“What difference has Pope Francis made in Catholic social teaching?”

Massaro According to Thomas Massaro, S.J., Professor of Moral Theology at Fordham University, who led our April workshop at Saint Cecilia Parish Hall, Pope Francis has not only renewed the tradition of Catholic social teaching, he has made it even stronger by lending his support to various social justice movements around the world.

Father Massaro, who has written nine books and has published more than one hundred articles on Catholic social teaching and its relationship with contemporary social justice issues, says Pope Francis has expressed a new sensitivity to the poor that no previous pope has been able to communicate. Given that he took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, the first peacemaker, Father Massaro says this hasn’t come as a surprise.

“His style is refreshing,” he says. “He makes gestures that are very authentic and speaks spontaneously.” Father Massaro cited various examples including the Pope Francis’ visits to homeless shelters, prisons and refugee camps, as well as the natural rapport he has with people of all walks of life.

During the first half of his talk, Father Massaro provided an overview of Catholic social teaching, noting that many popes over the years have advocated for social reforms, such as during the Industrial Revolution that caused a great deal of human suffering.

He also reviewed the nine tenets of Catholic social teaching, which include: 1) Human Dignity and Rights, 2) Solidarity, Common Good, Participation, 3) Family Life, 4) Subsidiary and the Proper Role of Government, 5) Property Ownership: Rights and Responsibilities, 6) Dignity of Work, Rights of Workers, Support for Labor Unions, 7) Colonialism and Economic Development, 8) Peace and Disarmament, 9) Option for the Poor and Vulnerable. He added that globalization and the environment have also become areas of concern in recent years.

Father Massaro then reviewed six specific ways that Pope Francis has renewed Catholic social teaching over the past six years that coincide with the chapters in his book, Mercy in Action:

  1. Economic justice – The dangers of economic inequality impact all societies around the world. Pope Francis believes in the need to redistribute wealth and speak out against unregulated markets that concentrate wealth at top. He also says that we have an obligation to remind billionaires to practice philanthropy
  2. Labor justice – The Church has been a good partner for the labor movement, supporting workers’ rights around the world. Pope Francis has addressed labor leaders in this regard.
  3. Environment – Pope Francis has been the “green pope,” promoting ecological justice and sustainability, and speaking out against climate change.
  4. Family life – Pope Francis has recognized the challenges facing families and has addressed how the Church can offer support for families in distress, encouraging reconciliation instead of punishment.
  5. Migrants – Pope Francis has been sensitive to the needs of the 65 million migrants, refugees and asylum seekers around the world and has made visits to refugee camps.
  6. Agent of reconciliation – Pope Francis has continued the Church’s long tradition of peace advocacy, focusing on peace building and conflict transformation to reconcile all people. His actions are informed by Jesus, “Prince of Peace.”

Father Massaro applauds Pope Francis for opening the door to new ways of looking at the Church’s stance on social justice issues,

“This Pope will go anywhere and talk to anyone to bring about peace,” he says. Father Massaro recommends reading Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace Letters, which he publishes every year on January 1.