Now here’s a personal thrill. Commonweal magazine has posted “True Then, Truer Now,” an article I wrote to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis. Given Commonweal‘s track record of consistently high-quality exploration of issues facing Catholics today, an always-compelling blog (dotCommonweal, a daily visit for me), and a venerable place in American Catholic history, I’m pleased as can be to find a little place in the journal’s work.
Sollicitudo stands as a lasting achievement of its remarkable author and as a landmark in the social encyclical tradition. My article points out some distinctive contributions Sollicitudo made and why it remains relevant a quarter century later. Here’s a snippet:
Like the preferential option, the idea of structures of sin represents a dramatic papal appropriation of a concept that had been richly developed in liberation theology. The 1984 CDF document had warned against what it regarded as a too facile integration of Marxist ideology into Catholic political theory by some liberation theologians. The document left many with the impression that the entire project of liberation theology had been officially condemned. On the contrary, a follow-up 1986 document provided a far more positive assessment, acknowledging that “the fight against injustice is meaningless unless it is waged with a view to establishing a new social and political order in conformity with the demands of justice.”
Just over a year later, here was Sollicitudo, a papal encyclical, embracing some of liberation theology’s central themes. In fact, the encyclical includes seven citations from the second CDF document and none from the first. Its closing section includes several references to liberation and the sin and structures of sin that stand in the way of its realization. As Elizabeth Johnson observes in her Quest for the Living God, “Rarely has the core project of a theology been so quickly and widely adopted into mainstream church teaching.”
There’s more. The entire piece is here.
Finally, the anniversary of Sollicitudo offers a great moment to re-read the encyclical itself. It’s here.