1.1.1 A just and free society?

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Do you want to live in a just and free society?

“Yes, obviously – who wouldn’t?”, you might respond.

Or you might answer with a question. “What is ‘a just and free society’?  What exactly do justice and freedom mean?”

The module you are beginning will give plenty of opportunity to look at what these words mean.

Or you might respond: ‘Well, I’m not really bothered.  As long as I am doing OK, and have what I need to enjoy life, I’m not very interested in whether I live in a just and free society’.

Here is the first of many short ‘reflections’ you will be asked to do while studying this module:



How do you really respond to that question?

Does one of the three possible responses above correspond to your reaction?  Or is yours different from all of them?

How would people you know respond to it, do you think?


This module is one of two in which you can study the Social Teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the other, Module A, which is entitled ‘Living Life to the Full’, the focus is on a range of issues that are important personally to almost everyone.  They include:

  • work and rest
  • buying and selling
  • family life
  • how we relate to the wider creation
  • duties and rights.

In this one, Module B, ‘Living in a Just and Free Society’, the focus is on issues that impact on many people less immediately than those ones do.  Or so it might appear, because the issues this module addresses are about society as a whole.  In fact, they are equally significant in their impact on people’s lives, in the long term at least.  They include:

  • justice
  • freedom
  • what government should do
  • participation in public life
  • democracy
  • poverty
  • peace and war
  • church and state.

These are the topics we’ll look at in this module.

What Catholic Social Teaching (CST) has to say is highly stimulating and can be very inspiring.  At least, many people find this to be so – once they’ve got a good understanding of it.

Without doubt CST presents a powerful vision of a just and free society.  Some would find this claim surprising.  Studying this module will enable you, I hope, to see that it’s true.

To do the module, you need to work through what appears on screen.  Just follow the ‘learning path’ that has been designed to guide you through what can seem at first a confusing maze of possible routes across difficult terrain.

I put it like this because CST’s main source is a series of lengthy documents issued on behalf of the Catholic Church over the past 120 years, directed to different historical, political and economic contexts.  They are not very easy reading.   Faced with, for example, a single book containing all those documents, you would not get to the end.  (I have such a book and I can’t believe anyone’s ever read it straight through!)

But the ‘learning path’ this module offers means you can take an easy route – relatively speaking – across what otherwise could be forbidding territory.  Like Module A, it is CST by sat nav.

You will also be asked often to reflect on what you are studying.  Items marked Reflection, as above, are essentially points at which to ‘pause for thought’.   Do not spend too long on these – two to four minutes is usually enough.  But do stop to give them a bit of time.  In light of reading you’ve done up to that point, let them provoke lines of thought and argument in your mind.  Make a few notes of these if you think they may be important later. This can greatly increase both enjoyment of study and understanding.



A book called Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret is now in its fourth edition.1. In fact CST is much better known now than when the first edition of that book was published, in 1985.  But is CST still the Catholic Church’s ‘best kept secret’?  What do you think?

What do you know already about Catholic Social Teaching?

How do you know what you know:

  • from talks and sermons?
  • because you are a peace and justice activist?
  • from your family?
  • from previous study?
  • from the internet?


As you study, you will be frequently asked to do a piece of reading (or occasionally watch a video clip or listen to someone speak).  Most of these readings are on-line, so you need to have access to the internet all the time while you are working on the module.

What each reading is will be stated in a box on screen, including the full web address or URL.  To access most of them you will need simply to click on the URL.  This will take you to the reading (without closing this document, the module text).

We turn straight to the first reading.  In September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain, as you probably recall.  The following article reflects on that visit, just over a year later.  The writer is Austen Ivereigh, who co-ordinates an initiative supported by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, called ‘Catholic Voices’.

The article is about the length of a feature article in a newspaper and should take 10-15 minutes to read.  If CST is entirely new to you, and especially if Christianity and the Catholic Church are new too, much in it will be unfamiliar.  But read it anyway.  One way or another, we shall come back to much that it mentions later in the module.


Reading (c.5pp)

Austen Ivereigh, ‘Catholic humanism is superior to today’s exhausted secularism’ (21 Oct. 2011)


Although this article is published on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website, it has no other connection with Australia!  The ‘Religion and Ethics’ section of that website publishes articles by leading Christian writers from across the English-speaking world.


Did you notice, half way through this article, that Ivereigh quotes the phrase that gives this module its title, a “just and free society”?

Ivereigh attributes it to a statement by the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, but they were in fact quoting Pope Benedict XVI.  Immediately after his visit to the UK, the Pope said this (as part of a longer speech):

Dear brothers and sisters, on this Visit to the United Kingdom, as always, I wanted first and foremost to support the Catholic Community, encouraging it to work strenuously to defend the immutable moral truths which, taken up, illuminated and strengthened by the Gospel are at the root of a truly human, just and free society.  (General Audience, 22 Sep. 2010, italics added; for the text and a video of this address, click here.)

VPlater Module A looks at some of the main things we need to live in a ‘truly human’ way.

This module focuses on what makes for a just and free society.2

On the next few screens, we give attention to the practicalities of studying Module B.


End of 1.1.1

Go to 1.1.2 Doing Module B: practicalities

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  1. Edward P. DeBerri & James E. Hug, Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret, 4th ed., Center of Concern, 2003 

  2. The title of the module preceded but was confirmed by reading Benedict’s statement.