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Catechism on Social Justice

In 2016, the Synod of Bishops of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC) published its official English-language catechism titled Christ Our Pascha. A catechism is a summary of the Church’s official teachings: dogma, doctrine, spiritual and theological emphases for a particular Church at a particular time. Christ Our Pascha was the culmination of an international effort, acknowledging the increased diversity of the UGCC. Since the last catechism was published during the wartime years of the last century, the UGCC has become well-established in at least a dozen countries, coordinates missionary work in dozens more, and has emerged into a rapidly globalizing world from decades of Soviet subjugation. As you will read, the Church’s responses to these challenges are pretty radical, deeply Eastern Christian, and cut across political and ideological divides. The St. Mary of Egypt Social Justice Fellowship is sharing extended excerpts of the catechism as it relates to the Fellowship’s mission, and you are welcome to read the whole text here.

3. Social Justice

a. Private Property, Just Stewardship, Fair Exchange, and Distribution of Material Goods

§ 939 The right to private property and a fair distribution of material goods in society are conditions for guaranteeing the dignity of the individual who lives in that society and a guarantee of the means needed for one’s full development. It is precisely the defense of the dignity and rights of a human being, created in the image of God, and the safeguarding of peace and harmony among people and communities as a manifestation of the social dimension of Christian love, that are the aims which all of society’s material goods serve. The just stewardship and distribution of material goods is not an end in itself, but a means to achieve the comprehensive development of each individual person, as well as of society as a whole. ⛪§69


§ 940 Private property is a form of personal control of the goods that are required for a person’s full and comprehensive development. With the help of such property, each person obtains the “space” for individual and familial independence. Consequently, private property is an important element in the realization of personal freedom in social life. Respect for this form of ownership and the guaranteeing of one’s right to it are important elements of a just and free society.


§ 941 In defending one’s right to personal property, Christian tradition does not make this right an absolute, but regards it in the context of the universal appointed purpose of all material goods. In this appointed purpose lies the social function of private property. Only the Lord, as Creator of heaven and earth, is Master of the whole world that he created. We are but stewards in the Lord’s vineyard. He has entrusted it to our care. Thus, in timely fashion we are to return its fruits to their true Master .


§ 942 Justice as a social virtue consists in giving God and each person—each member of society—that which is their due. Such justice in social life is realized in two basic forms: in a fair distribution of material goods, on the one hand, and their fair exchange, on the other. Distributive justice is safeguarded when communal goods—in accordance with just laws—become accessible to all members of society. Examples of this are: appropriate social security, health care, pension protection, etc. Fair or just exchange is achieved through the fair trade of material goods between different members of society. One example is when the price of a product corresponds to its quality. Distributive justice regulates what the community owes its citizens in proportion to their contribution and needs; it ensures that no member of society is denied access to basic goods and services (for example, appropriate social protections, health care, pension income, and the like). Legal justice concerns what the citizen owes in fairness to the community, and insures that all citizens have equal protection under the law, regardless of status or wealth.


b. Morality in Social Relations


§ 943 Human society is impossible without interpersonal relations. The fundamental condition for human interaction, and by extension for social dialogue, is recognition of the dignity of others and respect for them. This respect, which begins with traditional gestures of politeness, includes truthfulness and trust between those communicating with each other. One form of social dialogue is the dissemination and exchange of information. The truthfulness of information is a foundation for the creation of association among people.


§ 944 Christ said of Himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” The Christian, who lives in Christ, is a servant of the Truth. Christian truthfulness has a deeply religious character: to witness to the Truth, to Christ. The eighth commandment demands truthful speech: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” ⛪p.9. A Christian is responsible for his or her words: “On the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” . Every word must be treated with special reverence, and therefore one ought to avoid idle talk, chatter, calumny, and lies. Every such abuse of words is itself a sin. However, it becomes an even greater evil when it harms a neighbor.


§ 945 We live in an information environment created by the mass media. In this setting, we, as Christians, are called to be servants of Truth. The ability to speak the truth and to be faithful to the truth also means being able to keep silent and to maintain confidentiality for the good of one’s neighbor.


c. The Defense of One’s Honor and Good Name


§ 946 For the human individual, one’s honor and good name are a treasure. Every person is entitled to honor, respect, and the social manifestation of such respect. In the Christian understanding, honor is also the social expression of the dignity of a person created in God’s image. One of the tasks of a society is to care for the preservation of its citizens’ honor and good name.


§ 947 A person damages the honor and good name of another both through personal actions as well as through the structures of sin acting in society. Defamation of the good name of another, calumny, gossip, and slander are personal sins against the honor of another. Personal sins also include participation in the sins of another: counseling someone to sin, assisting in sin, defending sin, praising sin, and being silent in the face of sin. By partaking in the sins of others, we also become participants in the social structures of sin: by commanding someone to commit a sin, by provoking someone to sin, by consenting to sin, and by failing to punish it.

d. Morality in the Mass Media


§ 948 The mass media is a positive characteristic of the contemporary age. Those engaged in social communication are called to build up civil society, to promote unity within society. In its development, the mass media has become a powerful social force. This places great responsibility on those working in this field as regards the information being disseminated. Information content can unify people, facilitate mutual understanding in society, and heighten social consciousness, or, on the contrary, can deceive and manipulate popular opinion. One should avoid engaging in those methods of providing information that distort the truth, increase the passivity and depressiveness of its recipients, and reduce their capacity to make critical judgments. ⛪§11


§ 949 Advertising and various entertainment programs are sometimes directed toward arousing artificial human needs; they engender a consumer mentality and can become a powerful means of spreading ideas contrary to the Christian worldview. ⛪§59-62 The unscrupulous commercialization of the mass media, the drive for profit, and the creation of various technologies designed to influence and manipulate the public—all of these distort authentic values and human needs, and promote artificial norms and examples of behavior.


§ 950 The positive influence of the mass media on popular opinion and social consciousness is possible only when the activities of those who engage in the mass media are firmly based on moral principles. This means that priority should be given to the dissemination of information and diverse media productions that foster the development of solidarity and peace, and which also form the conscience and a sense of dignity in people. ⛪§13-15


e. Christian Upbringing, Education, and Schooling


§ 951 The Christian family is not only the most important environment for receiving the gift of new life, it is also the primary sphere of its development. As a family raises and forms children, it develops and educates them in a full array of dimensions . Parents are the primary, although not the only, educators of their children, and no one can deprive them of this responsibility. Christian parents have both a right and a duty to raise their children in a Christian manner. Therefore, they ought to seek the best means of fulfilling this responsibility effectively. Parents are responsible for passing on the treasure of faith to their children, and are called to bring their children to “the stature of the fullness of Christ” . The person involved in raising children possess a high honor: “For if those who make statues and paint portraits of kings enjoy so great an honor, shall not we who adorn the image of the King of kings (for a human being is the image of God) receive ten thousand blessings, if we effect a true likeness?”


§ 952 The state and society, on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity, ought to help parents fulfill their parental responsibilities, but they cannot assume the role of the family in the raising of children . Society may assume the responsibility of raising the young only when parents cannot fulfill their parental obligations. The state ought to create the necessary conditions for education and schooling in accordance with the wishes and the will of parents. The Christian family has a right to send its children to schools that can guarantee their education in a Christian spirit.


§ 953 The educational mission of the Church as Mother and Teacher is to proclaim the path to salvation and to promote growth in Christ. The Church forms and educates her children through the liturgical life; she leads them into the depths of the Christian faith through catechesis, and nurtures them with the Word of God as well as Body and Blood of Christ. At the same time, the Church establishes Catholic schools, from preschool to university, in order that each new generation may grow in Christian and civic consciousness, and thus become capable of transfiguring the culture in which they live ⛪§2-8.

Remember, Lord,… our government and all the military; grant them deep and undisturbed peace; speak good things to their heart for your Church and for all your people; so that by their tranquillity we may pass our life in quiet and calm...Remember, O Lord, all officials and authorities. (Anaphora of the Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great)

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