Centesimus Annus on Matters of Work
Pope John Paul II issued his own meditation on May 1, 1995 on the hundredth anniversary of his predecessor, Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum.
In response to a recent accusation that my thinking on matters of work are socialist, I wish to merely point out what two popes have taught as authentic or authoritative Catholic doctrine on the matter.
What do the popes say about working long hours?
..., the Pope [Leo XIII] explicitly acknowledges as belonging to workers, or, using his own language, to "the working class", the Encyclical affirms just as clearly the right to the "limitation of working hours",....
It is neither just nor human so to grind men down with excessive labour as to stupefy their minds and wear out their bodies". And referring to the "contract" aimed at putting into effect "labour relations" of this sort, he affirms with greater precision, that "in all agreements between employers and workers there is always the condition expressed or understood" that proper rest be allowed, proportionate to "the wear and tear of one's strength". He then concludes: "To agree in any other sense would be against what is right and just"....(CA 7)
Does this teaching, by itself, indicate that the work week should be reduced to 30 hours?
It does not specifically reference the number of hours that are just by itself, but stay with me here, and I'll show how it is implied.
What is a just or living wage according to the popes?
The Pope immediately adds another right which the worker has as a person. This is the right to a "just wage", which cannot be left to the "free consent of the parties, so that the employer, having paid what was agreed upon, has done his part and seemingly is not called upon to do anything beyond"....
"..., every individual has a natural right to procure what is required to live; and the poor can procure that in no other way than by what they can earn through their work"....
A workman's wages should be sufficient to enable him to support himself, his wife and his children. "If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice"....
The Pope [Leo XIII] attributed to the "public authority" the "strict duty" of providing properly for the welfare of the workers, because a failure to do so violates justice; indeed, he did not hesitate to speak of "distributive justice".
One reader stated to the person accusing me of socialism that my politics seem to be "Anglo Catholic distributivism" rather than socialism.
I'll take that as a compliment if it places me in the political party of the popes when it comes to economic justice.
Here's what Leo XIII says of "distributive justice":
Among the many and grave duties of rulers who would do their best for the people, the first and chief is to act with strict justice - with that justice which is called distributive - toward each and every class alike. (RN no. 33, italics in original)
At any rate, it is clear that a "just wage" or "living wage" is adequate to care for a family on a single income.
If a worker is not paid enough to support a family, it is an injustice which public authorities are called upon to address!
Leo XIII and John Paul II seem to be willing to say that children and women could be paid differently than men, but should work even less hours than men and have different types of work then men.
Women, again, are not suited for certain occupations; a woman is by nature fitted for home-work, and it is that which is best adapted at once to preserve her modesty and to promote the good bringing up of children and the well-being of the family. (RN no. 42)
I think even most "conservative" Catholics today would find it troubling to suggest that Margaret Thatcher or pro-life activist, Helen Alvarez, or current Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, or Condoleeza Rice are all "by nature fitted for home-work".
I am not putting down the choice of women who desire to stay home with their children. Indeed, I believe there should be the equivalent of one parent at home at all times.
If I withhold assent from any part of the papal social justice doctrine, it is this notion that the one to stay home must be
While I would support child labor laws, I believe that all workers should be paid equally for equal work, and that the minimum wage for full time work should be a living wage that would support a family.
It then would fall to the family to discern which member of the family will be the primary wage earner, or whether they wish to split up the work so that no one person is working full time, but together, they add up to one full time equivalent.
In today's day and age, we can say that both husband and wife might work part time (15 to 20 hours each), where their combined salaries add up to a wage that supports the family!
In some families, one parent may wish to stay at home all of the time, while the other parent works full time (30 to 40 hours).
Yet, the full time worker needs adequate time off from work to nurture family relationships, gain adequate rest, participate in culture, (all of which are explicitly mentioned in the encyclicals) and PRAY.
Is there any basis for saying that a person needs adequate time off from work to pray?
To these rights Pope Leo XIII adds another right regarding the condition of the working class, one which I wish to mention because of its importance: namely, the right to discharge freely one's religious duties. (CA 9)
John Paul II is primarily concerned with preserving the Sabbath.
Yet, we saw in yesterday's post on the notion of a religious life for married people that the Second Vatican Council (Sacrosanctum Concilium) calls upon the laity to join with the priests and vowed religious in daily eucharistic worship and saying parts of the liturgy of the hours.
John Paul II also wrote an Apostolic Letter called Rosarium Virginis Mariae
encouraging frequent, even daily, recitation of the rosary.
If we are to take this invitation to become a priestly and holy people seriously, we must free up workers for the capacity to pray without detracting from time to nurture family relationships, or impacting physical health by loss of sleep, food, or exercise.
What is the role of the state in all of this?
"When there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the defenceless and the poor have a claim to special consideration. The richer class has many ways of shielding itself, and stands less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back on, and must chiefly depend on the assistance of the State. It is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong to the latter class, should be specially cared for and protected by the Government". (CA 10)
The Church is not socialist.
Throughout the Church's social justice teachings, she affirms the right to own private property, to make a fair profit, to enjoy a just reward for labor in proportion to the effort, and to practice subsidiarity, restraint from totalitarianism, and ethical fiscal responsibility in the manner of operating government.
She also also admits that government alone cannot solve every problem, and that we must contribute to the common good not only through political action but through acts of private charity and primarily meeting the obligations of family life.
Yet, even in affirming these principles, the Church is adament and crystal clear in matters of authentic or authoritative doctrine that even if the state cannot solve every problem, it can and must
play a role in every
solution, and to say otherwise is even labelled variously as "unjust", "an injustice" or even "evil".
Here is another Pope on the matter, Pope Paul VI:
"If someone who has the riches of this world sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him?." It is well known how strong were the words used by the Fathers of the Church to describe the proper attitude of persons who possess anything towards persons in need. To quote Saint Ambrose: "You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich". That is, private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditioned right. No one is justified in keeping for his exclusive use what he does not need, when others lack necessities. In a word, "according to the traditional doctrine as found in the Fathers of the Church and the great theologians, the right to property must never be exercised to the detriment of the common good". If there should arise a conflict "between acquired private rights and primary community exigencies", it is the responsibility of public authorities "to look for a solution, with the active participation of individuals and social groups". (Popularum Progresio no. 23)
What the Church is saying is that there is a distinction, or perhaps even a difference, between a "fair profit" or "just reward of labor" and gross inequity of wealth that would make a man a millionaire while another literally starves.
If there are people anywhere in the world who are not having their basic needs met, it falls on society to correct that situation by redistributing the wealth from those who have accumulated more than a fair share of wealth and more than a just reward for individual labor.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it in the following manner:
1938 There exist also sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women. These are in open contradiction of the Gospel:
Their equal dignity as persons demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace. (CS 29 no. 3)1947 The equal dignity of human persons requires the effort to reduce excessive social and economic inequalities. It gives urgency to the elimination of sinful inequalities.
The Church teaching is that the role the state plays gives a "preferential option" or "preferential love" for the poor - the former term used by Pual VI, and the latter by John Paul II.
The USCCB has even explicitly supported the notion of "progressive taxation" in instances, which many economist and philosophers believe is the foundation of secular democracy.
The first experiment with progressive taxation known to recorded history actually occurred in ancient democratic Greece. The Church supported the notion through the middle ages, and America has long been doing it.
The best arguments for progressive taxation on moral grounds that I have heard apart from arguments to Church teaching have been framed by William H. Gates II, Microsoft founder's father in reference to inheritance taxes.
He argues that only in America could he and his son accumulate the wealth that they accumulated. The ability to accumulate such wealth is dependent on an infrastructure supported by taxes.
Only in a nation with adequate police and fire, roads, water, electricity and other public works, could the Gates make the sort of wealth they have made.
Therefore, they owe it to society to pay something back to sustain that very infrastructure that empowered them to become rich in the first place.
In saying they owe it to society, Gates is clarifying that the rich become rich on borrowed money in a sense - taxes paid by others helped make them individually rich, and they owe back in proportion to their wealth.
To drive home the point, Gates points out that if he were born of the exact same parents with the exact same genetic make-up in Rwanda, he simply would not be anywhere near as wealthy as he became in the United States.
The simple fact is that if we taxed Bill Gates III, his son, and the richest man in the world, at ninety percent, he would still be a multi-millionaire at the end of the day.
Even if Gates is quite charitable with his discretionary wealth, and reinvest much of his wealth back into the economy in other ways, he still owes something to the institutions that built and sustain the infrastructure that made him rich in the first place - and he owes in proportion to what he "borrowed".
Aside from the this argument, the Church argues on the basis of the theological principles of Thomas Aquinas that there is a "common good".
The common good is not simply the sum total of the goods of a society. Nor is it the greatest good for the greatest number. Nor is the common good a good above the good of the individual.
Rather, Aquinas argued that the good of each and every individual member of society is the basis of the common good. Only when everyone's needs are met, and all rights satisfied, and the individual person is fully able to flourish is the common good being met.
Human instititions, from the nation state down to the institution of the nuclear family and up to the institutions of the international community and the institution of the Church itself all exist for one reason: to promote the incomparable dignity of the individual human person revealed in the incarnation event. The human person is the center of all activity!
We do not live to work. We work to live.
Our work can have deep meaning in itself and become a spiritual activity that contributes to the common good and provides a sense of meaning to our lives. Work does have dignity and value, and our work can be elevated to prayer in itself.
But work is the sole purpose of the human person, and is always a means to an end to some extent, and mere part of the totality of who and what we are.
We are not what we do.
We are human persons who share in the nature of Christ, and by his grace are being divinized in the entireity of the human condition.
The human person needs time for adequate rest and relaxation, and time to nurture relationships with family, neighbors, co-workers, friends, fellow parishioners, political associates, and even percieved enemies.
The human person needs time for self education, contributing to culture through arts, letters and music, and time for developing a deep spiritual life through committed prayer, meditation and contemplation.
The human person has a right - rights which are universal - to the freedom to pursuit such things and to have the basic means of life support that make such things possible: food, medicine, housing, clothing, freedom from threats of bodily harm or death from other human persons, etc....
It is true that the Church and I would place right to life issues, like those outlined in the consistent ethic of life argument of John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae
, as "foundational" rights upon which the right to freedom and a living wage and work and adequate time off from work rest.
Nevertheless, opposition to abortion, the death penalty, embryonic stem cell research, unjust war, euthansia or human cloning cannot be an excuse to ignore other universal human rights or the common good rooted in the dignity of the human person revealed in the incarnation.
Indeed, the only political
teaching of the Church that cause me any reservations whatsover are the anxiety the Vatican expresses that allowing gay unions will promote more homosexuality (which seems to me absurd), and the role of women belonging solely in the home (I think male and female should share home responsibilities more or less equally in an ideal world).
It is true that the poor will always be with us, and that sometimes, a person places themselves in degrading conditions of poverty through their own choices.
Yet, it always and everywhere remains a duty and responsibility - a moral obligation - for the rest of society to help lift the person back out of that condition.
Sometimes we give a hand out. Sometimes we give a hand up. And sometimes we examine political and cultural forces that create the conditions that foster poverty, and we change the system to begin to help alleviate that condition.
According to Matthew 25, to turn your back on the poor is to turn your back on God himself!
To say that the way out for the poor lies entirely in their own hard work - a willingeness to work two or three jobs like your ancestors, is simply not a moral option.
Though your ancestors, or you yourself, may have seen some results in long and hard work, what happened to you or your ancestors was an injustice.
Nobody should have to work to the detriment of developing a deep spiritual life or the detriment of family.
The solution to the grave injustice, in the United States and the entire world, is to acknowledge that full time work needs to be defined in accord with the dignity of the human person, and the minium wage for full time work must be a living wage that would support a family.
To begin to grasp the ideal as it is proposed by the Church, I would suggest an imaginative exercise based on current reality.
Consider that the top private employer in the United States today is Wal-Mart. The Walton family - children of the man who founded Wal-Mart - takes up five of the top 20 richest people in the world.
The Church's social justice vision will only be achieved when we can envision that a full time employee at Wal-Mart could support a family, including health coverage and education, on a single income without overtime, and have time left over for praying Mass, the hinge hours of the office, and the rosary every day, with time for family meals, exercise and adequate sleep and recreation.
It is considered just to take some wealth from the Waltons to make that happen, even as we ensure the Walton's do receive a truly just reward for any personal individual labor, and that the Wal-Mart company makes a fair, though not obscene, profit.
Until we see this occurring as a reality, we live in an unjust society where private charity is demanded, but also potential structural reform of the system.
Once this is accepted, all political and cultural and economic and business decisions must support those ends.