Catholic Social Teaching and COVID-19

Catholic Social Teaching is often described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ for Catholics. At this time when communities are coming together to act in solidarity to battle the spread of COVID-19, Catholic Social Teaching would seem more relevant than ever.

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Churches are closed, friends are separated, the elderly and vulnerable are self-isolating – some away from their families – and the rest of us are on lockdown to protect the herculean efforts of the NHS as the virus reaches its peak in the UK.

Professor Jim McManus is Director of Public Health for Hertfordshire and has been helping guide the Catholic Church’s response to COVID-19.

He talks to us about the vital guiding principles of solidarity, subsidiarity and upholding the common good to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

“We often neglect what’s called ‘horizontal subsidiarity’ – the skills of good citizenship. The skills we learn of participating, of helping one another out, of good behaviour, of pro-social behaviour. This is the time when these networks of skills and goodwill are most needed.

“The ‘soft skills’ we need as a society are the things we need to practice. So ‘horizontal subsidiarity’ absolutely comes in. It is derived, theologically, from a duty we owe one another in justice – as fellow creatures – and we should follow that.”

Transcript

Q: Catholic Social Teaching is often described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ for Catholics. What can we do with CST in mind during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I mean, I can’t do my job without my faith. And for me, Catholic Social Teaching is up there as one of the biggest guiding sets of principles. We may not be able to be in churches, but we can still live by these principles. And they all stem from our dignity as human beings – sharing a common creation from God. And if you take that principle, then we owe one another a number of duties in justice.

The first thing Catholic Social Teaching would tell us during Coronavirus is to care – care for the vulnerable, care for the weak, support those who can’t look after themselves and can’t get their own shopping, things like that.

The second thing is that Catholic Social Teaching reminds us that we’re all in this together. So the Catholic Social Teaching principles of solidarity and the Common Good are things we can reflect on.

The CAFOD website has got a fantastic set of principles on Catholic Social Teaching, so spend half an hour reading that and actually look through and reflect on it and then tell me those principles don’t work for today because I think they do.

So… stemming from our common dignity, care for the most vulnerable. Look to the Common Good in solidarity.

Now, Catholic Social Teaching would also say we have a duty and a right to participate. Let me explain. There’s something important here… I think we have a duty to participate. And you’ve heard the S-word ‘subsidiarity’ knocked about a lot. People often think that decisions should be made at the lowest level. But that’s not the only, and sometimes even the main, point about subsidiarity.

There are two things about subsidiarity we need to remember in this crisis. The first thing is that we make decisions at the lowest level possible – so that’s local authorities, local councils. They will be looking for volunteers. What can you do? What skills have you got that will help us through this crisis? Talk to your local volunteer bureau.

But there’s an important bit of subsidiarity that we often neglect – it’s often called ‘horizontal subsidiarity’ – the skills of good citizenship. The skills we learn of participating, of helping one another out, of good behaviour, of pro-social behaviour. This is the time when these networks of skills and goodwill are most needed. The ‘soft skills’ we need as a society are the things we need to practice. So ‘horizontal subsidiarity’ absolutely comes in. It is derived, theologically, from a duty we owe one another in justice – as fellow creatures – and we should follow that.

So for me, that’s skimming the surface of what Catholic Social Teaching can do for us right now.