“Justice in the World”

An informal sharing by Peter Henriot SJ with International JPIC Promoters

 Rome, May 19, 2011


The 1971 Synod of Bishops was the second general assembly in the history of the Synod of Bishops. Its agenda consisted of two subjects: Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World.

 The document, ‘Justice in the World’ was published on November 30, 1971.  A number of other important documents had been published such as, Gaudium et Spes (Dec 7, 1965), Popolorum Progressio (March 26, 1967), Medellin (September 1968) in Latin America. Of course it was the time of Liberation Theology.

Present at the Synod were Bishops and non-Bishop assessors, such as Philip Land SJ, one of the principal drafters of the document.  The important thing about any document is who signs it.Five years after the Council the SJs, influenced by this document, at their General Council (# 32) affirmed the important link for them between faith and justice, being called to the ‘service of faith’ and the ‘promotion of justice’.

 Fr. Peter proposed 4 important insights from this document for reflection:

1.The biblical insight of the ‘signs of the times’ and the use of the method SEE, JUDGE and ACT, which had already been presented in Mater et Magister (May 15, 1961) and Pacem in Terris (April 11, 1963) by Pope John XXIII.  The focus was on the action of God in history. Many Study and Reflection Centres were established in Africa and elsewhere to help discern the ‘signs of the times’.  The dynamism of the gospel and the hopes of the people of today are together (#5). This is a primary theological stance.  This process of SEE, JUDGE, ACT is still relevant today and can help understand how the Spirit of God is moving in history, such as what is happening in North Africa these past months.

This approach has not always been accepted. For example in Latin America this approach was affirmed in Medellín but changed in Santo Domingo to ‘JUDGE, SEE and ACT’.  However, at the V General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopacy, in Aparecida (2007), in the presence of Pope Benedict, the original method of ‘SEE, JUDGE and ACT’ was reaffirmed.

2. Action for Justice and participation in the transformation of the World is a ‘CONSTITUTIVE’ dimension of the preaching of the Gospel (# 6).  Even a strong liturgical life without the justice dimension is not Christian. Peter gives the example of a chair – without a back, a seat and legs it cannot function as a chair. To be fully and authentically Christian there needs to be a triple dimension present – proclamation of the Good News, Celebration and Action for Justice (triple dimension of the priesthood of Christ).

3. The Structural Dimension of Life:  Attention needs to be paid to the structural dimension of life.  There is a call to Christians to overcoming structural sin and oppression.  Yes, personal conversion is central, but the accumulation of personal sin into structures also needs to be tackled, as it influences the ability of individuals to deal with the personal dimension.  The economic crisis and the collapse of the banking system in many countries have disproportionally impacted the poor.  Peter gave the example of meeting a white supporter of apartheid in South Africa who was raised in an all-white environment, was taught history from a white dominant perspective and led to believe that they were the chosen race etc. How difficult it is for such a person to step outside the structure and see life from another perspective. Thus, structure reinforces sin.  He also quoted Martin Luther King Jr. who said that it is not sufficient to praise God if we are not also trying to change what is wrong in the world.

4.Those who proclaim Justice must be just themselves (#40). This is a call for justice in the Church. It calls for an examination of modes of acting, possessing and lifestyles.  Number 42/43 states that rights within the Church must be respected for all, especially for women and lay people.  Numbers 45/46 goes on to express some of these rights.  At the 2009 Synod of Africa, during an intervention, one of the religious women, under pressure for time at the end of her 4 minute intervention, asked the Bishops to reflect on what the Church would look like without women!  In the final document, yet to be approved by the Pope, there is a call for women to be involved in decision making processes ‘where appropriate’.

Another important aspect of this document is the call for ‘Education in Justice’ which is a responsibility for the whole church (# 51ff). Liturgy and the Sacraments can serve justice education (#58).  Despite so many calls for Seminarians to be educated in Catholic Social Teaching, it is ignored for the most part.  Most professionals have to update their knowledge on a regular basis. How many priests and religious do this?

The document makes good connection between right to life issues and general justice issues.  It also dedicates reflection to other issues such as:

The Integrity of Creation (#8, 11, 70). – document speaks about a ‘more radical dimension of unity’ which is more than communications, but with the earth herself It is conscious of the ‘irreparable damage’ being done to life support systems, such as air and water.  It states that the lifestyle of the Institutional Church and all its members must allow it to preach the good news to the poor (#48).

Ecumenism (#61) – collaboration for justice is supported

International Action (#64-71): a call for the UN Declaration of Human Rights to be ratified by all nations (#64), support for UN efforts to halt the arms race, weapons trade etc. (#65); also supports fair prices for raw materials, opening of markets and taxation on a worldwide basis (#66).

For the full text of ‘Justice in the World’ go to – http://www.osjspm.org/majordoc_justicia_in_mundo_offical_test.aspx

Philip Land SJ wrote a very important and interesting insider account of the development of this document in italian.  It is probably out of print, but a copy is available at the JPIC office. The details of the booklet are:  Land Philip, La Giustizia nel Mondo, (Commiissione pontificia Iustitia et Pax, Edizioni Paoline, 1972).

Notes by:

Gearóid Francisco Ó Conarie ofm – (JPIC-USG/UISG Commission – jpicusguisg@lasalle.org)

One thought on ““Justice in the World””

  1. Dear RevRuth, I am sorry that you have been given the impression that the maetrts of child abuse and the discipline of the sacraments regarding ordination have been some how equated. I understand that this may be upsetting. I’d like to explain, as someone who has a little insider knowledge, about why these maetrts were dealt with together.The document in question covered procedural norms for different areas of the discipline the Church and was effectively tying up loose ends. This document in fact covers other procedural areas (eg. sanctions etc. for mal practice in the Sacrament of Penance). I am told that this kind of ecclectic legislation is not uncommon in civil legisaltures when a group of unconnected maetrts is grouped together in a single document as a convenient way of dealing with several maetrts at once.The Church regards ordination of woman as attempted ordination and as such is a simulation of a sacrament. The simulation of a sacrament has, even before this document, been punished by automatic excommunication. This document was merely stipulating the interpretation of Universal Law in particular circumstances and is known as Particular Law’. The Church has very few canonical sanctions that it can use but the abuse of the sacraments has always merited the most severe measures.I hope this goes some way as to explaining why this document is structured in the way that it is. I think the Vatican would do well to appoint a new press secretary who could anticpate how the papers will spin’ such things. It is unfortunate that this has been reported in the way that it has. Let’s hope a lesson has been learned by those who write these documents. Sorry to go on, but I am a bit of an anorak when it comes to these things. Take care and God bless.

Comments are closed.