Migration, the Common Good and the Social Doctrine of the Church. Statement by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi at the Presentation of the VIII Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the world.


Statement by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi

at the Presentation of the VIII Report

on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the world

of the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân


Rome, Sala Marconi at Vatican Radio, 15 February 2017


The annual publication of  the Observatory’s Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the world has by now become a flagship appointment for all those who harbour keen interest in matters concerning the Church’s social doctrine. I therefore wish to thank all the participants, and especially President Costalli and the Christian Workers’ Movement who made this encounter possible.

It is my task to say a few concluding words, and yet these cannot be conclusive words regarding such an important and urgent subject. I would like to offer some comments not delving in my own turn into the concrete aspects of the issue at hand like previous speakers, but rather as food for thought about what the Social Doctrine of the Church can offer not by way of a solution, but at least on how to deal with this challenge in a just and opportune manner.

As both a bishop and the president of the Observatory I must take note of the tendency among Catholics today to tackle the issue of current flows of migrants with immediate charity without, however, any constructive policy perspective in the true sense of the word. I see a positive mobilization of efforts and commitment to assist immigrants and provide them solidarity in terms of meeting their immediate needs, but less commitment in tackling the problem with the realism necessary in order to plan for and prepare solutions not limited to short term solidarity, but rather well structured and functional solutions within a systemic framework.  Charity is the queen of the social virtues, as Leo XIII had already stated in Rerum novarum.  This pontiff, when writing his social encyclicals ever in the light of charity, wrote them also and above all with a view to the construction of a society in conformity with the dignity of man and according to God’s designs. The Church already practiced immediate charity when Leo XIII wrote this encyclical, and he wanted  people to begin taking concrete action for a charity we could call ‘political’ in the broadest sense of the term. The current influx of immigrants does summon us to immediate solidarity and even more so to larger-scale and longer term solidarity, and yet the latter calls not only for an enthusiastic thrust in helping those in need, but also the Social Doctrine of the Church at large, realism and farsightedness, the critical and realistic ability to examine all the aspects of the issue in all truthfulness and not just from the viewpoint of ideology, and the political acumen to construct a future without the future imposing itself on us.

The overall picture of the migration issue is complicated, and for this reason calls for not only action responding to immediate needs, but also Christian realism capable of projecting forward with “structured” realism. At stake ‎is not only the good of the persons trying so hard to enter western countries. In addition, there is the also the good of the persons living in their respective native countries, the good of the citizens of host countries, who preserve their rights vis-à-vis newcomers, the good of those subject to networks of organized crime, the good of our societies that cannot afford to import destabilizing individuals camouflaged as immigrants and asylum seekers. There is the good of those who arrive with their native culture, but there is also the good of the elderly woman who is now the only native citizen in the apartment house where she lives, surrounded as she is by customs, mores and habits that make her feel alien in her own home.  These few examples make it clear that the issue of immigration has to be situated within the quest for the common good, and this is a subject which the Social Doctrine of the Church addresses at length and still has much more to teach.

It would be erroneous to think that generous reception and positive commitment when immigrants debark “on shore”, so to say, would be enough. A Church and a Catholic world hard at work in that sense alone would certainly be doing their duty, but would not be doing everything. Focusing efforts only on those who come ashore and doing little or nothing at all for those who remain, laying the burden of guilt mainly on the citizens of host countries, and considering the difficult and arduous issue of integration all too superficially are not attitudes that can bring the concept of the common good proposed by the Social Doctrine of the Church back into the forefront of people’s minds and deeds.

Nor must we forget that the common good is not limited to elements of social order, for example, employment, the economy, the resilience of the welfare system, etc. The common good also has an ethical component and a religious component. It is necessary to be quite realistic and ask if the host peoples have the right to preserve their own cultural and religious identity just like the migrating peoples. It is necessary to ask just how this relationship may be resolved in a manner other than mere juxtaposition. We are all aware of two incumbent dangers: the first is that all cultures may become sub-cultures with respect to a new and hegemonious global culture in the grips of transnational power brokers; the second entails becoming witnesses to a ‘Balkanization’ of Europe divided into a myriad of autonomous enclaves as far as all the aspects of self governance in real life are concerned, and yet formally obsequious to the formal law of the nation-state in question.

I note excessive undertones of Irenicism when people today talk about a multi-cultural and multi-religious society. There are experiences of positive integration, but it must be admitted that in the majority of cases the multi-cultural and multi-religious society has also brought along many problems and none too little suffering. This happens especially when such a society is imposed in a certain sense and the migrating peoples – along with their many just causes – also have to be subservient to international and geopolitical centers of interest exercising forms of control and oversight.

We can now return to the problem initially evoked. The considerable problem of current migratory flows also needs the Social Doctrine of the Church. This problem or issue cannot be tackled only by means of immediate response charity; needed is an overall perspective that has to do with the real and authentic common good. Now, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, the common good has three dimensions; an ethical dimension, an analogical dimension and a vertical dimension. In the conflict of moral visions and in both bureaucratic centralism and the prevalence of secularism, the western world, and especially Europe, does not find the internal resources needed to face and tackle this external problem. Once again, the Social Doctrine of the Church is calling on reason and politics to do their duty. Once again, the Social Doctrine of the Church is asking for charity to be realistic and farsighted, not blind.