The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences has the aim of promoting the study and progress of the social, economic, political and juridical sciences, and of thus offering the Church the elements which she can use in the study and development of her social doctrine. The Academy also reflects on the application of that doctrine in contemporary society.
Social science research (Socialium scientiarum investigationes) can effectively contribute to improving human relations, as has been shown by the progress achieved in various sectors of society especially during the century now drawing to a close. This is why the Church, ever concerned for man’s true good, has turned with growing interest to this field of scientific research in order to obtain concrete information for fulfilling the duties of her Magisterium.
The centenary of the Encyclical Rerum novarum has provided the opportunity to be more clearly aware of the influence this document has had in mobilizing the consciences of Catholics and searching for constructive solutions to the problems raised by the worker question.
In the Encyclical Centesimus annus commemorating this centenary, I wrote that that document had granted the Church “citizenship status” as it were (cf. n. 5) in the changing realities of public life. In particular, with this Encyclical the Church started a process of reflection by which, in continuity with the preceding tradition going back to the Gospel, the set of principles took shape that was later to be called the “social doctrine” in the strict sense of the word. Thus she perceived that “light and strength” for ordering the life of society flow from the proclamation of the Gospel. Light, since from the Gospel message reason guided by faith is able to draw decisive principles for a social order worthy of man. Strength, since the Gospel accepted in the faith not only imparts theoretical principles but also spiritual energy to carry out the concrete duties stemming from these principles.
Over last century, the Church has gradually strengthened her “citizenship status” by perfecting her social doctrine, always in close relationship with the dynamic evolution of modern society. When, 40 years after Rerum novarum, the worker question became a broad social issue, Pius XI gave clear directions in his Encyclical Quadragesimo anno on how to overcome the division of society into classes. When totalitarian systems threatened man’s freedom and dignity, Pius XI and Pius XII protested with forceful messages, and after the Second World War when most of Europe had been destroyed, Pius XII with repeated interventions and later John XXIII, with his Encyclicals Mater et Magistra and Pacem in terris, showed the way to social reconstruction and the consolidation of peace. In the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council placed the treatment of the Church’s relationship with the world in a broad theological framework and declared that “the origin, the subject and the purpose of all social institutions is and should be the human person” (n. 25). In the 70s, when the drama of developing countries was unfolding more clearly, Pope Paul VI, faced with a one-sided economic vision, in his Encyclical Populorum progressio outlined the programme for a complete development of peoples. In recent times, with my three social Encyclicals I have taken a stance in regard to the decisive problems of society: the dignity of human work (Laborem exercens), the overcoming of economic and political blocks (Sollicitudo rei socialis) and, after the collapse of system of real socialism, the building of a new national and international order (Centesimus annus).