The Second Vatican Council had proposed the creation of a body of the universal Church whose role would be “to stimulate the Catholic Community to foster progress in needy regions and social justice on the international scene” (Gaudium et Spes, No. 90). It was in reply to this request that Pope Paul VI established the Pontifical Commission “Justitia et Pax” by a Motu Proprio dated 6 January 1967 (Catholicam Christi Ecclesiam).
Two months later, in Populorum Progressio, Paul VI succinctly stated of the new body that “its name, which is also its programme, is Justice and Peace” (No. 5). Gaudium et Spes and this Encyclical, which “in a certain way... applies the teaching of the Council” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, No. 6), were the founding texts and points of reference for this new body.
After a ten-year experimental period, Paul VI gave the Commission its definitive status with the Motu Proprio Justitiam et Pacem of 10 December 1976. When the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus of 28 June 1988 reorganized the Roman Curia, Pope John Paul II changed its name from Commission to Pontifical Council and reconfirmed the general lines of its work.
OBJECTIVES AND MANDATE
Pastor Bonus defined the objectives and mandate of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in the following terms:
“The Council will promote justice and peace in the world, in the light of the Gospel and of the social teaching of the Church (art. 142).
§ 1. It will deepen the social doctrine of the Church and attempt to make it widely known and applied, both by individuals and communities, especially as regards relations between workers and employers. These relations must be increasingly marked by the spirit of the Gospel.
§ 2. It will assemble and evaluate various types of information and the results of research on justice and peace, the development of peoples and the violations of human rights. When appropriate, it will inform Episcopal bodies of the conclusions drawn. It will foster relations with international Catholic organizations and with other bodies, be they Catholic or not, that are sincerely committed to the promotion of the values of justice and peace in the world.
§ 3. It will heighten awareness of the need to promote peace, above all on the occasion of the World Day of Peace (art. 143).
It will maintain close relations with the Secretariat of State, especially when it deals publicly with problems of justice and peace in its documents or declarations (art. 144)”.
The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has a President who is assisted by a Secretary and an Under-Secretary, all named by the Holy Father for a period of five years. A staff of lay persons, religious and priests of different nationalities works with them in carrying out the programmes and activities of the Council.
The Holy Father also appoints about forty Members and Consultors who serve in a personal capacity for a period of five years. Coming from different parts of the world, the Members meet in Rome at regular intervals for a Plenary Assembly during which each one, according to his or her background and professional or pastoral experience, contributes to the overall planning for the activities of the Pontifical Council. A high point in the life of the Council, the Plenary Assembly is a time of authentic discernment of the “signs of the times”.
The Consultors, some of whom are experts in the social teaching of the Church, can be called upon to participate in working groups on specific topics.
The primary work of the Pontifical Council is to engage in action-oriented studies based on both the papal and episcopal social teaching of the Church. Through them, the Pontifical Council also contributes to the development of this teaching in the following vast fields:
Justice. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is concerned with all that touches upon social justice, the world of work, international life, development in general and social development in particular. It also promotes ethical reflection on the evolution of economic and financial systems and addresses problems related to the environment and the responsible use of the earth’s resources.
Peace. The Pontifical Council reflects on a broad range of questions related to war, disarmament and the arms trade, international security, and violence in its various and everchanging forms (terrorism, exaggerated nationalism etc.). It also considers the question of political systems and the role of Catholics in the political arena. It is responsible for the promotion of the World Day of Peace.
Human Rights. This question has assumed increasing importance in the mission of the Church and consequently in the work of the Pontifical Council. Especially the Magisterium of the last decades consistently stresses that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of the promotion and defense of his or her inalienable rights. The Council deals with the subject from three perspectives: deepening the doctrinal aspect, dealing with questions under discussion in international organizations, showing concern for the victims of the violation of human rights.
A VAST NETWORK
The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace collaborates with all those within the Church who are seeking the same ends.
As an organism of the Holy See, the Council is first and foremost at the service of the Holy Father and also collaborates with other departments of the Roman Curia.
As a body of the universal Church, it is also at the service of the local Churches. It maintains systematic contacts with Episcopal Conferences and their regional groupings and collaborates regularly with them. Through the Episcopal Conferences, or with their assent, the Pontifical Council likewise is in touch with a broad range of Church bodies on the national level that have been established to make the faithful aware of their responsibilities in the field of justice and peace. Some of these are primarily for study and reflection, while others are more action-oriented. They include national Justice and Peace Commissions or Commissions for Social Questions, movements for the defense of human rights or for the promotion of peace or development etc.
The Pontifical Council maintains contact with the various institutions or international movements within the Church (religious orders and congregations, international Catholic organizations) that, in communion with the Bishops, help Christians to bear witness to their faith in the social field.
The Pontifical Council also turns to the academic and intellectual world and seeks the advice of professors of the social teaching of the Church, especially those from the Pontifical Universities in Rome. It has, moreover, systematic links with the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences.
Enriching contacts with other churches and religions have been established as a result of the mandate of the Pontifical Council to work from an ecumenical perspective. The Pontifical Council collaborates in a special way with the World Council of Churches.
Finally, mention must be made of various links with secular organizations working for the promotion of justice, peace and the respect for human dignity. Over the years, relations with international organizations have increased considerably. Because of the interest of the Holy See in the work of the United Nations, the Pontifical Council, in collaboration with the Secretariat of State, has frequent contacts with the United Nations and its specialized agencies, especially at the time of the major international conferences that deal with such questions as development, population, environment, international trade, or human rights. Equal importance is given to regional organizations, among which the Council of Europe and the European Union. The Pontifical Council also welcomes exchanges with non-governmental organizations that share its aims and are working in the field of peace, justice and human rights.
The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace issues documents on current topics such as the international debt, racism, the international arms trade and land distribution. In each case, these documents draw on the social teaching of the Church in formulating pertinent ethical principles and guidelines. The Council also publishes books: reports of meetings that it has organized, systematic collections of pontifical texts on a particular social question, studies on contemporary issues, such as the perspective of the Catholic Church on human rights, the environment, or the ethical dimensions of the economy, financial activities and the world of work.
The purpose of these publications is to spread knowledge of the social teaching of the Church, especially among those who can in turn make it known directly or indirectly to others. They include Episcopal Conferences and their Justice and Peace Commissions or Commissions for Social Questions, associations and movements of the laity, priests, religious, seminarians and religious educators.