A new degree in Catholic social teaching is now accepting applicants
A few years ago, there was an unexpected wave of interest in Catholic social teaching. David Cameron started taking advice from Phillip Blond, an Anglican professor inspired by the Church’s doctrine. His opponent, Ed Miliband, grew close to Blue Labour”, a group which drew explicitly on papal encyclicals. In 2012 the BBC reported: “A new zeitgeist is capturing business people, academics and political players from both the Left and Right, looking for an ethical alternative for our time. Their inspiration? Catholic teaching.”
The moment evaporated. Blond fell out with Cameron, saying the Tories’ austerity programme had crowded out their reformist ambitions. Miliband had second thoughts about Blue Labour. Brexit, and the global backlash against liberal democracy, have led to a mood of crisis and conflict in which appeals to ancient wisdom seem quaint.
But there were good reasons for the revival of interest, and they are just as pressing today. The teachings of Pius XI about marriage and the family, of John XXIII about international co-operation or of John Paul II about “radical capitalistic ideology” are of universal relevance – just to take a few examples. And Catholics surveying today’s political confusion might feel that the warnings of popes about the secular state have been vindicated.
So what better time for a course in Catholic social teaching to be launched? This autumn St Mary’s University, Twickenham has begun to offer a Master of Arts degree on the subject. Students will be taught the philosophy, history and practice of Church teaching, with options to study particular areas – charities, political theology – in more depth. Some of the students are in formation for the permanent diaconate; some of them are on the bishops’ conference parliamentary internship programme; but many just feel the need to know more. Perhaps St Mary’s can help form a generation which will put the Church’s good sense into political practice.