Interview With Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
He was recently in St. Paul, Minnesota, visiting the University of St. Thomas, where he delivered the annual Habiger lecture sponsored by the Center for Catholic Studies. The lecture was entitled, "Caritas in Veritate: Good News for Society."
Extracts Part 1
ZENIT: In the United States, there is much confusion over the term "social justice," with some acting as though it were a virtue, or a general humanitarianism, and others who believe the term should be abandoned altogether because it has been distorted and hijacked by left-wing political activists. Can you clear up some of the confusion and define just what exactly social justice means?
Cardinal Turkson: "At the end of the day, social justice is a function of the Church's own faith and doctrine. . . .Justice can be thought of as the need to respect the demands of any relationship in which we stand.
When I respect those relationships, I can be sure to be just. That is true about the relationship between me and God, and it is true about husband and wife, student and teacher, owner and worker.
The demands of any relationship when they are expected between the parties constitute justice. If that is the case, if we refer to this in any way as social, it just means we see a set of relationships and expectations between the members of society. . . .
ZENIT: In the United States, there is much polarization in the way politically active Catholics interpret and apply the Church's social teaching. For instance, some believe that practically all social problems should be solved by private individuals, organizations, and non-governmental actors, while others believe the state should have a hand in practically every problem facing society. Ensuring that all citizens have access to basic health care is just one example. What do you think accounts for this polarization?
Cardinal Turkson: . . . The person must imitate the love of God for others. We must become love or gift to other people. The sense is that the human person must belong to a family. Solidarity is the basic point of departure -- the brotherhood of men under the fatherhood of God.
I'm not sure whether the political discussion in American society has the same point of departure.
Thus, making that understanding of the human person and the need for solidarity the point of departure becomes the mission. We must use the Church's social doctrine as a means of evangelization. We must share this with non-Christians. Any legislation that gets adopted must be an expression of solidarity, an expression of the nature of God's love and gratuitousness with which God loves and deals with us.
Extracts Part 2
Zenit: What effect is the Church's social teaching having on business leaders and society?
Cardinal Turkson: . . . The story of Zaccheus shows that when you have a certain encounter with the Lord, it makes a change in us. In the same way people may have to come to have a certain experience of the Lord. They must realize that business cannot be as usual. It cannot trample on another human being; it cannot trample on another.
Instead, business must lead to the integral development of the human person. The pursuit of human progress cannot be one which is oblivious to the communitarian character of the human person. This encyclical "Caritas in Veritate" talks about human development that must be integral and whole. It invites us to rediscover human development and human progress.
Zenit: Looking at the development of the Church's social tradition, it appears that what marked the earlier papal encyclicals, from Pope Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum" to John XXIII's "Mater et Magistra," was the application of Thomistic philosophy to the problems of the day. As a result, there seemed to be a clearer program of political action that Catholics could rally behind. More recent encyclicals, however, seem to bear a more personal theological or philosophical stamp of the pope who wrote them, and there is also more dispute as to how to apply the teachings contained within. Does the Church need to return to a more rigorous Thomism in its approach to the social questions of the day?
Cardinal Turkson: . . . I'm not sure we need to go back to Thomas for a clear formulation. It is likely that a certain tradition within the Church, going by catechisms with their questions and answers, created a particular approach to issues. Sometimes, Thomism is helpful in that context.
But it should not exclude the desire to be discursive about issues. And that new encyclical gets us toward that. The encyclicals are written to all people of good will. With that purpose in mind, you cannot necessarily present the teaching in a catechetical, Thomistic type of manner.
Zenit: . . . It seems we would just be better off proclaiming Jesus as Lord and leaving it at that because ultimately, the solution to social, political, and economic problems both locally and globally requires a real solidarity between peoples that depends on the recognition of the fatherhood of God. In this regard, would a rediscovery of the now-forgotten idea of the social kingship of Christ -- his lordship over all things, including the political and economic order -- be helpful?
Cardinal Turkson: . . . There is a tendency in the world to look to the person as the author of himself, or as made by the culture and outside forces.
This is an attempt to replace God and do away with God. In light of that, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI remind us that without transcendence life is meaningless and cannot attain its own goals.
The need for the kingship of Jesus is precisely because he is the revelation of the Father. It is needed to present the vocation of reason as a vocation to transcendence. It is a truth revealed by Christ and in Christ.
So natural law is not a point of arrival, but each person is invited to transcendence to discover themselves in the finality of the truth of Jesus. They discover the Father's plan in the truth of creation.
That invitation to transcendence exits, and becomes the subject matter of the Church's evangelizing mission. We talk about the truth of reason, but we do not stop there. It must discover itself in Jesus as the revelation of the Father. . . .