In 1995, the USCC Committees on Education, Domestic Policy, and International Policy established a Task Force on Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Education. The task force was approved as a "special exception" to the NCCB/USCC Plans and Priorities by the full body of bishops. This initiative reflects the bishops' conviction that the social mission of the Church is central to the overall mission of the Church and integral to the faith of every Catholic. A key to deepening the Catholic community's understanding of this social mission is integrating it fully and effectively in Catholic educational and catechetical programs.
After more than two years of assessment and discussion, the task force agreed that although many Catholic educational and catechetical programs excel in communicating Catholic social thought, there are many others that cover the social mission incompletely, indirectly, or not at all. This situation represents a critical problem for the Church's efforts to hand down the faith accurately and in all its dimensions, as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It also reveals an urgent need to integrate Catholic social teaching more fully into the Church's educational and catechetical programs. Finally, it creates an opportunity to share our social tradition even more creatively at every level of Catholic education and catechesis.
The bishops charged the Task Force on Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Education with assessing the extent to which Catholic social thought is now incorporated in Catholic educational and catechetical programs, and with developing recommendations for bringing Catholic social teaching and Catholic education closer together. The task force is composed of leaders in the fields of social ministry, education, and catechesis; a list of the membership is attached (see p. 20-21). The full task force has met six times since November 1995.
The task force has a two-part mandate:
- To assess the quantity, quality, and content of teaching on Catholic social tradition in our schools and seminaries, our colleges and universities, and our programs of religious education and formation; and
- To develop and begin to carry forward strategies to deepen, broaden, and strengthen the sharing of Catholic social teaching in our educational institutions and efforts.
To undertake the assessment phase of its work, the task force initially divided into five subgroups: Elementary and Secondary Schools; Religious Education, Youth Ministry, and Adult Education; Higher Education; Seminaries; and Materials. The task force formed a "Content Subgroup" to develop a summary of the key principles of Catholic social teaching that would guide its work. For a period of approximately eighteen months, the subgroups conducted their assessments and developed recommendations for further incorporating Catholic social teaching into their respective educational areas. This process led to a set of preliminary reports presented to the full task force on April 9, 1997.
In general, the subgroups determined that there is much interest among Catholic educational, catechetical, and social ministry professionals in incorporating Catholic social teaching into Catholic educational programs. However, the extent to which it actually happens is very uneven and is often lacking depth or clarity. There are varied reasons for this. Among them are (1) the need to see more clearly Catholic social teaching as authentic doctrine and integral to the mission of Catholic education; (2) a lack of familiarity with Catholic social thought among educators and catechists; (3) a need for greater emphasis and coordination on this topic within national professional organizations; and (4) a lack of materials incorporating Catholic social teaching, including syllabi, textbooks, curricula, and lesson plans.
Several observations were common to all the subgroups:
- There is a general lack of recognition among Catholics that our social tradition includes an explicit body of teaching that is an essential element of the overall Catholic tradition.
- There is a consistent need for leadership formation in the area of Catholic social teaching for those in seminaries, programs of continuing education for priests, deacon formation, and lay ministry programs, as well as catechist, youth ministry, and teacher training.
- There is a universal need to be more explicit in teaching the principles of Catholic social thought and in helping people apply and act on those principles. Offering both experiential learning opportunities and training and reflection on Catholic social teaching is essential.
- There is a need for Catholic educational and catechetical programs not only to continue offering direct service experiences but also to offer opportunities to work for change in the policies and structures that cause injustice.
The task force acknowledges and commends the remarkable growth in providing service opportunities in Catholic education and formation. These efforts provide essential experiences in serving those in need. They also provide an important opportunity to reflect on the demands of Catholic social teaching for transforming structures that leave people in need. The Catholic social mission requires both service and action for justice. Catholic education and catechesis in all its forms must help believers respond to human suffering and change the structures that threaten human life and dignity.
The summaries below include brief descriptions of the assessment report and recommendations of each of the subgroups, along with additional recommendations made during the full task force discussion. The full texts of the subgroup reports are available from the USCC Departments of Education and Social Development and World Peace, which staffed the task force.
A report of the Content Subgroup, which summarizes key principles of Catholic social teaching. The Content Subgroup gathered information from existing Catholic documents, drawing particularly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and from the U.S. bishops' statement, A Century of Catholic Social Teaching.
Elementary and Secondary Schools Subgroup
The subcommittee relied on three sources for its assessment: (1) its own broad experience of Catholic schools, (2) an informal survey of schools known to subcommittee members, and (3) an ex post facto analysis of the Assessment of Catholic Religious Education (ACRE), which is a national assessment of religious education efforts conducted by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). Based on these sources, the subcommittee is confident in asserting that the fullness of Catholic social teaching needs to be conveyed more effectively to students in Catholic elementary and secondary schools.
In order to promote a fuller living out of Catholic social teaching by students and graduates of Catholic elementary and secondary schools, the subcommittee recommends these steps:
- that (arch)dioceses be encouraged to incorporate Catholic social teaching in (a) standards for in-service training of teachers, and (b) curriculum guidelines
- the development of a resource for assisting dio-ceses, parishes, and schools that would include (a) programs, models, and materials for faculty education and for incorporating Catholic social teaching into the elementary and secondary curriculum, (b) a model process for curriculum development in Catholic social teaching, including sample outcomes and assessment tools; and (c) suggestions for incorporating the principles of Catholic social teaching into administrative practices at the (arch)diocesan, parish, and school levels
- that the NCEA be encouraged to revise the questions in the Assessment of Catholic Religious Education (ACRE) to reflect explicitly the components of Catholic social teaching
- that Catholic schools acknowledge Catholic social teaching to be an essential part of their mission.
Religious Education, Youth Ministry, and Adult Education Subgroup
One critical dimension to be considered in exploring the relationship between these ministries and Catholic social teaching is the essential linkage between such teaching and spirituality.
The life of Christian discipleship demands the promotion of a consistent ethic of life, which represents a seamless garment of complete responsiveness in faith to the call of the Gospel. The integral linkage between social justice and spirituality points to a community's whole life in Christ, a life rooted in the paschal mystery. Living this mystery is a powerful dimension of the spiritual life, one that fosters doing what is right, loving goodness, and walking humbly with our God (cf. Mi 6:8).
Religious education, youth ministry, and adult education invite ministerial linkages with Catholic social teaching. The Subgroup for Religious Education, Youth Ministry, and Adult Education initiated two tracks for assessing the extent of these linkages. First, the subgroup developed reports dealing with selected ministries. These reports provided a look at a wide variety of topics and a great diversity of ministries, all in relation to the Church's social teaching.
For its second major initiative, the subgroup conducted a limited survey of twenty-nine leaders in the following ministries: parish catechesis, diocesan catechesis, adult catechesis, youth ministry, social action, and diocesan worship offices. The subgroup asked persons active in these ministries to respond to ten questions dealing with Catholic social teaching and the ministry represented. These were among the group's findings:
- The "dignity of human life" is a consistent theme in most ministries; however, such themes as "compassion for the poor," "fostering a consistent ethic of life, particularly in economic matters," and "fostering equality for all" are themes that need additional emphasis.
- For the leaders surveyed, the major avenues for promoting Catholic social teaching are mission statements, workshops and in-service training, and collaboration among diocesan offices to incorporate Catholic social teaching in all efforts.
- While recognizing the positive effects of Catholic social teaching (it fosters greater discernment in political arena and raises awareness of the faith perspective in civil society), nearly half of the respondents said that Catholic social teaching has a limited effect and needs to be taught more consistently and comprehensively to church leaders and the general Catholic community.
- Social justice activities and service projects do not always include reflections on Catholic social teaching.
- Inclusion of Catholic social teaching in sacramental preparation programs depends on the commitment of the DRE and the familiarity of the presenters. It is more likely to occur during confirmation and RCIA programs.
- While some respondents found diocesan offices and church documents helpful resources for learning more about Catholic social teaching, others found that there is more emphasis on acting on our social teaching than on learning and teaching it.
- The greatest challenges to the realization of our social mission are (a) the inability of Catholics to recognize social teaching and social action as intrinsic dimensions of their Christian spirituality; (b) the tendency of the Church to focus insufficiently on teaching Catholic social thought; (c) the fact that Catholic social teaching is often presented as abstract and disconnected from daily life; and (d) the need to incorporate Catholic social thought more universally into liturgies and homilies.
- Suggestions for incorporating Catholic social teaching more fully into Catholic life include (a) connecting it to spirituality and the heart of the Christian vocation; (b) providing better training for church leaders and adults, especially the many volunteers in our religious education programs; (c) consistently incorporating our social teaching into liturgies and homilies; and (d) strengthening ties to other religious, community, and school groups around issues of common concern.
The Subgroup on Religious Education, Youth Ministry, and Adult Education developed seven key directions for action as well as specific suggestions for implementing them. For the purposes of this summary, we focus on the general directions for action, adding more specific suggestions only where necessary for clarification.
- Promote systematic research on the relationship between Catholic social teaching and religious education/youth ministry/adult education.
- Invite a wide range of national educational, pastoral, and social ministry organizations and conference services to focus on Catholic social teaching at their annual meetings and incorporate a concern for justice into meeting activities on an ongoing basis.
- Promote ongoing integration of Catholic social teaching inclusive of liturgical catechesis in catechetical/educational programs by developing a basic formation component in programs for adults engaged in ministry.
- Gather available resources relating to Catholic social teaching and make their availability known through a national clearinghouse center.
- Encourage the convening of a national convocation on the topic of strengthening communication of Catholic social teaching.
- Promote the essential linkage between social justice and spirituality through such means as a "think tank" on spirituality and Catholic social teaching, use of the Internet, focus on the consistent life ethic, and the linkages between sacramental theology and Catholic social teaching.
- Seek an author for an essay to be distributed nationally on the topic of Catholic social teaching and spirituality.
Higher Education Subgroup
The subgroup's report began with a review of the relationship between Catholic higher education and the social mission of the Church; next it turned to an examination of previous efforts to organize campus work for justice and peace. It then summarized the results of a survey completed by 113 Catholic institutions of higher education, more than one-half of the Catholic colleges and universities in the country. Almost all of these institutions expressed a commitment to the Church's social mission. Eighty-four identified one or more courses that address Catholic social teaching, although some of these were general courses on ethics or Catholicism. A majority of the schools mentioned community service as a program that reflects a commitment to Catholic social teaching. Other institutions described programs of outreach to the local community. Fifteen schools described service-learning programs where the service experience is an integral part of a course or courses. Finally, ten schools pointed to peace studies or peace and justice studies.
The subgroup found that while there is clear interest in and support for Catholic social teaching among institutions of higher education, it is generally not offered in a systematic way. There appears to be little consistent attention given to incorporating gospel values and Catholic social teaching into general education courses or into departmental majors. Although service experiences are relatively widespread, there are few opportunities to pursue questions of social justice in an ongoing way. The task of convincing faculties that these are intellectually serious matters appears to be an important challenge.
- Formation of a national organization or network of Catholic college and university faculty interested in education for justice and peace
- Formation of a board or steering committee to meet regularly with presidents and leaders of Catholic social justice organizations
- Diocesan convenings of campus leaders and leaders of social action offices
- Exploration of funding opportunities for campus curricular and program initiatives
- Creation of an informal clearinghouse on campus programs and new initiatives
- Annual gatherings of faculty and campus ministers with national social ministry leaders
- Summer seminars for selected groups of faculty (by discipline, e.g.) to examine Catholic social teaching and how it might be incorporated into classes and programs
- Facilitation of national and international meetings of students involved in justice and peace programs
- Use of the Journal of Peace and Justice Studies
- Preparation of a book describing various national Catholic social ministry organizations and their regional and local affiliates
- Identification of research needs by Catholic social justice groups to be advertised to faculty and students
Our assessment of seminaries revealed that while some seminaries require courses on Catholic social teaching, many do not. We recommend that the NCCB make all seminaries aware of the expectations set forth in the Program of Priestly Formation and the Vatican's Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social Doctrine in the Formation of Priests, and that the appropriate offices provide assistance to seminaries in offering such courses.
The task force and the subgroup first reviewed a survey of seminary programs in this area. Attention then turned to collecting syllabi and other information on courses in Catholic social teaching from seminaries across the country. Roughly one-half of the seminaries in the country responded. Just over one-half of the respondents have at least one required course on Catholic social teaching. Less than one-half listed required or elective courses that cover ethics or social justice issues without specifically focusing on Catholic social teaching. The majority of the seminaries that responded indicated that their programs include some kind of social ministry field placement, most of which are social service experiences, and some of which may be described more accurately as pastoral placements.
The results of this survey suggest that while there are many good examples of courses on Catholic social teaching, there is a serious need to ensure that all seminaries include in their curricula required courses on this topic. The minimum expectation should be implementation of the Vatican's Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social Doctrine in the Formation of Priests. Those guidelines state:
With regard to the space to be reserved for social doctrine within the program of studies in centers for ecclesiastical formation . . . it is not enough to deal with it in some optional lessons within philosophy or theology courses. Required and elective courses on this discipline must be included in the programs. (no. 73)
It is absolutely necessary for knowledge about the major social encyclicals to be ensured during formation. These encyclicals must be the subject of special courses and represent required reading material for the students. (no. 73)
The subgroup identified two questions raised by their survey. One is whether the fact that 50 percent of seminaries chose not to respond suggests anything about whether they offer courses in this area. The other is whether one can assume that a single required course on Catholic social teaching means that the seminarians have assimilated this topic sufficiently. Moreover, an effort must be made to ensure not only the understanding of documents but also a corresponding conversion of life. It is desirable that seminarians cultivate a deep spirituality that connects our celebration of the eucharist with our commitment to justice in the world.
While the overall concern of this subgroup is ministry formation, time constraints narrowed the focus to seminaries. Other areas that should be considered in the future include schools of theology, deacon formation programs, lay ministry formation programs, and programs of continuing education for the clergy.
- Produce for seminaries a report of the subgroup's work, including a compilation of the best material from the syllabi, an annotated list of textbooks, and recommended reading.
- Produce standards to aid seminaries in strengthening the teaching of the Church's social doctrine and guidelines for social ministry placements in service, advocacy, and community organizing groups. These norms might include a target date by which all seminaries would have at least one required course specifically on Catholic social teaching. Seminaries should move beyond mere academic presentation of social justice issues to integration of justice principles into the formation program itself.
- Convene a symposium for seminary instructors who teach courses on Catholic social teaching, perhaps establishing a network of these instructors.
- Compile a summary of the major recommendations regarding Catholic social teaching from the Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social Doctrine in the Formation of Priests and the Program of Priestly Formation.
- Develop clarifications or changes for the next Program of Priestly Formation.
It was the goal of the Materials Subgroup to undertake an examination of how catechetical materials integrate and communicate Catholic social teaching. Given the fact that there are many materials available for adult education, the subgroup decided to focus its attention on how the principles of Catholic social thought are integrated into the standard religious education texts for children and youth. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, and particularly the Protocol used by the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism in its reviews for conformity, along with the key principles of Catholic social teaching set forth in the Report of the Content Subgroup, became the standards for measuring the integration of the Church's social doctrine in religious education materials.
The subgroup wrote to fifteen publishers of catechetical materials requesting samples of texts for children and youth that demonstrated the integration of Catholic social teaching. They received responses from nine publishers. After reviewing these materials, the subgroup concluded that the most direct and specific focus on Catholic social teaching is found in materials geared to high school students, and that this is done in an authentic and fairly complete way. Materials for elementary and junior high schools incorporated fewer social teaching themes, but all contained a substantial amount of relevant material. The most dominant principles displayed in the elementary and junior high materials include (1) the life and dignity of the human person, (2) human equality, (3) the call to family, charity, and justice. The primary emphasis at these grade levels is to incorporate major themes of Catholic social teaching into the overall catechesis of the young student. The content is therefore more general and appropriate to the particular age of the student.
A preliminary review of all materials raises the question of whether the Church's social doctrine is explicitly taught as such (as is the case for other areas of doctrine) or whether it is presented with less authority and integrated into texts only through stories and indirect methodological tools.
- Current efforts by publishers to incorporate Catholic social teaching into their materials need to be affirmed. Publishers should be encouraged to incorporate the principles of Catholic social thought into all disciplines, while providing materials specific to Catholic social thought. This dialogue with publishers should be a part of the annual publishers' meeting convened by the Committee on Education of the USCC.
- A standard of assessment for Catholic social teaching, based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, needs to be developed to assist publishers. This standard should take into account age-appropriate presentation of the principles of Catholic social teaching. It should be compatible with and correlated to the present review of catechetical materials conducted by the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism. This assessment of Catholic social teaching should not become yet another separate process of review to which publishers would need to submit their publications.
- Lesson plans related to the Church's social doctrine should be developed for different grade levels and be made available to schools and parish programs. Sacramental preparation programs need particular attention. A clearinghouse for additional social teaching resources should also be established to help educators easily share information.
In addition to the recommendations of the subgroups, the full Task Force on Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Education offers two key recommendations:
- The Catholic bishops of the United States should issue a brief pastoral statement affirming the importance of integrating Catholic social teaching into Catholic educational programs. The statement could affirm what is already being done. It might also encourage educators and social ministry leaders to carry out this important task of ensuring that the Catholic community grows in its understanding of the social dimensions of our faith. The statement could incorporate as attachments this summary of the task force's reports as well as the Report of the Content Subgroup.
- Those members of the Task Force on Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Education who are able to continue their participation have agreed to meet in 1998 to develop a plan for ensuring that their recommendations are carried out. This follow-up effort is likely to require (a) ongoing commitments from the organizations involved in the task force, (b) convening of informal groups of educators and social ministry leaders, (c) the establishment of an institute on Catholic social teaching and Catholic education at a university or other organization, and (d) similar follow-up activities.
The assessment phase of the work of the Task Force on Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Education established that there is much good will and significant effort aimed at incorporating Catholic social teaching into Catholic education and formation. Task force members who conducted telephone interviews and written surveys with educational, catechetical, and social ministry professionals found a significant openness and desire for help, as well as a need for practical tools.
However, the task force's work also shows that existing efforts are uneven and inconsistent. The principles of Catholic social teaching are too often shared in a vague way or not at all. As a result, too many Catholics do not understand the substance of the Church's social teaching; they are unable to draw on these principles to help shape their actions in private and public life.
The strategies and recommendations identified by the Task Force on Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Education will be useful only to the extent that they are implemented. While some may not be realizable in the short run, task force members felt it was necessary to identify important strategies, goals, or recommendations even if they take years to accomplish.
Looking to the future, the task force and its subgroups will do their part to follow up and act on appropriate recommendations. Most important, however, they hope their work will spark the creative energies of bishops, priests, religious, lay leaders, teachers, catechetical leaders, and social ministers throughout the Church whose expertise and commitment are essential if the Church's social mission is to become a truly integral and explicit part of its educational and catechetical programs.