Caritas Global Anti- Poverty Campaign Helen Alford op Angelicum. An outline. Some definitions: poverty, human development, CST P overty in the Christian tradition Types of poverty

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Catholic social thought and poverty
Catholic Social Thought and Poverty

Some reflections for the

1st Working Group Meeting on the Caritas Global Anti-PovertyCampaign

Helen Alford op


An outline
An outline

  • Some definitions: poverty, human development, CST

  • Poverty in the Christian tradition

    • Types of poverty

      • Condemnation of enforced, degrading poverty; positive evaluation of economic activity that is oriented towards human good;

      • Condemnation of consumerism and “superdevelopment”; praise of detachment from material goods and forms of simplicity and poverty that are freely embraced

    • How does the “evangelical counsel” of poverty fit in?

      • Poverty and misery (la pauvreté et la misère)

    • Principles, virtues, and encyclicals on poverty

    • Some concluding thoughts

Some definitions
Some definitions



CST 1: Catholic social teaching (doctrine)

CST2: Catholic social thought (without CST1: Catholic social ethics)

CST3: Catholic social tradition (without CST 1 and/or 2: Catholic social movements)








Some definitions1

  • World Bank: cut-off levels for income: LIC, L/UMIC, HIC, with US$1.25 per dayas inter. pov. line

  • UNDP: multidimensionalpovertyindex, with income, education and health (sub)components

  • Sen: lackingcapabilities to parti-cipate in the economicprocess

  • Geremek: social status, a “distinct way of life” made up of variousfactors; “itsdegradingeffect [is] the mostsignificant”

Some definitions

Eachdefinitionhasdrawbacks and strengths:

WB: convenientbut crude (Kaplan, 2012)

UNDP: more inclusive, more difficult to obtain accurate data

Sen: mostdirectlyfocused on human person, butnot easy to measure

Geremek: sociallynuanced and significant; difficult to meaure

Poverty in the christian tradition 1
Poverty in the Christian Tradition (1)

  • Classic distinction: material poverty (poverty of possessions) and spiritual poverty (poverty of spirit)

    • Cantalamessa, Poverty, 1997

      • Negative material poverty (social poverty to be combatted)

      • Positive material poverty (e.g. of those in religious life)

      • Negative spiritual poverty (absence of spiritual wealth)

      • Positive spiritual poverty (humble trust in God)

    • Cf Benedict XVI, Message for World Peace Day, 2009

      • Poverty “to be chosen vs “iniquitous poverty”

    • St Thomas, “habitual poverty”, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 19

    • Christopher Franks, 2009

      • “ontological poverty”, or “created lowliness”

Cst and poverty 2
CST and poverty (2)

  • Evangelical poverty (“evangelical counsel”)

    • Jesus and the rich young man: “if you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mt 19: 21)

  • Commandments vs counsels?

  • St Thomas: there is one way, the way of perfect charity. The counsels are a useful means, and they become essential to those who have bound themselves to follow them.

  • CCC 915: “Christ proposes the evangelical counsels, in their great variety, to every disciple”

Poverty in the christian tradition 3
Poverty in the Christian Tradition (3)

  • Poverty and misery

    • A distinctionthatdoesnotexist in English, butdoes in manyotherlanguages, thatis, between a form of poverty with dignity and la misère

      • Dickens, Hugo

      • CSDC 2004: Rerum novarum “examines the condition of salariedworkers, whichwasparticuarlydistressing for industrial labourerswholanguished in inhumanemisery” (n. 89)

      • Compare medieval situation

      • Cardijn and YCW, Lebret and the shantytowns of Brazil . . .

      • Liberationtheology . . .

Cst2 principles
CST2 principles

Common Good


Association Solidarity Participation Justice Subsidiarity Option for Poor Universal Destination of goods

Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Fortitude/Courage, Solidarity

Human Virtues

Human Person


Poverty in the christian tradition 4
Poverty in the Christian tradition (4)

  • How doesmodern CST1 confrontpoverty?

    • Rerum Novarum

      • Provideaccess to propertythrough a living wage

        • different way of speaking to rich and pooroftencriticised, but compare, say, Cafoddocument on post-MDGs and the different way in whichrich and poornations are treated.

    • Centesimusannus

      • Possession of landislessimportantthan “possession of know-how, knowledge and skill” (n. 32).

        • cfmicrocredit, social entrepreneurship, social business

    • CSDC n. 449: the fightagainstpoverty

      • Shouldweaim for zero poverty? CSDC n. 183 . . .

    • Caritas in veritate: povertyasisolation (n. 53)

Caritas in veritate 1
Caritas in veritate (1)

  • Are there implications for the Global Anti-Poverty Campaign from a text like this?

    • When both the logic of the market and the logic of the State come to an agreement that each will continue to exercise a monopoly over its respective area of influence, in the long term much is lost: solidarity in relations between citizens, participation and adherence, actions of gratuitousness, all of which stand in contrast with giving in order to acquire (the logic of exchange) and giving through duty (the logic of public obligation, imposed by State law). In order to defeat underdevelopment, action is required not only on improving exchange-based transactions and implanting public welfare structures, but above all on gradually increasing openness, in a world context, to forms of economic activity marked by quotas of gratuitousness and communion. The exclusively binary model of market-plus-State is corrosive of society, while economic forms based on solidarity, which find their natural home in civil society without being restricted to it, build up society. The market of gratuitousness does not exist, and attitudes of gratuitousness cannot be established by law. Yet both the market and politics need individuals who are open to reciprocal gift (n. 39)

Caritas in veritate 2 globalization
Caritas in veritate (2): Globalization

The processes of globalization, suitably understood and directed, open up the unprecedented possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a world-wide scale; if badly directed, however, they can lead to an increase in poverty and inequality, and could even trigger a global crisis. It is necessary to correct the malfunctions, some of them serious, that cause new divisions between peoples and within peoples, and also to ensure that the redistribution of wealth does not come about through the redistribution or increase of poverty: a real danger if the present situation were to be badly managed. . . The transition inherent in the process of globalization presents great difficulties and dangers that can only be overcome if we are able to appropriate the underlying anthropological and ethical spirit that drives globalization towards the humanizing goal of solidarity (n. 42)

By way of conclusion
By way of conclusion . . .

  • How muchcould or should the global campaign focus on social enterprise and social innovation?

    • Muhammad Yunus, Creating a World WithoutPoverty, 2008

      • Thiswould be verymuch in line with Caritas in veritate

  • Up to now, CST1 (unlike CST2 and CST3 as a whole) hasnotfocusedmuch on women.

    • Can a Caritas campaign on global poverty help create an environment in whichthatcould be remedied?

  • For tomorrow:

    • From yourexperience in Caritas locally and internationally, what do youseeas common and whatdifferentregarding:

      • the way povertyisunderstood,

      • the way itisaddressed or confronted

Catholic social thought and poverty1
Catholic Social Thought and Poverty

Some reflections for the

1st Working Group Meeting on the Caritas Global Anti-PovertyCampaign

Helen Alford op