Theologian speaks on Catholic Social Teaching: 'the real Third Way'

Professor John Milbank last night at Notre Dame University

Professor John Milbank last night at Notre Dame University

One of the leading exponents of Catholic Social Teaching, the Anglican theologian John Milbank, who is Professor in Religion, Politics and Ethics at the University of Nottingham, gave this year’s CitizensUK lecture last night at Notre Dame University in London. The lecture was followed by the launch of a new book by Austen Ivereigh, Faithful Citizens: A Practical Guide to Catholic Social Teaching and Community Organising (Darton, Longman & Todd).

In his lecture, entitled: 'The real third way: why Catholic social teaching has the answer to the current crisis', Professor Milbank argued that the Catholic tradition, in common with the Anglican and other religious traditions, stressed the importance of civil society and the role of intermediate associations, and rejected both the idolatry of the state and the sovereignty of the individual. Catholic social teaching was not just a rejection of the polarities of Left and Right, but transcended them, exposing their complicity and interdependence.

He said Pope Benedict's encyclical Caritas in veritate was more radical than was widely supposed, in the way that it envisaged the creation of a “just and charitable market” in which for-profit and philanthropic organisations could compete on equal terms. He went on to call for “the reassertion of the primacy of society over the economy”, and praised community organising as practised by London Citizens as the first “authentic mutual spontaneous organising in British politics since 1945”. Because community organising built the power of civil society to hold state and market to account, it was deeply attractive to faith organisations, and especially Catholic ones.

At the book launch there were brief speeches by Bishop William Kenney, former director of Caritas and auxiliary in Birmingham; Darton, Longman & Todd’s publishing director, Brendan Walsh; Bernadette Farrell, lead organiser of South London Citizens; and Fr Jim Conway, priest at St Ignatius, Stamford Hill.

London Citizens is an alliance of mostly faith institutions which negotiate with mayors, business leaders and MPs to secure justice. They are famous for the London Living Wage campaign, as well as campaigns on housing (Our Homes, Our London), immigration (Strangers into Citizens, Citizens for Sanctuary) and street safety (CitySafe), which are all described in the book.

Bernadette Farrell described how London Citizens was created in the early 1990s after the then Catholic auxiliary bishop in East London, Bishop Victor Guazzelli, decided that community organising was the best means of securing social justice in his area. Neil Jameson, who had trained as a community organiser at the same time as Barack Obama in Chicago in the 1980s, was hired by Bishop Guazzelli and other sponsors to create TELCO. The original east end alliance is now part of a city-wide coalition of 150 institutions divided into TELCO, South London Citizens and West London Citizens. North London Citizens is in the process of formation.

Fr Jim Conway spoke about his parish’s involvement with undocumented migrants and his commitment to the Strangers into Citizens campaign. Man He told the story of a Ghanaian  who had played a very active role in the parish for 12 years but was then suddenly deported. Another had come for advice because for six weeks he hadn’t been paid  -- wages of just £1.50 an hour.

Speaking about the impact of European immigration laws on migrants, Bishop Kenney described a recent Caritas delegation to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in North Africa which is surrounded by a wall of razor wire to prevent migrants trying to get to Europe. “One man trying to get to Europe cut his throat on that wire”, Bishop Kenney said. “We met on a beach where 400 bodies have washed up recently. All that is done in our name.”

Neil Jameson, CitizensUK executive director and lead organiser of London Citizens, argues [] in today’s Guardian that “the real challenge is for civil society to wake up, realise our capability and power and take the responsibility to organise ourselves better”.

CitizensUK has a new website and blog:

Austen Ivereigh, Faithful Citizens: a practical guide to Catholic social teaching and community organising (Darton, Longman & Todd) can be ordered from price £10.95 or through Amazon on the ICN homepage.

ICN will be carrying a review shortly.

Tags: Catholic Social Teaching, CitizensUK, Faithful Citizens, John Milbank, Notre Dame University. Austen Ivereigh, Politics and Ethics, Professor in Religion, University of Nottingham

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